Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 2:56 PM
The idea of a protected commons was central to early Islam, and
to Muhammad’s vision of a just society. Today, Muslim environmentalists are reviving
this concept to protect threatened ecosystems throughout the Muslim world.
This article originally appeared at OntheCommons.org.
A glance at history turns
up the names of many heroes—from Robin Hood to Chief Joseph to Gandhi—who stood
up to protect the commons on behalf of future generations. One name from
history not likely to be associated with the commons is Muhammad. Yet the holy
prophet of the Islamic world sought to preserve special landscapes for
everyone. Today, Muslim environmentalists are trying to reinvigorate this
There was an ancient Middle
Eastern tradition of setting aside certain lands, called hima (“protected
place” in Arabic), for the enjoyment of local chieftains. Muhammad “transformed
the hima from a private enclave into a public asset in which all community
members had a share and a stake, in accordance with their duty as stewards
(khalifa) of God’s natural world,” according to Tom Verde, a scholar of Islamic
studies and Christian-Muslim relations.
In the seventh century,
Muhammad declared the region of Al-Madinah, now the holy city of Medina, “to be a
sanctuary; its trees shall not be cut and its game shall not be hunted.” Many
of the hima lasted well into the 20th century, when the tradition fell
victim to modern beliefs about land ownership.
Now Middle Eastern
environmentalists are invoking the idea of hima to protect the region’s
threatened woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, and rangelands. In 2004 the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon
helped local residents establish two of the first new hima in the hilltop town
es-Saqi. “The hima has had a very positive effect in the community,” said Kasim
Shoker, mayor of a nearby town. “Not only has it helped improve the economy
[through ecotourism], but it has made the local people recognize the value of
the land and have greater respect for its biodiversity.”
five himas have been established in Lebanon,
and a “workshop”
was held last in Istanbul to promote the ideas
throughout the Middle East.
Image of the ancient Aanjar Castle,
a World Heritage Site in Lebanon’s
Hima Aanjar by Arian
Zwegers, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011 2:59 PM
Many Americans, especially young Americans—those who came of age in the last three decades—have trouble associating terrorism with anything separate from those who carry out attacks in the name of Islam. This, writes Philip Jenkins in The American Conservative, is a product of a short national memory, one that forgets or dismisses the history of terrorism:
It’s remarkable to see how readily modern audiences credit suggestions about the novelty of international terrorism or its association with Islamist groups. Particularly startling is how thoroughly Americans have forgotten their own terrorist crisis of the mid-1970s.
Jenkins reminds readers of Abu Nidal—“as infamous in the 1970s and 1980s as Osama bin Laden has been in recent times”—who specialized in simultaneous attacks meant to keep his enemies discombobulated. With that in mind, one need look no further than the concurrent attacks on 9/11 and the confusion and speculation that followed to see Jenkins’ point that Nidal “wrote the playbook for al-Qaeda.” Far from carrying out attacks in the name of any religion, Nidal, Jenkins writes, “usually served Iraq’s secularist Ba’ath regime, which persecuted Islamists.”
Along with Nidal there have been terrorist organizations that run the gamut, “from Western anarchists and nihilists, from the Catholic IRA and Latin American urban guerrillas, from Communists and fascists, from Zionist Jews and Sri Lankan Hindus” and those who owe “much to the Marxist tradition—to Lenin, Guevara, and Mao—and next to nothing to Muslims.” And most of the tactics used today can be traced back to organizations having nothing to do with Islam. “Think for instance,” Jenkins writes,
of those unspeakable al-Qaeda videos depicting the ritualized execution of hostages in Iraq and elsewhere. To quote Olivier Roy, one of the most respected European scholars of Islamist terrorism, these videos are “a one-to-one re-enactment of the execution of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades [in Italy in 1978], with the organization’s banner and logo in the background, the hostage hand-cuffed and blind-folded, the mock trial with the reading of the sentence and the execution.”
Pointing to one race, color, or creed as exclusively holding the reigns of terror forgets the long history of modern terrorist tactics, fed by every type of human imaginable. Jenkins’ essay is a humbling read for anyone who has forgotten this history, or who never knew it, and one that reminds us just how short our memories can be.
Source: The American Conservative
Image by mattlemmon, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 30, 2011 12:29 PM
Back in the good ol’ days, when a nuclear family could leave its bomb shelter unlocked at night, America had soft power to burn. The country’s cultural ambassadors and renegade auteurs outgunned the taciturn commies, whose idea of a party still involved military bands and Lenin t-shirts. When the Cold War finally ended, MTV’s Kurt Loder was a global menace and punk rock was still armed and dangerous.
As Shikha Dalmia writes in Reason, the magazine of free minds and free markets, today’s young Muslims are not nearly as susceptible to the calculated chaos of Western pop culture as yesterday’s youth of the East Bloc. “While hip hop and heavy metal have helped inspire some of the street protesters demanding more freedoms across the Middle East and northern Africa,” Dalmia observes, “outside of the hardcore early adopters these cultural subgenres remain more voyeuristic than aspirational.”
