Category : Other Faiths

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–Taking a New Look at the Book of Deuteronomy

Hence the program of Deuteronomy, which is fundamentally about the creation of a good society based on collective responsibility, or, as the opening phrase of the Preamble to the United States Constitution puts it, forming a group of “We, the people” under the sovereignty of God. The good society is the essential precondition of spiritual individuals, “since man, as is well known, is by nature social.”

Such a society is to be based on justice and tzedaka, meaning more than merely procedural justice, but in addition what we would call equity or fairness. Nor is that society to be based on abstract principles alone. Instead it is grounded in collective memory and active recall, in particular through celebrations at the Temple at various points of the year.

Underlying this thesis — that the life of faith requires a society dedicated to goodness as a whole — is the poignant story of Noah in the book of Genesis. Noah is the only person to be called righteous in the entire Hebrew Bible, but in the end Noah saved only his family, not his generation. He kept his own moral standards intact but failed to be an inspiration to others. Individual righteousness is not enough.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Judaism, Theology: Scripture

(NYT) China Says It Has Released Most Muslims Held in Camps. That’s Difficult to Prove.

Senior Chinese officials made the surprising announcement on Tuesday that the authorities had released most detainees held in the government’s mass internment program for ethnic minority Muslims in China’s far west, but provided no firm numbers or specific details to support their assertion.

Alken Tuniaz, vice chairman of the government of the region of Xinjiang, said 90 percent of people held in what the government calls vocational training centers had been returned to society. It was a contention that would be nearly impossible to independently verify in the tightly controlled region and flew in the face of accounts of disappearances and detentions that have been compiled by relatives abroad and human rights groups.

Detainees who have been released from the camps say they were subjected to a high-pressure indoctrination program with the goal of removing any devotion to Islam and encouraging loyalty to China and its ruling Communist Party.

Read it all.

Posted in China, Islam, Religion & Culture

(EF) Gideon Para-Mallam–An existential threat to Christianity in Nigeria? Systemic persecution and its implications

Terrorism as we know it today in West Africa thrives on religion, ignorance, and social disaffection. Christians in Nigeria are being killed with targeted precision, posing an existential threat to the church.

The virtual abandonment of missions and evangelism in some affected areas represents a clear danger. To succeed in the fight against terrorism, the youth across the religious and ethnic divide need to be united in working proactively to address this existential challenge. We cannot wait for governments to end the cycle of violence in our communities and nations.

We each have a role to play. Jesus has motivated and inspired me in the role I am playing: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God’ (Matt 5:9). Thankfully, the church’s hope in Nigeria remains firmly rooted in the God who promised: ‘I will not leave nor forsake you’ (Heb 13:5).

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Muslim-Christian relations, Nigeria, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Terrorism, Violence

(FT) An interview with Karen Armstrong: ‘We’re just not good at religion’

“I always say,” Karen Armstrong admits with a conspiratorial grin, “that God bought me that place.” She is referring to the north London house she paid for with the proceeds of her series of bestsellers on religion — and Islam in particular.

If there was one specific book that underpinned the foundations of her Islington home, it was her short history of Islam. Published in 2000, this was perfectly timed for the west’s agonising over religion and the potential for a clash of civilisations sparked by the September 11 attacks the following year.

“I never saw the inside of a library” after that, she tells me as we are steered to our table. Instead, she was on the radio nonstop, “talking about Islam ” — as indeed she has been virtually ever since. She sees it as a civic duty to defend the religion — against both the misconceptions of non-Muslims and against what she sees as the corrupting influence of certain strains of Islamic theology, notably Saudi Wahhabism.

It is, Armstrong says of the latter, “as if a tiny sect in the [American] Bible belt had petrodollars and international approval to export their form of Christianity over the rest of the world.”

Read it all(subscription).

Posted in Books, Globalization, Islam, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) Mustafa Akyol–The Creeping Liberalism in American Islam

I think that while this concern is understandable, the opposite may also be true: Young generations may lose the faith if Islam remains too closed to rationality, individuality, tolerance and freedom.

For that reason, I find the American Muslim quandary fascinating — and promising. “Liberalism” as a framework for a free society is painfully lacking in large parts of the Muslim world today. If the Muslim community in the United States, what Mr. Patel called the “American ummah,” can embrace that by reinterpreting its traditions without losing itself, it could contribute to the broader ummah by offering new perspectives and a lived example.

