FaithWorld

War: is it the ultimate test of faith?

faithThere are many things that will test a person’s religious faith and war is among the strongest. “Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain’s Memoir”, which will be published this week, is Roger Benimoff’s moving account of his battle with the demons of war that almost cost him his faith and his family. He did two tours in Iraq and you can read my interview with him here.

The Iraq war of course remains fraught with religious overtones. Former U.S. President George W. Bush saw many of his policies as driven by his Christian faith (and aimed at his conservative evangelical base); Iraq itself has been riven by religious and sectarian conflict; and many people of faith question the morality of the U.S.-led war there, now six years old.

When I asked Benimoff if the Iraq war has been worth all of the sacrifice, he became very emotional and found that it was a question he is still wrestling with. As he describes in his book, asking such hard questions lead him to question his own faith and made him angry at times with God (while he also battled with post-tramautic stress disorder or PTSD).

The war will no doubt continue to be a religious battlefield — and one that, like many other armed conflicts, also tests the faith of those caught up in it.

(Photo: Courtesy of Randam House)

Religion or vote? Iraq Shi’ites wrestle with choice

Thousands of Shi’ite Muslims in southern Iraq are wrestling with a choice of religion or democracy before a pilgrimage which may prevent them from voting in elections to provincial councils on Saturday.

Pilgrims from the southern city of Basra are setting out on an arduous walk hundreds of km (miles) long to the holy Shi’ite city of Kerbala, far from the election centres where they are registered to vote. The pilgrimage for Arbain, or 40 days of mourning for the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein slain in battle at Kerbala in the 7th century, culminates in mid-February. (Photo: Pilgrims in Kerbala for Arbain, 27 Feb 2008/Mohammed Ameen)

“Kerbala is more important than voting, and so far I haven’t seen any candidate that deserves my confidence. I still have no job after the last election,” said Mohammed Ali, one of a group of pilgrims at a roadside tent.

Iraq religious parties may face election backlash

Missy Ryan in our Baghdad bureau sees a possible drop in support for religious parties in Iraq:

BAGHDAD – When Iraqis last voted in 2005, some in Washington feared the mainly Muslim nation would veer in the direction of Iran, an Islamic theocracy, instead of becoming the moderate democracy they envisioned for post-Saddam Iraq.

The question when Iraqis elect new provincial leaders on January 31 will be whether the religious parties that have dominated politics since then can hang on to power despite a bitterness felt by voters starved of services and security.

Lawsuit on alleged religious bias in U.S military widened

A lawsuit alleging religious bias, including mandatory participation in Christian prayers, against the U.S. Department of Defense was expanded  this week, the latest twist in a story that probably won’t go away in 2009.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s (MRFF) expanded lawsuit said the U.S. military was sanctioning Christian missionary activity with Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan — a highly sensitive issue in two predominantly Muslim countries where the United States is waging war.

We’ve blogged on this before  – in September the MRFF said a non-religious Kansas soldier is suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to attend military events where “fundamentalist Christian prayers” were recited.

Who threatens Christians in northern Iraq?

At least 1,500 Christian families have fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul this month to escape violent attacks against them. About 12 Christians have been reported killed in that period. Protests have come in from the United Nations, the Vatican and other places around the globe. There clearly seems to be a campaign against them, but finding out who is behind it is not that easy, as correspondent Missy Ryan reports from Mosul.

The commander of U.S. forces in Mosul has blamed Sunni Islamist militants. “Others, including many Christians, quietly point a finger at Mosul’s powerful Kurdish minority, which controls the provincial council and makes up a majority in the local army. Kurds, some say, want to show that Mosul cannot be controlled without them,” she writes.

Check out Ryan’s latest reports from Mosul — Mystery shrouds attacks on Iraq’s Christians and Iraq’s Christians “sacrificial lambs” as attacks mount.

U.S. soldier sues over mandatory Christian prayers

A non-religious Kansas soldier is suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to attend military events where “fundamentalist Christian prayers” were recited.

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Specialist Dustin Chalker’s cause has been taken up by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which is joining him in the suit.

The MRFF said in a statement that Chalker, a decorated Iraq war veteran stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas, “was forced to attend three events in late 2007 and in 2008  at which the battalion chaplain …  delivered  sectarian Christian prayers”.