This is no small thing, especially since the West’s use of hard power over the past decade—troops in Iraq, drone attacks in Afghanistan—has, in most cases, served to both weaken its reputation and further strengthen religious fanatics, who need a devil to blame for their hateful rhetoric and murderous behavior.
There is hope on the cultural horizon, however. And, no, Lady Gaga will not have to suit up for battle. India’s film industry is the free world’s new shining star—all kitsched-up, scantily clad, and subversively cool. “Islamic fundamentalists have long worried about the threat that Bollywood poses to their puritanical demands,” writes Dalmia, who is a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation. “They have ample reason to be worried: About 3 billion people, or half the planet, watches Bollywood, and many of them live in the Islamic world. By depicting assimilated, modernized Muslims, Bollywood—without even trying—deromanticizes and thereby disarms fanatical Islam.”
Like Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the powers that be in Pakistan, “India’s cultural twin in every respect but religion,” have tried to censor Bollywood and demonize its romantic heroes and heroines, who often fall in love outside of marriages already arranged, battle to mediate modernity and tradition, and navigate a Technicolor world free from conservative dress and outdated moral codes.
“Even as Pakistan’s resistance to America’s drones and raids has grown, its resistance to Bollywood’s soft power has crumbled,” Dalmia concludes. “The extremists who find sympathetic audiences when directing fire and brimstone toward the Great Satan are powerless to prevent Pakistanis form consuming Bollywood blasphemies.”
Thursday, May 05, 2011 12:16 PM
Are you Andy the Atheist, Jenna the Jew, or Willow the Wiccan? If so, be prepared for someone—let’s call her Chrissie the Christian—to chat you up about her close personal friend, Jesus.
Andy, Jenna, and Willow are three types of non-Christians profiled on a website run by Dare 2 Share Ministries, an evangelical youth ministry organization. The group’s resources page offers tips on ways to “share your faith” with 14 different kinds of people, from Mo the Muslim to Sid the Satanist, by getting inside their spiritual space.
Given the source, the basic information about each “worldview” is surprisingly fair-minded, breaking down, for example, even the dark abyss that is Satanism into bite-size bits. But things steer quickly out of hand when it comes to the proselytizing tips, which are presented under the innocuous-sounding “things to remember” heading. Because apparently the only reason evangelical Christians would try so hard to understand another spiritual belief system is so they can tear it down—slyly and strategically, that is.
Here are some of the more eyebrow-raising passages:
Willow the Wiccan: “Whether Willow knows it or not, she is in the grips of Satan, so like Sid the Satanist, be sure and cover your relationship and conversations with her in a ton of prayer.”
Jenna the Jew: “Jenna has been raised with little knowledge about Jesus Christ, so when you feel it could be appropriate, talk about how Jesus literally and perfectly fulfilled over 300 prophecies made about the coming Messiah. … Your main goal is not to persuade Jenna that Jesus is the Messiah—it is a means to an end, and that end is that she needs to see that she fails to keep God’s Law. It is not good enough for her to do her best; God requires perfection, so you need to get Jenna to the point where she knows that God will not overlook her failures or forgive her on the basis of their mitzvot (good deeds).”
Alisha the Agnostic: “Bottom line with an agnostic: remember you cannot argue someone to faith in Christ, but you can (and should) live such a Christlike life that those around you sense something different, which opens the door for you to explain the ‘evidence.’ ”
Nicole the New Ager: “When talking to Nicole, remember that you are entering a huge spiritual battle, so put on the full armor of God, and remember that the enemy is Satan, not Nicole (Ephesians 6).”
Source: Dare 2 Share Ministries
I Don’t Know, Maybe.
Thursday, April 28, 2011 1:21 PM
Using statistics collected by the Pew Foundation, Good and Column Five have plotted the shifting sentiments of Americans toward Islam—specifically, what proportion of our population regards Muslims as inherently violent. For anyone who watches this topic, the stats probably aren’t shocking. What’s most interesting, though, is how drastically people’s beliefs and assumptions about other groups can change in light of foreign affairs and a few short years. In 2003, for example, 25 percent of Americans felt that Islam “is more likely to encourage violence,” but by the summer of 2007, the percentage has increased to 45 percent. After a few years of decline, the number of American fretting of Muslim violence has increased again to 40 percent.
Image by david_shankbone, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 10, 2011 1:00 PM
In response to the congressional hearings being held today by Representative Peter King of New York about so-called radicalization of U.S. Muslims many (mostly conservative) voices are dismissing concerns that the hearings may be seen as a sort of witch hunt against Muslims, hearkening back to the days of Japanese internment camps. The argument goes that no one outside of the small group plotting terrorist acts in the name of Islam should be worried by the hearings. Rep. King, we are told, is only probing those who pose a threat to the U.S., which does not include the vast majority of freedom-loving, American-flag-toting Muslims in the U.S. Never mind for the moment that King has had an anti-Muslim agenda for years, saying that it is unfortunate that “we have too many mosques in this country.” Putting that aside, what interests me today in regards to these hearings is actually the reaction from the right to a couple of things that happened in 2009 and late last year.