Charles Taylor, one of the most prominent thinkers on religion today, reminds us of a historical precedent in an essay from 2011: In the 19th century, American Catholics were seen by the Protestant majority as “inassimilable to democratic mores, in ways very analogous to the suspicions that nag people over Islam today.” But, Mr. Taylor added, “American Catholicism evolved and, in the process, changed world Catholicism in significant ways.”

A similar transformation took place within American Judaism, as Steven R. Weisman shows in his recent book, “The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion.” Rabbinical authority waned, women became empowered, practices were modernized and Reform Judaism flourished.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Islam, Religion & Culture

(Tablet) As the leading targets of hate crimes, Jews are routinely being attacked in the streets of New York City. So why is no one acting like it’s a big deal?

The incidents now pass without much notice, a steady, familiar drumbeat of violence and hate targeting visibly Jewish people in New York City.

Early on the morning of June 15, a Saturday, two men in a white Infiniti drove around Borough Park, a vast, traditional Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in central Brooklyn. Surveillance footage posted on the local website BoroPark24 showed a man jumping out of the car’s passenger side as someone in a shtreimel and long black jacket walked down the sidewalk in their direction. As the car idled, the passenger approached the Jewish stranger, lunged at him in a linebacker-like stutter-step, and then darted to the waiting vehicle, which promptly sped away. Levi Yitzhak Leifer, head of the Borough Park Shmira neighborhood patrol, said there were at least six and as many as nine reported incidents that night involving the same vehicle. Beresch Freilich, a rabbi who serves as a community liaison with the NYPD in Borough Park, said that some of the targeted individuals sensed a violent intent: “The car passed by going back and forth, and they felt it was trying to run them over.”

On a Saturday night in mid-January, Steven, a student and member of the Chabad Hasidic movement in his late teens, was returning to his apartment on Empire Avenue after a trip to the gym. (Nearly all victims interviewed for this piece asked to be identified by first name only, due to their involvement in ongoing legal cases). Steven saw what he described as a “rowdy group” of between six and eight “older teens” gathered on the sidewalk on a poorly lit stretch between Schenectady and Troy avenues. One of the teens sucker punched Steven in the back of the head as he walked past. “At first I honestly thought a car ran into me—it was such a blow.” Steven was then struck in his right cheek and fell to the sidewalk. He realized he was outnumbered but some irrational part of him couldn’t accept the insult.

“I charged towards them like in a frenzy, with blood on my hands and my face, and I started trying to give him a thing or two,” he remembered of his run toward his main attacker. They exchanged a few blows before the entire group fled. The teens made no attempt to rob Steven, and there was no clear motive for the assault. In retrospect, given the force of the first strike against a vulnerable spot on his head, Steven thinks the attack could have gone much worse for him. “I was very, very lucky,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Judaism, Religion & Culture, Urban/City Life and Issues, Violence

(CEN) Sheikh Dr Muhammad al-Hussain–Investigating institutional bullying within faith and interfaith organisations

One of my most difficult experiences as a perpetrator of fitna myself was at the 2014 General Meeting of the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (IFN).

A conglomeration of largely self-appointed “faith community representative bodies” and interfaith groups led by a Church of England bishop, the IFN has been funded over the years in millions of pounds by the taxpayer and enjoys privileged lobbying access to government.

Above all, the IFN embodies the vested interests of a monetised interfaith industry, and the project of the liberal Church of England hierarchy to reinvent itself as head boy of Eton for all UK faiths, just as England’s bishops chase continued political relevance in the face of the C of E’s own terminal decline in congregational numbers.

When I spoke publicly as a Muslim academic about the Inter Faith Network’s membership including the Islamic Foundation and Muslim Council of Britain, among whose founding leaders have been individuals convicted of genocide or linked to Jamaat-e-Islami Islamist networks overseas, it was the Methodist Director of the Lambeth Palaces ponsored Christian Muslim Forum who protested offence at the allegation that the IFN has members associated with extremism.

The written record shows how he demanded that my remarks as a Muslim cleric about Islamist extremism be expunged from the minutes of the meeting.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Violence

(CEN Editorial) The challenge of the Barmen Declaration for today

The Christian Church today faces severe challenges globally. In the ‘two thirds world’ it faces persecution of great severity, notably in cultures wishing to stress Islamic identity and practice such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Simply being a Christian brings daily hazards and vulnerability to accusation and attack. In the wealthy West the Church faces very different dangers, largely in the form of pressures to conform its faith to strong currents of cultural development. Society is said to affirm ‘diversity’ and yet at key points this diversity disappears to the detriment of traditional Christianity.

