FaithWorld

“The Evolution of God” — a purpose-driven history?

U.S. author Robert Wright traces the history of God and suggests that it might all point to the unfolding of something divine, though perhaps not in the sense that most people of faith would envision.

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In his just published “The Evolution of God,” Wright takes his readers on a thought-provoking journey through the spiritual beliefs of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to the development of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. You can see my interview with Wright here.

Wright’s engaging book covers a lot of ground and it certainly raises many questions that may be of interest to readers of this blog. I’m just going to throw a few of them out here — trust me, there could be many, many more.

1. RELIGION AND SCIENCE:

Has religion in the past given rise to science? The Polynesians that Captain James Cook encountered in the 18th century tried to predict the weather by looking at the night sky – and often succeeded. They believed this was divinely inspired  but as Wright notes:

The apparent explanation is that both the night sky and the prevailing winds change seasonally. So there was indeed a correlation between stars and weather; the Polynesians just had the wrong explanation … Still, this is the way scientific progress often starts: finding a correlation between two variables and positing a plausible if false explanation. In this sense, ‘science’ dates back to preliterate times.”

Fewer Americans see Islam as violent-Pew poll

The percentage of Americans who believe Islam encourages violence has declined and very basic knowledge about the faith has shown modest increases, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Thirty-eight percent of those polled believed Islam was more likely than other faiths to encourage violence, down from the 45 percent who held this view two years earlier.OBAMA/

Most Americans — 58 percent – also believe Muslims are discriminated against. In fact, they see them as a group second only to gays and lesbians in terms of the discrimination they face. These findings suggest unexpected empathy for a community whose leaders often claim they are regarded with suspicion and hostility.

The survey also reports that Americans are generally learning more about Islam and that increasing familiarity with the religion correlates with a decline in belief that Islam promotes violence.

Swiss Council of Religions united against proposed minaret ban

minaret (Photo: Minaret of Zurich’s Mahmud Mosque, 23 May 2007/Christian Hartmann)

The Swiss Council of Religions, which is composed of leaders from the country’s Christian, Jewish and Islamic organisations, has issued a statement rejecting a proposed ban on minarets. A group of right-wing anti-immigrant politicians has gathered more than 100,000 signatures to support the so-called Minaret Initiative, saying the minarets threaten law and order. The vote is due on November 29.

The Swiss federal government has warned that the referendum vote was organised legally but a ban would violate international human rights and the country’s constitution. “Such a ban would endanger peace between religions and would not help to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs,” its Department of Justice and Police said in late August.

The Council statement, the first it has made on a political issue since it was formed in 2006 to foster interfaith dialogue, denounces the bid as an affront to the tradition of diversity in the multilingual Alpine country. Here are some excerpts from the statement:

Afghan journalist jailed for blasphemy goes free

kambakhsh-3An Afghan journalist, sentenced to death for blasphemy, reduced to 20 years’ jail on appeal, has been set free and is living in exile in an undisclosed country, a media watchdog has said.  Perwiz Kambakhsh, 24, a reporter with the Afghan Jahan-e Now daily, was sentenced to death in January 2008 by a court in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. (Photo: Kambakhsh at a Kabul court hearing, 21 Oct 2008/Omar Sobhani)

Kambakhsh was arrested and imprisoned for downloading and distributing an Iranian article from the Internet that said the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women. Under Islamic law — stipulated in Afghanistan’s constitution — blasphemy is punishable by death.

In a statement on its website, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for press freedom, said Kambakhsh’s lawyer had confirmed to them Monday his release and that President Hamid Karzai had signed a pardon several weeks earlier. Karzai’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Trouser-wearing Sudan woman to be fined or jailed, not whipped

lubnaLubna Hussein, a Sudanese woman arrested in Khartoum for wearing trousers despite the country’s Islamic decency regulations, was found guilty of indecency on Monday and ordered to pay a fine or go to jail for a month. She was spared the possibility of 40 lashes for wearing trousers at a party in July with 12 other women. Ten of the other women arrested with her have pleaded guilty and have been whipped.

Read the whole story here.

Hussein’s case was seen as a test of Sudan’s Islamic decency regulations, which many women activists say are vague and give individual police officers undue latitute to determine what is acceptable clothing for women.

After the verdict, Hussein said: “I will not pay the money, and I will go to prison.”

Saudi cleric says don’t pray for downfall of “infidels”

mosque-sermonMuslims should avoid prayers that call for the destruction of non-Muslims, an influential Saudi cleric has said.