Way back in ‘09 the Department of Homeland Security released a report warning against right-wing extremism in this country. Immediately, concerned parties on the right, including Rep. King, cried foul, saying among other things that the report amounted to little more than an attack on conservatives. Though the report specifically targeted “rightwing extremists,” that didn’t stop conservatives from aligning themselves with those the report was about, such as when Glenn Beck sarcastically proclaimed himself an extremist for predicting the country’s economic meltdown and offering his viewers tips for “preparation” in response to the meltdown. Michele Bachman called it “a hammer coming down on interest group after interest group that apparently the Obama Administration perceives as a threat to us.” Michelle Malkin called the report “a sweeping indictment of conservatives.” And King criticized the report for looking at the wrong group, saying that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano “has never put out a report talking about look out for mosques. Look out for Islamic terrorists in our country. Look out for the fact that very few Muslims come forward to cooperate with the police.If they sent out a report saying that, there would be hell to pay.” (Is this hell to pay, Representative King, or just some Americans exercising their rights?)
And then there was the outrage from some conservatives that any of their actions might be associated with one “whack job” who acted alone and shot and killed a number of people in Tucson, Arizona last year. When that tragedy occurred, those voices pleaded with us to blame the individual and nothing more. Not society. Not rhetoric. Not signs with crosshairs. Certainly not them. Acts of violence, they said, are the responsibility of the individuals who commit them. We should not, they told us, look any further than those individuals.
Yet now we have a congressional hearing explicitly naming not individuals who have perpetrated acts of violence and terror, but a larger supposed trend. “Congressional investigation of Muslim American radicalization is the logical response,” King states, to repeated warnings about homegrown terrorism.
So as the hearings begin some of those who took offense to that DHS report on rightwing extremism and the (according to them) misplaced blame for the AZ shootings can’t see why others might worry that King’s hearings may look like an attack on an entire group. It seems impossible for them to take into consideration how this may be seen as a hearing against a religion and not against any sort of act of terrorism or any individual acting with terroristic intent.
The hypocrisy is what really gets you, isn’t it? Even if you don’t disagree with the intent of the congressional hearings, you have to admit that, in the end, the response to such things all just depends on whose ox is being gored.
Oh, and then there’s this, which brings into question the very foundation upon which Rep. King is trying to stand:
Source: Mother Jones, Think Progress, The Huffington Post, Politico
Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:04 PM
The once-strong relationship between art and religion—a relationship that inspired stunning works of art from ancient history through the Renaissance and beyond—has been strained in recent years. Art critic and historian Rosalind Krauss made note of an “absolute rift” between art and religion back in 1979. But one only has to consider the furious reaction of the religious public to the most well-known art-world images that reference religion since then—Andres Serrano’s photograph “Piss Christ” (1987), Chris Ofili’s mixed-media painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” (1996), Renee Cox’s “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” (1996), and David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly” (1987)—to know how great the schism between the two has grown.
At issue between artists and religionists in America is a central conflict. Artists, who since the arrival of modernism have placed concerns about the self at the core of artistic practice, today tend to examine religion through heavily tinted lenses. Instead of expressing a sense of general worship of life’s wonders or a pious appreciation of God and religion, contemporary artists more often explore their own personal doubts about, or qualms with, religion. Or else they look at religion in relation to their own troubled sense of themselves and their place in the world. To religious folk, this sort of inquiry is seen as, at best, a sacrilegious questioning of their faith or, at worst, a deep attack on their personal religious values. And the resulting intractable impasse is made all the more intense because it brings into play several core American values. In modern religious art, our belief in the freedom of expression clashes with our deep national religious roots, and our support for freedom of speech comes into conflict with our belief in freedom of worship.
It would take a brave and visionary artist to successfully traverse the current national divide over religion in art, and this is even more true when the artist in question uses an Islamic text as the basis for his work. Yet, this is exactly what Los Angeles-based artist Sandow Birk has done. For the past five years, Birk has worked to create an updated version of the Qu’ran by creating a series of small gouache and ink images on paper.
The Holy Qu’ran, the chief religious text of Islam, is said to be the direct, verbatim word of God, as communicated to the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. Unlike much of the Christian Bible, the text of the Qu’ran is not a chronological narrative. Instead, it is comprised of 114 sermon-like chapters called “Suras.” Birk is currently working to make illustrations for each. Birk’s Qu’ran project is notable because it renders the holy text as it was intended—as a universal message to humankind from a divine source. He does not seek to grapple with self-doubt about religion or express his personal view of faith; instead, Birk’s intention is to honor the religion and to elucidate the text for modern audiences by updating the imagery to suit modern tastes. This means, even as Birk hand-transcribes text from each Sura in ways that honor traditional illustrated calligraphic guidelines that artists have followed for centuries in Islamic countries—including the colors of inks, the page format, margin size, and so on—he also employs an American tradition of writing, urban graffiti, to inspire his calligraphy. It also means Birk illuminates each text with appealing and lively (and textually appropriate) scenes from everyday contemporary American life—duffers on a golf course, a family shoveling snow from a winter driveway, people shopping at Wal-mart, stock cars on a NASCAR raceway, a Piggly Wiggly store in the aftermath of a hurricane, and so on.