The astonishing rise of the transgender movement is a prime example, clashing as it does with the biblical assumption that the one significant distinction within the human race is that between a man and a woman, and this is part and parcel of the Christian understanding of creation. Now this distinction appears to be made secondary: gender is becoming a secondary matter of choice or preference.

Related to this issue is that of sexuality and the ever increasing demand by the state that children be schooled in an ethical framework that clashes with that of the Abrahamic faiths. The role of family and parental responsibility for this dimension of life is being removed or very fiercely diminished….

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Sexuality

(Scott Sauls) Toward a Truer Christianity…Abandoning Us-Against-Them

A few years ago, Slate Magazine came out with a multi-essay piece that identified 2014 as “the year of outrage.” The subtitle to the article is as follows: From righteous fury to faux indignation, everything we got mad about in 2014. Featured were pieces on sexual identity outrage, liberal outrage, conservative outrage, holiday outrage, religious outrage, and so on.

Similarly, New York Times contributor Tim Kreider describes an epidemic he calls “outrage porn.” Kreider says that so many letters to the editor and blog comments contain a “tone of thrilled vindication” from “people who have been vigilantly on the lookout for something to be offended by…some part of us loves feeling 1) right and 2) wronged.”

One former U.S. President recently said that the one remaining bigotry in modern society is that we don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us.

Emma Green of The Atlantic wrote an article called “Taming Christian Outrage” highlighting how some Christians have become part of the outrage madness in the blogosphere, the media, and their personal lives. Green’s belief is that the common thread among “outraged” Christians is not an interest in winning hearts, but rather an interest in asserting their own rights, privileges, and comforts in a post-Christian culture.

Can this be a good thing when Jesus, the rightful King, set aside his rights, privileges, and comforts in order to move toward his enemies in love?

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Apologetics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Faiths, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(BBC) Faith in ruins: China’s vanishing beards and mosques

“The BBC has found new evidence of the increasing control and suppression of Islam in China’s far western region of Xinjiang – including the widespread destruction of mosques.

Authorities provided rare access to religious sites and senior Islamic officials to support their claim that their policies only target violent religious extremism, not faith itself.

But after his official tour was over, China Correspondent John Sudworth set out to investigate.”

Watch it all (about 5 1/3 mins).

Posted in China, Islam, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(NYT) A Muslim Family Sought Help at the Belgian Embassy in Beijing. The Police Dragged Them Out.

The last time Abdulhamid Tursun spoke to his wife, she was huddled in a Beijing hotel room with their four children, frightened after being evicted from the Belgian Embassy in the dead of night. Suddenly, plainclothes police officers burst into the room, cutting off the couple’s video call.

Mr. Tursun says he has not heard from her since.

His wife, Wureyetiguli Abula, 43, had gone to the Belgian Embassy to seek visas so the family — from the Uighur Muslim minority group — could be reunited with Mr. Tursun, 51, in Brussels, where he won asylum in 2017.

But instead of finding protection, Ms. Abula and her children, ages 5 to 17, were dragged away after the Chinese police were allowed to enter the embassy.

Now the case is raising alarms back in Belgium, where lawmakers are asking how it could have happened and where Mr. Tursun’s family has been taken. It illustrates how, two years after China began detaining Uighurs in a vast network of internment camps, the group has limited protections — even from Western democracies — against persecution by the Chinese government.

Read it all.

Posted in Belgium, Children, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

(BBC) Inside China’s ‘thought transformation’ camps

The BBC has been given rare access to the vast system of highly secure facilities thought to be holding more than a million Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

Authorities there insist they are just training schools. But the BBC’s visit uncovers important evidence about the nature of the system and the conditions for the people inside it.

Watch it all (just under 12 minutes).

Posted in China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(NPR) A Muslim In Rural, White Minnesota On How To ‘Love Thy Neighbor’

He had left a good job in a leadership position at a successful hospital in Harrisburg, Penn., in order to practice medicine in a rural, underserved area.

[Dr. Ayaz] Virji says he “had the BMWs, the nice house, but it wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to do more.” Rural America faces a shortage of doctors, with many residents forgoing care and saying locations are too far away. “So I felt like I should do something about that. And it was back to the idea: If not me, then who?” he says.

