FaithWorld

Guestview: Why “militant Islam” is a dangerous myth

koran kalashnikov

(A Palestinian gunman marches with a Koran and his rifle during a protest in Deir al-Balah September 25, 2002/Magnus Johansson )

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dalia Mogahed is Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. mogahed

(Dalia Mogahed/ Gallup)

By Dalia Mogahed

Right-wing pundits in the U.S. and Europe sometimes argue that it is misguided to avoid religious language when describing terrorists. They point out that members of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates call themselves “jihadists”, a derivative of the Arabic noun “jihad” meaning a struggle for God. They explain that it is therefore accurate and fair to refer to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates by the same term.

These same commentators also assert that political correctness in labelling the enemy is the last thing Western societies should be worried about. In fact, they say, focusing too much on not offending others may even weaken Americans’ and Europeans’ will to defeat those who wish them harm.

Yet Gallup research paints a very different picture; an ambitious new study suggests that casting tensions between Muslims and the West in religious terms may actually weaken the ability of America and Europe to fight religiously-branded extremists. This report, which inaugurates Gallup’s Abu Dhabi Center, is entitled “Measuring Muslim-West Relations: Assessing the “New Beginning,” and presents the results of more than 100,000 interviews with citizens in 55 countries. A key finding is that those who see the conflict as primarily due to religious differences are more likely to see a clash as inevitable.

Indonesia Muslims attack court, churches; mob kills Ahmadis

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(Anti-riot police block protesters outside the court where a Catholic man is on trial for blasphemy in Temanggung February 8, 2011/Stringer)

Hundreds of Muslim radicals set two churches ablaze and attacked a court in Indonesia’s central Java on Tuesday, calling for harsh punishment for a Christian on trial for blasphemy, police said.

The attacks come two days after a mob beat to death three followers of a minority Islamic sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims, and at the start of so-called “Inter-faith week”, when the country is supposed to celebrate its pluralistic heritage.

GUESTVIEW: From “security” to compassion – a needed shift for Obama gov’t

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Libyan theologian Aref Ali Nayed is a senior advisor to the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and a leading signatory of A Common Word.

By Aref Ali Nayed

Being held in the early days of the Obama presidency, this year’s U.S.-Muslim World Forum in Doha last weekend was particularly luminescent with rays of hope. One was the very fact that its host, the influential Brookings Institution think-tank, invited faith leaders to discuss how to improve the dreadful state of relations between Washington and the Muslim world. The basis for discussion was A Common Word, an appeal by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders to join in a dialogue based on the shared commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor.

That a theological and spiritual initiative is of keen interest to policy planners is indeed a fresh ray of light.  Basking in that hopeful light, moreover, I had the rare privilege for a Muslim theologian of listening to the U.S. CentCom Commander General David Petraeus expound there on a “network of networks” that constituted a “security architecture” for our Middle East region.

German Turks join the party in pre-Lenten carnival

(Photo: Carnival revelers parade in Düsseldorf, 4 Feb 2008/Ina Fassbender)

Germany’s pre-Lenten carnival festivities got underway on Thursday with an official Turkish carnival association is joining in the fun this year for the first time.

Long sidelined from the usually raucous celebrations, an annual highpoint in Catholic areas such as the Rhineland, Bavaria and Black Forest, residents of Turkish origin in the city of Dortmund have created their own “Guild of Fools”. That means they can have their own float in Monday’s big procession, a troupe of dancers and a symbolic “prince and princess couple”.

“We set up our own association because many Turks in Germany have enjoyed carnival over the years. As an official guild, we want to enable Turks living in Germany to join in,” says the 1st Turkish Guild of Fools Dortmund 09 on their website.

Look who’s celebrating Reformation Day today

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in eastern Germany and set off the Protestant Reformation. It is a public holiday in the five eastern German states, in Slovenia and — this year for the first time — in Chile.

Chile? Isn’t that traditionally a Catholic country? Even the Catholic parts of Germany don’t celebrate Reformation Day.

Yes, Chile is traditionally Catholic, but now only about 70% so. Like elsewhere in Latin America, Protestant churches — especially evangelicals and Pentecostals — have spread rapidly in recent decades. They now make up just over 15% of the Chilean population, up from 7% in 1970. It’s not a new story, but creating a holiday especially for Protestants is a symbolic step towards recognising the changes in the religious landscape in Latin America.