“If the Qur’an is indeed a divine message to all peoples,” Birk wrote of his intentions for the project, “what does it mean to an individual American in the 21st Century?” In answer to his own question, Birk composes his images in a way similar to illuminated manuscripts or Persian miniature paintings. This means, as a rule, they are almost cartoon-like in their flat, colorful precision, a choice that seems purposefully designed to attract the largest possible audience and to appeal to the widest possible range of American sensibilities. Even though the images in the works cover the gamut of modern American experience, there is nothing threatening about any one of them, nothing that would provoke anyone’s ire or indignation. These images are safe enough that even parents would approve of their children seeing them. And certainly if a work of art is safe enough to show a child, it’s likely safe enough for even the most strident religious people.
The final project will consist of nearly 250 different pages that illustrate all 114 Suras of the Qur’an. At present, a selection of the Suras from Birk’s “American Qu’ran” project will be on view at the Andy Warhol Museum from February 26 through May 1, 2011. In sum, considering the scope of Birk’s efforts, and the bridge across the art-religion divide he’s managed to construct with his work, a special Hajj to Pittsburgh may be what every American—religious or not—needs.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications. Read his previous posts here.
Michael Fallon is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Image at top by Sandow Birk, “American Qur'an Sura 49 (a),” 2010, Courtesy of P.P.O.W Gallery, NY and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.
Image above right by Sandow Birk, “American Qur'an Sura 67,” 2010, Courtesy of P.P.O.W Gallery, NY and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 12:26 PM
Many Republican politicians continue to cling to a science-defying denial of climate change. Meanwhile, writes Earth Island Journal, “Some of the most recognizable militants in the Islamic world … have recently made statements linking peace and stability with healthy ecosystems.”
We’re talking about people like Hezbollah guerilla leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and terrorist majordomo Osama bin Laden. In October, writes Earth Island Journal, Nasrallah “took time out from his diatribes against the United States and Israel to deliver an environmentally themed stump speech.”
Reuters reported from the scene:
“The climate threat today,” the bespectacled cleric told his listeners, “is among the biggest threats faced by mankind in (terms of) its peace, security, stability and existence.”
Civic sense is not a strong point in Lebanon and it is not clear whether even Nasrallah can induce greener behavior on his compatriots, many of whom blithely toss litter from their cars.
But it was a striking theme for the leader of a militant Islamist armed movement, backed by Syria and Iran, and viewed by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Bin Laden, for his part, chimed in a week later, criticizing the official response to widespread flooding in Pakistan and linking the disaster to global warming. “The huge climate change is affecting our (Islamic) nation and is causing great catastrophes throughout the Islamic world,” bin Laden said, according to Reuters.
For greens trying to attract allies to their battle against climate change, these endorsements are a mixed blessing: On one hand, they signal a growing acceptance of current climate science even in unexpected quarters. On the other, do we want the wrong people on the right side of this issue? Doesn’t it make it a wee bit easier for climate-change deniers to paint greens as anti-American terrorist sympathizers?
Earth Island Journal speculates on where this could lead:
With enemies like these, maybe it’s time to update the tired post-9/11 sound bite: If the U.S. gives up on tackling global climate change … the terrorists win?
Sources: Earth Island Journal, Reuters
, licensed under
Friday, October 01, 2010 3:18 PM
Lots of Americans say they’re religious, but a new poll finds many of them don’t actually know that much about world religions—their own included. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey by the Pew Forum found that U.S. atheists and agnostics, along with Jews and Mormons, are actually more conversant than Christians in many faith-related facts.
While that basic takeaway is rich with irony—some of the least religious people know the most about religion—it confirms what some atheists have long suspected, and a few of them are bursting with pride about the results (which for them is not a sin, of course). Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, told Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times:
“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people. Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”
That’s not to say that believers don’t know anything about their own faiths, but rather that atheists and agnostics are well versed in a wider range of religious topics. Mormons and evangelical Protestants, for example, are very knowledgable on questions specifically relating to the Bible and Christianity, and atheists and agnostics aren’t far behind. According to the survey results:
On questions about Christianity—including a battery of questions about the Bible—Mormons (7.9 out of 12 right on average) and white evangelical Protestants (7.3 correct on average) show the highest levels of knowledge. Jews and atheists/agnostics stand out for their knowledge of other world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism; out of 11 such questions on the survey, Jews answer 7.9 correctly (nearly three better than the national average) and atheists/agnostics answer 7.5 correctly (2.5 better than the national average). Atheists/agnostics and Jews also do particularly well on questions about the role of religion in public life, including a question about what the U.S. Constitution says about religion.