He moved with his family to Dawson, Minn., in 2014. As far as he knew, they were the only Muslims in town. Virji describes the small city — population 1,500 or so — as filled with “very gracious” people who welcomed the family to the community.

“People there are kind, you know, many of them are far better than I am as a person.”

But something seemed to change when Donald Trump started whipping crowds into a frenzy with anti-Muslim rhetoric. For Virji, the 2016 election was a turning point. He wondered how his neighbors, who had been so welcoming, could vote for someone who said that “Islam hates us” and had proposed a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Mandy France, who was training to be a local pastor at the time, invited Virji to give a lecture about his faith. He ended up giving a series of talks about Islam to his neighbors and people in surrounding communities in 2017. Virji wrote about the experience in the book Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America. He talked with NPR’s Michel Martin.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Islam, Religion & Culture

(Local Paper) Emanuel AME church, shooting survivors form bonds with other traumatized houses of worship

Monday will mark four years since an angry young man with murderous intent slipped into Emanuel and headed for 12 people settling in for Bible study. He sat with them for about an hour, not speaking, until they shut their eyes for closing prayer.

Then he pulled out a gun.

Nine people died that night, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a state senator who was sitting beside the killer.

And the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., a retired minister who led the study most Wednesdays.

And Myra Thomson, who led it for the first time that night.

And Susie Jackson, at 87 the oldest among them to die.

And her nephew Tywanza Sanders, the youngest at 26.

And their cousin Ethel Lance, the church’s sexton, a mother of five.

And the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, mother of four.

And the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, mother of three.

And Cynthia Graham Hurd, mother of none but mentor to hundreds in her decades as a beloved librarian.

Nine families, the survivors and the church’s entire congregation found themselves thrust into a journey through what the Bible calls “the valley of the shadow of death.” Then they relived their losses anew with each mass shooting in America, including the Pulse nightclub massacre almost one year to the day after their loved ones died.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Inter-Faith Relations, Judaism, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Wash Post) Ajay Verghese–Is India becoming a ‘Hindu state’?

So what does the BJP’s victory mean for Indian secularism?

First off, the term “secularism” is quite different in Indian politics — it’s not what U.S. audiences imagine it to be: a separation between church and state. Instead, it refers to religious neutrality (dharmnirpekshta): the equal treatment of all religious communities, irrespective of size, by the government.

Secularism in India is less concerned with religion interfering in politics (as in the United States) than with the state interfering in religion. As Rajeev Bhargava argues, Indian secularism is about maintaining a “principled distance” between the state and religion.

To get a better understanding of secularism in India, I conducted research in villages in the northern Indian state of Bihar in late 2017, and in February 2018, I conducted a survey of 900 Hindus across the state on religion and politics.

My preliminary findings show that Hindus in Bihar overwhelmingly support many of the ideals of Indian secularism — even government support for mosques. Critically, however, this is not true for more pious Hindus: The more religious voters are, the more they subscribe to the tenets of Hindu nationalism, especially the idea that Hindus deserve preferential treatment over Muslims.

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Posted in Hinduism, India, Religion & Culture

(NPR Codeswitch) The Ramadan Podcast Where Muslims Take It Up A Notch From ‘Islam 101’

In a media landscape that can still be pretty awful for Muslims, Tell Them, I Am, a new podcast from KPCC, aims to give Muslims a space to define their own identities outside of stereotypes and broad generalizations.

Over the course of the series, host and producer Misha Euceph interviewed 22 people, all Muslims, about the defining moments of their lives. While the show dropped episodes every weekday of Ramadan, “Tell Them, I Am” doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday. “If somebody released something during Christmas time or during Hanukkah,” Euceph says, “they wouldn’t necessarily be asked about like, what are important aspects of Christmas or Hanukkah.”

It’s in each guest’s hands how much they want to talk about culture or religion; for some it’s a central part of their story, for others it’s mostly incidental. Tan France of Queer Eye talks about his first big “I told you so,” which involved his older brother and a metal fan. Ramy Youssef, creator of the Hulu show Ramy, talks about the medical condition that catalyzed his acting career. Alia Shawkat talks about the extremes of her stoner-y teenage rebellion, including borrowing urine to cheat a drug test (Spoiler: It didn’t work).