A “Shi’ite invasion” of Sunni Arab countries? Qaradawi sees one

Yousef al-Qaradawi, 10 May 2006/Fadi Alassaad Egyptian cleric Yusef Al-Qaradawi has provoked a storm of criticism with comments this month attacking Shi’ites for alleged attempts to proselytize in Sunni Arab societies. It’s a debate which has been bubbling since 2003 when the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — which the Sunni Arab governments didn’t like but know how to live with — was removed by the American-led invasion and ultimately replaced by a Shi’ite government reflecting the demographic superiority of Shi’ites in Iraq today.

Free to contact work with fellow Shi’ites in neighbouring Iran and develop links with the powerful Shi’ites of Lebanon and even with the more precariously-placed Shi’ites in the Gulf Arab coutnries, the rise of the Shi’ites in Iraq has been nothig less than a seismic shift in the region’s potical landscape. Numerous Arab leaders have shown their concern with comments suggesting a crescent of Shi’ite power was developing across the region from Lebanon to Iran (as Jordan’s King Abdullah has said) or that Arab Shi’ites real loyalties are to Iran (according to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak).

Al-Jazeera.net logoQaradawi’s intervention is of equal import. He is one of the most influential of Sunni religious figures, a former Muslim Brotherhood sheikh in Egypt who settled in Qatar where Al-Jazeera television gave him a weekly television show. His opinions generally reflect the mainstream of Islamist thinking, veering neither into the rigid obsessions of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism nor appearing to compromise principles for the sake of a modernity that suits the West.

NYT has second thoughts about “Sharia smear” on Obama

New York Times front page, 1 June 2008Thank you, Clark Hoyt. The public editor (ombudsman) of the New York Times has torn apart Edward Luttwak’s op-ed piece on Barack Obama supposedly being a Muslim apostate, right in the Grey Lady’s pages. In his Public Editor column on Sunday, Hoyt called it “a single, extreme point of view” and said the NYT should not simply publish opinion pieces based on patently false facts. We blogged about this last week when a leading Muslim scholar refuted Luttwak’s article. Luttwak is a military historian and  conservative analyst of strategic issues who has advised the U.S. military, National Security Council and State Department. He lists his fields of expertise as “geoeconomics, strategy and national strategies and military policies” but not Islam.

“The Times Op-Ed page, quite properly, is home to a lot of provocative opinions,” Hoyt wrote. “But all are supposed to be grounded on the bedrock of fact. Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture.”

Hoyt said he consulted five Islamic scholars at U.S. universities and “all of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.” When the Times asked Luttwak to defend his view, he sent them an analysis of it by an unnamed scholar of Muslim law. He disagreed with Luttwak so strongly that he wrote to him: “You seem to be describing some anarcho-utopian version of Islamic legalism, which has never existed, and after the birth of the modern nation state will never exist.”

Kissinger, Iraq and India’s Muslims – a new domino theory?

Henry Kissinger at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 21 Jan 2008/Wolfgang RattayIs Henry Kissinger trying to update the domino theory to fit what he fears in 2008? He had a “Lunch with the FT” interview in Saturday’s Financial Times and surprised his interviewer, historian Stephen Graubard, by linking the war in Iraq and Muslims in India. As Graubard wrote:

He believes the military “surge” is working and says the next question is when to start to move away from an exclusively military option. “This is not a war of states,” Kissinger says. “If we withdraw from Iraq, the radical elements in all the neighbouring Arab countries will be greatly encouraged.” We will, he fears, be unable to maintain ourselves in Afghanistan, or to retain our present position in Pakistan.

He fears a rapid withdrawal could radicalise the vast Islamic community in India. I am fascinated by this statement – I have never heard anyone else say it so robustly – and suggest that he argued in a similar vein about the dangers of a departure from Vietnam. “Not at all,” he says, adding that the collapse in Vietnam was partly compensated for by the almost simultaneous and fortuitous disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Iraq state TV to broadcast Sunni and Shi’ite Friday prayers

Umm al-Qura mosque, Oct. 10, 2006Iraq’s state television channel Iraqiya plans to broadcast Friday prayers from both Shi’ite and Sunni mosques, a novelty in a country where until now Islamic services were only shown on sectarian channels. That kept the two neatly separate. Rather than take either side, Iraqiya avoided broadcasting Friday prayers after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But it began today with a live transmission from the Sunni Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad.

Station manager Nawfal Abd Dahash told Reuters in Baghdad: “We will start doing live broadcasts from mosques from both sects. This is to enhance national unity and to prove that there is no difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis.”

The broadcast came from the Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya, which until a few months ago was a stronghold for al Qaeda Sunni Islamists. It also came at a time when Sunni communities in many parts of Iraq are taking up arms to drive out the Islamists.