Jeffrey Weiss at Politics Daily quibbles with the survey’s approach—“Too many [of the questions] read to me as if they were taken from a religion version of Trivial Pursuit,” he writes—but he notes that the results line up in a way with previous surveys that reveal a related phenomenon:
Academics call it the Religion Congruence Fallacy: In survey after survey, year after year, Americans who say they belong to a particular religious tradition tend not to act like it.
To take an easy set of examples: Conservative Protestants are no less likely than other Protestants to have been divorced, to have seen an X-rated movie in the last year, or to be sexually active even if they aren’t married. Even though their church teaches strongly that all three practices are wrong.
Maybe that’s because many of us don’t know all that much about the faith tradition we say we profess—or what makes it distinctive from any other.
Ignorance about our own or other religions is not necessarily an American tradition: As Ted Widmer recently reminded us in the Boston Globe, even the men who wrote the Constitution were quite familiar with the Koran:
As usual, the Founders were way ahead of us. They thought hard about how to build a country of many different faiths. And to advance that vision to the fullest, they read the Koran, and studied Islam with a calm intelligence that today’s over-hyped Americans can only begin to imagine. They knew something that we do not. To a remarkable degree, the Koran is not alien to American history — but inside it.
Meanwhile, Steve Thorngate at the Christian Century suggests that atheists, agnostics, and Jews shouldn’t get too uppity about their good marks on the religion exam:
Atheists/agnostics and Jews didn’t actually do better on the Christianity questions than Christians did, just nearly as well—and considerably better on all the others. This is perfectly intuitive: minority groups know more about the majority than vice versa, because majority culture tends to define what counts as general knowledge. So most Jews know where Jesus was born, even though few Christians know much about Buddhism. Jesus makes the cover of one general-interest magazine or another ever month or so, and it only takes a couple shopping trips between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to accidentally memorize the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
What do you know about religion? Take the Pew Forum’s 15-question religious knowledge sample quiz and find out.
Sources: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, New York Times, Politics Daily, Boston Globe, Christian Century
Utne Reader editorial intern Will Wlizlo contributed to this post.
Image by dottorpeni, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 05, 2009 3:17 PM
At 16 years old, Jason Perez was dealing drugs in his Massachusetts neighborhood. By the time the documentary New Muslim Cool begins, Perez has converted to Islam, changed his name to Hamza Perez, and moved to Pittsburgh to start a Muslim community. The film tracks Perez through intimate and important episodes of his life, including his wedding to a Muslim woman and the birth of their first child. Every moment evokes a larger theme of what it means to be Latino and Muslim in post-9-11 America.
Perez, like many Latinos, grew up Catholic. His mother is quoted in the film talking about the family’s struggle to reconcile her son’s faith with the rest of her Puerto Rican family. With his conversion to Islam, Perez is no longer able to eat the lechong, the roasted pig, which is popular in Puerto Rico.
Conversion to Islam doesn’t mean giving up on Puerto Rican culture, however. As one half of the hip hop duo, the Mujahadeen Team, Perez and his brother Suliman mix Latino and African American influences, often with strong Islamic messages.
Not everyone has found the conversion to Islam as natural as Perez’s. An article for the Brooklyn Rail profiles various Latino converts to Islam and the struggles they’ve encountered. Some Latinos have been made to feel unwelcome in certain Mosques, where speaking Spanish was looked down on. Some Latino families profiled in the piece have refused to accept their children’s conversions to Islam, in one case continuing to serve pig products, knowing of the dietary restrictions.
Estimates vary on the number of Latino Muslims in the United States. According to a Voice of America article from 2007, there are anywhere between 70,000 and 200,000. The group still represents a small minority within a minority, but people like Perez aim to change that by converting more people to Islam.
The Brooklyn Rail quotes Alex Robayo, the host at a Hispanic Muslim Day, who tried to emphasize the similarities between Catholicism “You may say in Spanish ‘dios,’ in English ‘God,’ in Arabic ‘Allah. Is dios and God different?” Robayo added, “Dios es grande.”
Watch the trailer for New Musilm Cool below:
New Muslim Cool
Image by Kauthar Umar.
Monday, May 11, 2009 11:50 AM
Big news! Pope Benedict XVI has broken the papal record for most mosque visits. With his visit to the Hussein bin-Talal mosque in Amman, Jordan, he bested his predecessor’s record by just one visit—but he also doubled it.
That’s not bad math: the record for mosque visits by a single pontiff, which Benedict XVI now holds, is two.
Here’s John Allen from the independent Catholic newspaper National Catholic Reporter:
Late this morning, Benedict visited the Hussein bin-Talal mosque in the Jordanian capital of Amman. That makes two mosque tours for Benedict XVI, after a visit to the legendary Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, in late 2006. Though John Paul made appearances at many mosques over the years, he only entered one – the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, in 2001.