And every episode of the podcast offers glimpses into Euceph’s story: the fashion she endured to be more popular in middle school; the glamour she didn’t quite inherit from her mother; the drive to prove people wrong that sent her up actual mountains.

Read it all.

Posted in Islam, Religion & Culture

(Independent) Humanist weddings rise by 266 per cent across England and Wales

They are weddings that are, officially speaking, not even legally recognised.

But such a small detail, it seems, is not stopping increasing numbers of couples from opting for humanist marriage ceremonies across England and Wales.

Such weddings have risen by more than 250 per cent in the last 15 years, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The massive rise makes it the fastest growing type of wedding in the country – and comes as the number of faith-based ceremonies fell in the same period.

While humanist weddings went up 266 per cent between 2004 and 2016, Church of England weddings fell by 28 per cent, Catholic by 34 per cent and Baptist by 42 per cent.

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(BBC) The man who might have stopped Sri Lanka’s Easter bombings

In March, just over a month before the Easter attacks, a gunman quietly entered [Mohammad Razak] Taslim’s house in the early hours of the morning. He was lying in bed, next to his wife, and his youngest son. The gunman shot him once in the head.

“At first I thought the phone charger had exploded, but I looked and it was fine,” Taslim’s wife told me. “Then I tried to wake him up, and I could smell gunpowder… I reached out to him and I realised he wasn’t conscious. I thought he was dead.”

Taslim was rushed to hospital. He survived the attack, but it’s not clear if he will ever fully recover.

Sri Lanka’s army commander, Lt Gen Mahesh Senanayake, is now playing a leading role in the investigation into the Easter Bombings. He told me it had been confirmed that the “same network” was also responsible for the desecration of the Buddhist statues, the explosives hidden in the coconut grove, and the shooting of Taslim.

He admitted that the previous incidents should have made the authorities more alert to the dangers of a jihadist attack. Instead, warnings by the Indian security services in the days and hours leading up the bombings weren’t followed up, due to what the army commander referred to as problems with “intelligence sharing” between different departments.

Read it all.

Posted in City Government, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Politics in General, Sri Lanka, Terrorism

(Guardian) All Germans urged to wear kippah in protest against antisemitism

Germans of all faiths and none are being urged to wear kippah skullcaps on Saturday as a symbol of solidarity with the Jewish community, after a steep rise in antisemitic attacks.

Protests across the country have been called by the government’s antisemitism ombudsman after he triggered a heated debate when he warned Jews last week not to wear the kippah because of the increasing likelihood of being attacked.

The German tabloid newspaper Bild has been one of the most vocal supporters of the protests, even publishing a cut-out kippah for readers to download and print.

Felix Klein, who was appointed as antisemitism ombudsman a year ago, told German media last week: “I cannot recommend that Jews wear the kippah whenever and wherever they want in Germany, and I say this with regret.”

Read it all.

Posted in Germany, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) David Molton–My Jewish Family’s American Life Almost Wasn’t–They were turned away 80 years ago but made their way to the U.S. eventually

Left alone with three children, my grandmother formed a plan to reunite the family. She spent much of her dwindling savings on a voyage to Cuba aboard the St. Louis. The ship was filled with hundreds of Jews with similar stories. In what should have served as a warning of trouble ahead, the passengers were required to purchase return tickets.

As the ship neared Havana in May 1939, the Cuban government announced it wouldn’t honor the Cuban landing permits sold to passengers by a corrupt Cuban minister. Most passengers weren’t concerned, since they held immigration quota numbers committing the U.S. to grant them entry when their turn came over the next few years. They assumed Washington would move up the timetable and let them enter right away.

Yet the St. Louis was anchored in Havana harbor from May 27 to June 2. A representative from the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish relief group, negotiated with the Cuban government to allow the passengers to disembark. Dinghies carried separated family members, including my grandfather, for temporary reunions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt remained silent, and the negotiations failed.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Cuba, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Germany, Immigration, Judaism, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(AP) Washington is 1st state to allow composting of human bodies

Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Tuesday making Washington the first state to approve composting as an alternative to burying or cremating human remains.

It allows licensed facilities to offer “natural organic reduction,” which turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into about two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in a span of several weeks.

Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they might spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated — or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree.

“It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death,” said Nora Menkin, executive director of the Seattle-based People’s Memorial Association, which helps people plan for funerals.