Catholic bishops want practical results from Muslim dialogue

The synod of Roman Catholic bishops that just ended in Rome has reminded the Vatican that it wants concrete issues such as religious freedom for Christians in the Islamic world to be part of any dialogue with Muslims. It’s not as if the Vatican has forgotten this — check out a recent statement by Rev. Christian Troll S.J., a leading Church expert on Islam. All this comes as the Vatican and the Common Word group of Muslim scholars prepare for the Catholic-Islamic Forum due in Rome next week.

The full text of the bishops’ proposal (number 53 of the 55 published only in Italian) reads in English:

“The Church regards with esteem … the Muslims who worship the one God” (Nostra Aetate 3). They refer to Abraham and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. The dialogue with them permits us to know each other better and cooperate in the promotion of ethical and spiritual values.

Churches take stock of Christian-Muslim dialogue

Christian churches have been taking stock of where they stand on dialogue with Islam. With so much interfaith discussion going on, they’re not all singing from the same sheet and wonder whether they should (or even could). So about 50 church leaders and experts got together near Geneva last weekend to exchange information on their approach to, and experiences concerning, dialogue with Muslims. “With such a succession of meetings where we get together with Muslims, we wanted to have a meeting among ourselves and ask whether we have 2,000 different answers and what that might say about us,” said Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

The World Council of Churches (WCC) said the idea for the meeting“emerged from an ecumenical process of response to the Common Word”  initiative on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Held outside Geneva, it brought together representatives from the WCC, World Evangelical Alliance, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, Lutheran World Federation, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, World Methodist Council, several Orthodox churches and other Christian groups. I have spoken to a few of the participants and received some texts since the meeting to get an idea of how their exchange shaped up.

“The idea was that we come together to share our different experiences with Islam and our different theological approaches to Islam to seek an ecumenical understanding,” said Rima Barsoum, the WCC’s person responsible for relations with Muslims. An “ecumenical understanding” does not mean a common understanding, as became clear at the meeting. Participants described various points of view that no two-day meeting could overcome. Orthodox and eastern churches that live as minorities in Muslim countries have a different perspective from those in the West that know Muslims as a minority. The Vatican’s approach is to focus more on the theological questions while the World Evangelical Alliance has stressed the issue of living together peacefully. “My feeling after Geneva is that there is such a wide spectrum of representation that a common stand would be very difficult indeed,” said David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

U.S. religious groups in anti-torture campaign

Torture instruments at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, 2 Dec 2007/Reuters photographerOver 275 congregations from across the faith spectrum and all corners of America will display banners this month condemning torture. The campaign is the brain child of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) which groups over 190 religious groups.

President George W. Bush in March vetoed legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other controversial
interrogation techniques that critics say is torture, making the issue a political as well as moral one in this election year.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain — who was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam — has strongly condemned water-boarding and has been the author of previous anti-torture legislation, winning praise from centrist U.S. evangelicals among others. But he did not support the legislation vetoed by Bush on the grounds that it was too sweeping.

British Muslim TV channel to air inter-faith game show

Islam Channel logoThis could be very interesting … or maybe a flop. Islam Channel, a British Muslim TV channel broadcast on satellite and webcasts, plans to host a weekly religion quiz show called “Faith Off” from mid-June. It’s meant to promote better understanding among religions by pitting teams from different faiths against each other. As the Guardian‘s religion correspondent Riazat Butt put it, the show will pit “Jews against Muslims, Sikhs against Christians and Hindus against Buddhists, with contestants competing for cash prizes.” Sounds like an interesting idea, but I don’t know if it will make great TV.

Like all quiz shows, its success will depend on how well it’s presented, how interesting the questions are and how knowledgable the contestants are. But one of the recurring religion stories you see is the survey about how little many people know about their own religion. In fact, they’re hardly news anymore.

So I wonder how well contestants will do even with questions about their own faith, let alone anything dealing with another religion. And what about issues where there are differences of opinion within one religion? If the producers weed out all the difficult and contentious questions, is there enough left to make a lively and challenging show?