Granted, the visit in Amman wasn’t quite the same stunner as Istanbul. For one thing, the symbolism was different; Benedict didn’t share a moment of silent prayer with an imam, and he didn’t take off his shoes. He did both in the Blue Mosque in 2006.
Nonetheless, the pope’s choice to go to the mosque at all, which is named for Jordan’s late King Hussein, offered further confirmation of the rising importance of Islam for this pope and for the broader Catholic church.
Source: National Catholic Reporter
Thursday, March 12, 2009 9:22 AM
Alt Wire is a morning digest of links and information collected and explained by a different guest blogger every weekday. Today's guest is Muslimah Media Watch editor-in-chief Fatemeh Fakhraie. Check back for tomorrow's guest, Shakesville blogger Melissa McEwan.
Wajahat Ali’s blog, GOATMILK, is hosting a monthlong series entitled “The Contemporary Muslim Women”, where Muslim women writers post guest entries. One of these writesr, Noura Erakat, writes about Irshad Manji’s misguided approach to the Gaza crisis.
The Muslim Sex Shop website takes a “halal” approach to sex in the life of a Muslim, discussing issues frankly but humorously in the form of poetry, guest fiction, and cheeky merchandise.
Jamerican Muslimah writes a checklist of Muslim male privilege in the style of Peggy McIntosh.
Persianesque is an online Iranian lifestyle magazine. The magazine recently featured a British exhibition of three generations of female Iranian artists, entitled
“Masques of Shahrazad”, and featuring artists such as Shadi Ghadirian (one of my personal favorites), Mansoureh Hosseini, and Golnaz Fathi.
Riffat Hassan, a theologian and Islamic feminist scholar of the Qur’an, writes a wonderful paper titled, “Members, One of Another, Gender Equality and Justice in Islam,” which thoroughly explores Islam’s position on human/women’s rights.
BIO: Fatemeh Fakhraie (Fatemehfakhraie.wordpress.com) is an Iranian-American Muslim woman who writes about Islamic feminism, Islam, and race for several online and print outlets, including Bitch magazine, Racialicious, and ReligionDispatches. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Muslimah Media Watch, website dedicated to critically analyzing images of Muslim women in global media and pop culture. She also serves as associate editor for the new website alt.muslimah.
Previous Alt Wire Guests: Joe Biel, Anne Elizabeth Moore
Friday, February 13, 2009 11:25 AM
When the organization Islamicity.com organized a hajj in the video game Second Life, pilgrims were faced with a question: Is a religious experience possible with a virtual avatar dressed in a Batman costume? In an article for Religion Dispatches, Rachel Wagner explores some of the strange issues involved in virtual spirituality. Wagner taught a class called “Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality,” where she led her students on the virtual hajj in the game Second Life. Unfortunately, the avatar she used was dressed in a Batman costume. Considering her class, and religiously themed video games both banal and disturbing, Wagner eventually concludes that spiritually enriching experiences are possible online, but it “must in some way change how we live our lives offline.”
Source: Religion Dispatches
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 12:11 AM
With a notoriously “faith-based” presidential administration in its last throes and a race for the White House boasting a varied slate of Christians—a man who’s been called a “semi-Baptist,” a Pentecostal conservative, a Catholic Democrat, and a member of the United Church of Christ whom some insist is a “secret Muslim”—it’s surprising that faith and religion aren’t playing a more central role in the presidential and vice-presidential debates.
There’s been a relative lack of religious talk during the presidential face-offs, and various spirituality blogs are wondering if tonight’s will be any different. Both Christianity Today and the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life noted a dearth of religious talk in their liveblogs of last week’s debate, with the notable exception of Tom Brokaw’s zen question. GetReligion also called attention to the fact that the latest presidential debate’s only spiritual reference was to Buddhism, after the website live-blogged the Palin-Biden debate and its own lack of religious language.
One explanation is that Iraq and the tanking economy have largely pushed aside religious and social issues that dominated previous debate cycles. Nathan Empsall at the Wayward Episcopalian is glad the candidates are addressing the economy, but still frustrated by both candidates’ remarks in that regard. With McCain foundering in the polls and in need of a game changer, it’s questionable whether Christianity will make an appearance in tonight’s debate.
Image by Ricardo Carreon, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 11:22 AM
A new, English-language translation of the Quran by Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar is causing controversy in some Muslim communities. The Sublime Qur’an (Kazi Publications, 2007) is the first English-language translation of the Islam's holy text by an American woman. Muneer Fareed, the Canadian secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), said he would consider banning it.
Though attempts to ban the book have been thwarted, the controversy continues. One passage is getting the majority of the heat: chapter 4 (Surah), verse (Ayah or Sign) 34. Sikeena Karmali, who interviewed Bakhtiar for Ascent, tries to clarify the issue:
Dr. Bakhtiar reverts the translation of the Arabic word dharhaba, translated for centuries by Muslim clerics as “to beat,” back to its original meaning of “to go away.” This is nothing short of revolutionary for empowering Muslim women in traditional societies, where a system of patriarchy cites the absolute authority of the Qur’an as the legitimizing factor for domestic abuse.