Supporters say the method is an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation, which releases carbon dioxide and particulates into the air, and conventional burial, in which people are drained of their blood, pumped full of formaldehyde and other chemicals that can pollute groundwater, and placed in a nearly indestructible coffin, taking up land.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Premier) Durham church criticised for offering to cover crosses and host Muslim prayers

A Darlington church is coming under fire after offering to cover up crosses and allow Muslims to say prayers in its building.

St Matthew and St Luke’s had initially invited members of the Muslim community for an event next month to mark Ramadan.

It also offered different rooms to allow segregated worship for men and women.

Upon hearing about the event the Diocese of Durham intervened and told the church it must not hold Islamic prayers in the church building.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Muslim-Christian relations, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer

(PR FactTank) Many Americans see religious discrimination in U.S. – especially against Muslims

While ideas about religious liberty and tolerance are central to America’s founding and national story, different religious groups – including Catholics, Jews and Mormons – have suffered discrimination in the United States at various points in history. Today, Americans say some religious groups continue to be discriminated against and disadvantaged, according to an analysis of recent Pew Research Center surveys.

Most American adults (82%) say Muslims are subject to at least some discrimination in the U.S. today, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March – including a majority (56%) who say Muslims are discriminated against a lot.

Among U.S. Muslims themselves, many say they have experienced specific instances of discrimination, including being treated with suspicion, singled out by airport security or called offensive names, according to a 2017 survey of Muslim Americans.

In this year’s survey, roughly two-thirds of Americans (64%) also say Jews face at least some discrimination in the U.S., up 20 percentage points from the last time this question was asked in 2016. More say Jews face some discrimination than a lot (39% vs. 24%).

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Islam, Religion & Culture, Sociology

(CLJ) Daniel Philpott–Both Sides of the Culture War Are Partially Wrong About Islam

One side, let us call them Islamoskeptics, will say that the attacks remind us of what only fools fail to perceive: Islam is a violent religion. Westerners who let down their guard or indulge hopes of a peaceful Islam are latter day Neville Chamberlains and invite further violence….

Who is right about Islam? This is the question I take up in Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today, just published by Oxford University Press. There, I propose religious freedom as the yardstick for assessing whether Islam is peaceful and tolerant or violent and intolerant. A universal human right, religious freedom requires people and states to respect the beliefs and practices of those who espouse different answers to the ultimate questions of life, to accord them the full rights of citizenship, and to refrain from invidious discrimination against them. Religious freedom means that nobody pays a penalty for his or her religious beliefs. I pose this criterion for the world’s 47 (or so) states where Muslims are a majority. This is a good test, for in these states, Muslims possess the demographic power to carry out repression if that is what they wish. If freedom obtains here, then the Muslim world’s capacity for freedom is evidenced.

What results emerge? A landscape view shows that on average, Muslim-majority states are less free than the rest of the world and even less free than Christian-majority states. In the 2011 book, The Price of Freedom Denied, sociologists Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke document that 62% of Muslim-majority countries host a moderate to high level of persecution, in comparison with 60% of all other countries and 28% of Christian countries. More sharply, they show that 78% of Muslim-majority countries contain high levels of government restrictions on religion as compared to 43% of all other countries and 10% of Christian countries. Overall, the Muslim-majority world has a religious freedom problem.

A closer look at this world, however, reveals a more complex and hopeful picture. It turns out that 11, or 23%, of Muslim-majority states are religiously free according to a scale devised by the Pew Forum. These are too numerous to be outliers. In the other 36, or three-quarters, of Muslim-majority states that are not religiously free, Islam is not necessarily the reason for the lack. 15 states are “secular repressive,” meaning that they are governed by a regime that aspires to become a modern nation-state and is convinced that religion can only be a hindrance to this quest—an ideology borrowed from the French Revolution. Examples are Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and the other “stans” of Central Asian. True, the other 21 of these unfree states are “religiously repressive” because they are governed by an ideology of Islamism that calls for the imposition of a strict and traditional form of Islam by the state. While these states bear out Islam’s capacity for repression, they are 45%, or less than half, of the total. The French Revolution vies with the Iranian Revolution as the dominant form of repression in the Muslim world.

Both sides of the culture war, then, are partially right and partially wrong, at least on the criterion of religious freedom in today’s Muslim-majority states. That these states are religiously unfree in the aggregate supports Islamoskeptics; that they are diverse supports Islamopluralists. Both positions point to prescriptions. The dearth of religious freedom shows the need for its increase. The diversity in the Muslim world—the presence of some religiously free states, the fact some are unfree because of secularism, not Islam—shows the possibility of its increase. The case for its increase lies in justice. Religious freedom is a human right not only in the legal sense that it is articulated in the world’s major human rights conventions but also in the moral sense that it protects the dignity of persons and communities in their search for and expression of religious truth. Scholars also have shown that religious freedom fosters goods that Muslim states disproportionately lack, including democracy and equality for women, and reduces ills that these states disproportionately suffer, including terrorism, civil war, and poverty.

Read it all.

Posted in Globalization, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(Tablet) Liel Leibovitz–Are Jews no longer welcome in American universities?

When I immigrated to America, 20 years ago this fall, I had just over $2,000 in my pocket that I’d saved working as a night watchman at a factory back home in Israel. I also had an inflatable mattress on the floor of a friend’s one-bedroom in White Plains, New York, and a promise that I could stay for two weeks, maybe three, until I found a place of my own. But most importantly, I had a story about my future.

As soon as I woke up that first morning, I took the train to 116th and Broadway, got off, strolled through the gates of Columbia University, and stood there gazing at the bronze Alma Mater sculpture guarding the steps to Low Library. Her face was serene, her lap adorned by a thick book, and her arms open wide, to embrace, or so I imagined, folks like me who were reasonably smart and wildly motivated and ready to work as hard as was needed to make something of themselves. In a year, maybe two, I thought, I’d find my way into the ivied cloister, and when I emerged on the other end I’d no longer be just another impoverished newcomer: A Columbia degree would accredit me, would validate me and suggest to those around me, from members of my family to potential employers, that I was a man in full, worthy of my slice of the American pie.

It wasn’t a story I had made up on my own. It was, in many ways, the foundational story of American Jewish life in the 20th century. Surveying the student body in major American universities between 1911 and 1913, the newly founded intercollegiate Menorah Association discovered 400 Jews at Cornell, 325 at the University of Pennsylvania, and 160 at Harvard; by 1967, The New York Times reported that 40% of the student body in both Penn and Columbia were Jewish, with Yale, Harvard, and Cornell lagging behind with a mere 25%. For a minority that today is still just three or four generations removed from the deprivations of the old continent and that never rose much further above the 2% mark of the population at large, education—especially at renowned universities—was a magical wardrobe that led into a Narnia of possibilities. All you had to do was open the door.

Sadly, that door is now closing….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Education, History, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Young Adults

(Economist Erasmus Blog) For Western leaders, Ramadan is a time to reassure the world of Islam

The American president is not the only Western leader to have used the holy month to counter the impression of being hostile to Islam. In 2015, Canada’s then Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, became the first leader of his country to host an iftar: this was despite the widespread perception that his party was playing to anti-Muslim sentiment by, for example, banning face veils during citizenship ceremonies. His Liberal successor, Justin Trudeau, has been even warmer in his acknowledgement of Ramadan. In one of the first messages issued by a Western leader this year, he said the fast “honours the values at the heart of Islam, like compassion and service to others”.

In constitutionally secular France, the head of state could hardly stage anything remotely resembling a religious ritual in his own residence. But President Emmanuel Macron made a pointed gesture in 2017 by attending an iftar laid on by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM). He said he wanted to thank Muslim leaders for their support in fighting terrorism. But they were disappointed when he failed to repeat the courtesy last year.

German politicians, too, know how to practise Ramadan diplomacy. In 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a maiden appearance at the annual iftar hosted in Berlin by her foreign ministry. She wanted to make the point that the Muslim faith has a place in German life, despite statements to the contrary by members of her own coalition and challengers on the far-right. “It is obvious that Islam is a part of Germany,” she said, knowing that the statement was far from self-evident to many of her compatriots. Two years later, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was invited to the German foreign ministry’s sundown dinner as part of a delicate rapprochement between Berlin and Tehran.

In Britain, where officially organised iftar meals and Ramadan wishes have been standard practice in recent years, the government was a bit slower than usual this year in wishing Muslims well for their month of abstinence. But Theresa May, the prime minister who like Mrs Merkel is a Christian cleric’s daughter, used her Twitter feed to observe that “Ramadan represents the universal values of peace, reflection, devotion and charity”….