Bakhtiar says she wanted the translation to be as inclusive as possible. In the interview with Ascent she says, “Arabic is so rich that there are many different words you can use for [the translation of] a word. I always chose the word that would be most inclusive of people of all faiths.” Her translation is based on an understanding of the language as poetic, rather than didactic. In her reading, each passage is open to many interpretations, which “creates a diversity of belief that necessitates tolerance and openness.” Rather than putting her own interpretive spin on it, Bakhtiar tried consistently to translate each word throughout the text, leaving much of the interpretation to the reader.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008 6:13 PM
As much as there is dividing Jews and Muslims, the two religions have more in common than their belief in Abraham. Writing for Tikkun, (article not available online) Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls attention to the large body of Judeo-Arabic writings that could point the way toward greater conciliation between the two groups.
Largely unknown to both Jews and Muslims, Judeo-Arabic literature was written in an Arabic dialect with Hebrew script by Jews living in Islamic countries. The famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides, in fact, wrote in both standard Arabic and in Judeo-Arabic. The authors of the texts were undoubtedly influenced by Muslim scholars, Schachter-Shalomi writes, and influenced the Muslim scholars in turn. Schachter-Shalomi envisions a website where Muslims and Jews could read and study the texts, translating the writing for the Muslim world at large and creating a greater understanding between the two religions.
Thursday, July 24, 2008 4:09 PM
Taking a page from the evangelical mega-churches that have popped up around the country, Muslims have begun setting up multi-site “mosque chains” to accommodate increasingly large religious services, Mallika Rao reports for the Religion News Service. Often branded as more progressive than other mosques, some of the organizations have begun offering gymnasiums, adult education classes, and even mixed-gender prayer areas. The strategy seems to be paying off, both financially and organizationally. Abeer Abdulla, a media specialist for the Islamic Society of Central Florida in Orlando, told Rao, "because of how streamlined we are, you can get off the highway from anywhere and find a mosque that is well-maintained, well-structured and that will always be open."
(Thanks, Pew Forum.)
Thursday, June 19, 2008 12:55 PM
Blackwater, the private-security firm winning a suspiciously high number of contracts in Iraq, has also been at the center of some of the war’s most horrific events. Yet the company continues to reap billions of dollars in government contracts and staff their highest positions with retired officials from the military, CIA, and other government agencies. They are uniquely positioned to reap the maximum benefit from both the public and private sector.
The agency is currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought by the widows of three soldiers killed when a plane operated by sister company Presidential Airways crashed in Afghanistan. Last year Blackwater attempted to have the case dismissed under a provision that soldiers can’t sue their government, at whose behest Blackwater was serving. When that didn’t work, the firm took a strange new tack: Rather than be tried in an American court, it requested that the case be tried under Islamic law, or Sharia, which doesn’t hold companies in its jurisdiction responsible for their actions. If this request is honored, it would effectively dismiss the lawsuit.
Talking Points Memo highlights the obvious irony of an ostentatiously patriotic company with well-known right-wing ties preferring Muslim law to the good old-fashioned U.S. legal system, and AlterNet snarks: “If this becomes well-known, the GOP's corporate base will become fundamentalist Muslims faster than you can say Mecca Oil & Gas.” Meanwhile, DailyKos posts the mock-hysterical headline, “Blackwater Wants to Establish A Sharia Caliphate Here in the U.S.A.”
Erik Prince, Blackwater’s CEO, argues that his company’s request is a reasonable one since the plane—carrying U.S. military personnel and operated by a U.S. corporation—crashed in Afghanistan, which is governed by Sharia. This logic is patently absurd, but Blackwater has proven it can get away with murder in the past, and this is just more evidence that the agency wants it both ways: When it’s to Blackwater’s advantage, it’s a governmental entity, acting on behalf of the U.S. Armed Forces; as soon as that becomes inconvenient, it plays the private-sector card and attempts, often successfully to circumvent the law. Pretty slippery, and plenty scary.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008 9:11 AM
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, right? Much of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic tradition begins with that phrase. Writing for Parabola, Rabbi David Cooper suggests the creation story may not be so simple. Instead of the phrase, “[i]n the beginning, God created…” Cooper suggests a grammatically correct translation of the original material could be: “In the beginning, [it] created God, heaven, and earth.”
This alternate translation, favored in Jewish Kabbalah teachings, drastically changes the role of God in creation. Instead of God as the creator of everything, there is a different, unnamed force connecting and transcending all things, including God.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008 6:02 PM
Leading an interfaith meeting of teenagers, Dilara Hafiz asked her own son to read aloud a list of others’ first impressions of his faith tradition, Islam:
“Violent, weird clothes, brain-washed,” his voice is subdued as he slowly goes through the impressions. “Tourist? Hey Mom, look, they think Muslims are tourists—that's pretty neat!” I walk over and read the note for myself—turns out he misread the word “tourist."