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Posted in Islam, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Easter Attacks Leave Muslims Shaken and in Fear of Reprisals

In the days after the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, a group of local men gathered outside the home here of one of the bombers to establish what they called a neighborhood watch—and prevent the Muslim family inside from committing more terrorist acts.

Inside, the bomber’s family grappled with grief over what one of their own had done and fear that his actions could bring reprisals against their Muslim minority.

“It is very hard to face people because of what he did, even just going outside is difficult,” said a sister of the bomber, 22-year-old law-school graduate Ahamed Muath Alawudeen. As she spoke, cries of her distraught mother echoed off the tile floors of the spacious home in an upscale Colombo neighborhood.

Since the Islamic State-linked attacks killed more than 250 people at Sri Lankan churches and hotels, Muslims have reported getting detained in security sweeps for simply carrying the Quran. In other cases, they have been refused access to public buses and taxis. On Sunday night, an apparent car accident in the city of Negombo, the scene of one of the bombings, led to a clash between Muslims and non-Muslims, news reports showed.

Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who make up less than 10% of the island nation’s population, have seen lesser sparks turn into fury against them. Last year, in days of religious riots, mobs of Buddhist extremists targeted Muslims for beatings.

Security forces now deployed across the Sri Lankan capital to prevent more terrorist attacks are also on alert for sectarian reprisals.

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Posted in Muslim-Christian relations, Religion & Culture, Sri Lanka, Terrorism

(Catholic Herald) Neo-paganism is at the dark heart of the alt-right movement

Katie McHugh, who gained fame as a provocateur of the white nationalist “alt-right,” has left the movement. In a recent interview, McHugh’s message to alt-right friends is “get out while you still can.”

The fascinating profile of her life took her down the rabbit hole of neo-paganism which lies at the dark heart of the movement. Like many lapsed Catholics, McHugh was attracted to aspects of the new paganism which has been steadily growing in post-Christian America. The new paganism is different from the old paganism in that it doesn’t have a thousand functionary gods yet, but like the old paganism, it does have a sacralized view of the world — and man, not God, is the measure of it.

A Catholic friend quoted in the profile reports that in 2014 McHugh had brought him neo-pagan reading materials while he was in the hospital. By some extraordinary grace, McHugh’s friend had the insight to give McHugh St Augustine’s devastating rebuttal of Roman paganism, The City of God Against the Pagans.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Theology, Wicca / paganism

(NR) Dealing with the Shock of an Evangelical Terrorist

So if the concern isn’t over theology — or any specific, known teaching of the church — then why the alarm bell?

It should warn us about our vulnerability. The shooting in Poway is a terrifying reminder that the church isn’t immune to any moral malady that stalks our land. It may land within the church with varying degrees of intensity and frequency, but it will land in the church. And as we see the spread of the very kind of online hate that seduced the Poway shooter, it’s incumbent upon the church to wake up and deal with this modern, deadly incarnation of the very old sin of white supremacy.

In 2015 and 2016, when my family was in the crosshairs of the alt-right — with my adopted daughter the subject of vile and vicious online memes — members of my church (and my Christian friends from across the nation) were shocked and appalled. The vast majority didn’t even know online communities such as 4chan or 8chan existed. Some were completely unfamiliar with terms such as “meme” or words like “sh**posting” or even “trolling.”

Even folks who were far more wise to the Internet’s ways assured me that there was no real risk. The sh**posters and trolls were in it for the “lulz,” the laughs. They just wanted to inflict — and mock — our family’s pain. In hindsight, that complacency was foolish.

Now we know. Now we have no excuse not to know. Among the many malevolent forces that stalk our children — including the children of the faithful — is a new form of an old evil.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Judaism, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(BBC) Anti-Semitism threatens Romania’s fragile Jewish community

Ugly scenes of smashed and toppled headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Romania have shocked the country’s dwindling Jewish community and prompted international condemnation.

Vandals badly damaged 73 gravestones in the north-eastern town of Husi earlier this month, amid a surge in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe.

“It’s a very disturbing event, but it’s nothing surprising,” said Maximillian Marco Katz, founding director of the Centre for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism in Romania.

“It shows that anti-Semitism is alive, it doesn’t matter who did it,” he told the BBC.

“They didn’t knock down two or three gravestones, they knocked down 73 gravestones – that takes some determination and it takes time.”

A criminal investigation has been opened.

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Posted in Judaism, Religion & Culture, Romania