Read more at altmuslim.com.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008 2:16 PM
Some right-wing commentators have expressed significant fears over the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca being a hotbed of anti-Americanism. Undeniably, there are many people on the Hajj who don’t support the United States, but a new study published in the Social Science Research Network shows that the Hajj actually promotes “tolerance and understanding across peoples,” Ray Fishman writes for Slate. Participants in the Hajj are more likely to believe that Muslims—both Sunnis and Shiites—are able to live together peacefully and more likely to have a positive view of women after their pilgrimage. And although the anti-American sentiments in the test group remained unchanged, according to Fishman, “the Hajj may be helpful in curbing the spread of extremism in the Islamic world.”
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008 2:28 PM
Pundits of all political stripes have pondered the effect that religion is currently having in the world, and what that means for the future of the planet. The rise of radical Islam has right-wing commentators up in arms, while the popularity of evangelical mega-churches in the United States has caused plenty of hand wringing on the left.
The fears of both sides are unfounded, according to Alan Wolfe, writing for the Atlantic. “Most of the religious revivals we are seeing throughout the world today complement, and ultimately reinforce, secular developments,” Wolfe writes. “They are more likely to encourage moderation than fanaticism.”
Taking a page from the playbooks of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, Wolfe writes that material wealth makes people less religious. As countries get rich, their citizens will turn away from religion. The United States would seem to disprove that rule, since its citizens are both religious and wealthy, but Wolfe discounts that, calling American religiosity, “as shallow as it is broad.” Also, the current popularity of American evangelicalism, according to Wolfe, is owed in part to the religion’s embrace of secular values and lifestyles.
Throughout the world, Wolfe writes that “religious peace will be the single most important consequence of the secular underpinning of today’s religious growth.”
Not everyone, however, shares Wolfe’s optimistic vision of the future. Philip Jenkins writes for the New Republic (subscription required) that the looming crisis in climate change will exacerbate preexisting religious tensions throughout the world. In the future, as crops wither and icecaps melt, Jenkins warns that “ethnic cleansing in the name of resource protection” may become the norm.
On the other hand, climate change could lead to greater cooperation between people, Cynthia G. Wagner writes for the Futurist. Wagner acknowledges the probability that global warming could lead to conflicts, but also posits that the coming ecological crisis could lead to “economic change, trade, technological and social innovation, and peaceful resource distribution,” rather than simple religious strife and fighting. God willing.
Image by naughton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008 3:03 PM
Muslim mom and blogger who writes anonymously under the name Muslim Hedonist left behind her hijab and her polygamous husband, but not her faith. On her blog, she contemplates what it means to become a self-seeking Muslim:
To be sure, identity questions are probably best dealt with way before anyone has kids–say, in first year university, with a group of equally wide-eyed first-year students over pizza and beer.
But for those of who went straight from high school into conservative Islam, first year university didn’t offer us a chance to explore such questions.
Recently she mulled over a conversation with her pre-teen daughter about female genital mutilation, sparked by a Somali contestant on America’s Next Top Model. She wondered what to call the practice, how to explain its purpose, and how girls living in a sex-saturated world could still find the clitoris a mystery.
How do I explain this so that she can understand?
I’m not going to repeat any sanitized Muslim excuses–that it’s sunna (the practice of the Prophet), or that it’s supposedly cleaner, or that it’s just a cultural thing that some people happen to do, or that some people think that it will keep girls from having sex before they get married.
“They cut off the clitoris so that a woman won’t enjoy sex,” I answer.
“Eww,” my pre-teen daughter responds, and goes off to watch TV with her sister.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007 3:19 PM
For many African Muslims on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca, being stranded for days at an airport isn’t just an inconvenience. It is a test from god. This year, the BBC reports that more than 1,100 Tanzanians were stranded in a Dar es Salaam airport for ten days before finally receiving the go-ahead to travel to Mecca for the Hajj. A devout traveler quoted in by the BBC echoed the sentiments of many in the group saying, “Anyone who gets angry because of flight delays at this time of year does not know Islam.".
Spiritually, the story helps put that ten-hour delay at the Atlanta airport in perspective.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 12:00 AM
In its Autumn edition (a special double-issue), Himal Southasian a magazine published in Kathmandu, analyses fundamentalism in the region. The comprehensive package opens with an overview of Islam’s roots, and then examines those extremists who have decided to go out on a limb, like the militant Hindutvas in India or the Sinhala-Buddhists, a group of nationalists in Sri Lanka. The issue’s coda is a positive one, though. In "Archaeology and the Rejection of the Mono-Country,” an essayist argues for a renewed examination of South Asia’s varied history and archaeology, confident that a greater understanding of the past will spur future religious diversity and tolerance. —Julie Dolan
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