“Praying for the ruin and the destruction of all infidels is not permitted because it goes against God’s law to call upon them … to take the righteous path,” Sheikh Salman al Awdah told Dubai-based MBC Television channel.

Many mosque imams and preachers in some Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, close their Friday sermons with prayers that call for the destruction of Islam’s enemies, especially Israel and its allies.

Why beer doesn’t mix well with mainly Muslim Malaysia

beerBeer, which as an alcoholic beverage is forbidden in Islam to its believers, has long had it easy in mainly Muslim Malaysia. The country’s population of 27 million is made up of about 55 percent Malay Muslims and mainly Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities who practice a variety of faiths including Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. The personal right of the non-Muslims to drink alcoholic beverages is legally recognised, a sign of tolerance despite the special status of Islam under Article 11 of the Malaysian constitution.  So beer is not difficult to find in convenience stores, supermarkets and entertainment outlets. (Photo: Beer drinkers, 20 July 2009/Nguyen Huy Kham)

But this easygoing attitude towards beer has hit the rocks of late amid what some suspect has been a growing religiosity of the country’s Muslims.  Last month, 32-year old Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor very nearly became the first woman to be caned in Malaysia for drinking alcohol under rarely enforced Islamic criminal laws.  Caught drinking beer in a hotel lobby in the eastern state of Pahang by religious enforcement officers, she was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine.  This was possible because Malaysia practices a dual-track legal system. Muslims are subject to Islamic family and criminal laws that run alongside national civil laws.

malaysia-1A Malaysian Islamic appeals court judge ordered a review of Kartika’s sentence, but a public debate is still raging. Opinions are divided even among Islamic scholars with some questioning what the exact punishment for the offence, which isn’t specified in the Quran, should be. Others are in full support and believe that Kartika’s sentence was mild.

GUESTVIEW: Young British Muslims are speaking, but who’s listening?

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Sughra Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Policy Research Centre, which is based at the Islamic Foundation in Leicestershire and specialises in research, policy advice and training on issues related to British Muslims.

By Sughra Ahmed

hijab-flagIt may seem well and good to think children should be seen and not heard – there’s nothing wrong with a touch of Victorian, especially true during a good movie! But what if the censored are not young children at all? What if they are flashpoints in our conversations on not so trivial subjects, you know, things like national security, integration and democracy. And what if, instead of listening, we systematically speak on their behalf, saying what they are thinking and how they fit into the whole social and political spectrum. (Photo: Woman at “Muslims Against Terrorism” rally in London, 11 Sept 2007/Toby Melville)

Enter young British Muslims, but please sit down over there in one group, and mind you don’t speak – we have interpreters for that: a choice of representative institutions, community spokespersons, experts on what young people think, and media sound bytes. Yes, much is said and written about young Muslims, not only in black ink but leapfrogging from blog to blog and showing no signs of tiring. Rarely though, is it the young voices themselves. Commentators of many persuasions seem keen to tell us how and what a silent majority from British Muslims think. If it’s not the majority then certainly a large proportion .

Medvedev turns to Muslim clerics to counter Islamist radicals

grozny-mosquePresident Dmitry Medvedev has urged Russia’s top Muslim clerics to join forces to stop radical Islamist groups wooing young people in the turbulent North Caucasus. (Photo: Main mosque in Grozny, capital of  Caucasus region of Chechnya, 17 May 2008/Said Tsarnayev)

“We cannot force people to give up Internet or close (Islamist) sites,” he told clerics and regional leaders at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  “We need to think about finding a (television) channel which would offer teaching and comprehensive explanation of Islam that is traditional for our country.”

Medvedev also proposed stronger control over young people returning to Russia after studying Islam abroad. “Unfortunately these people are returning … (and) bring back unorthodox views on Islam,” he said.

Texas Southern Baptists see conversion opportunities among Muslims

The latest issue of Southern Baptist Texan to arrive in my mailbox has a front page story which caught my eye about a new evangelism drive aimed at the state’s Muslim population. You can see their on-line report here.

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The increasing presence of Muslims in Texas is an opportunity Texas Southern Baptists must not miss, says Bruno Molina, an SBTC ministry associate specializing in ethnic evangelism and outreach. To that end, a series of workshops—including one next month on engaging Muslim women with the gospel—and three printed resources aimed at helping Texas Southern Baptists understand Islamic beliefs, are planned for the fall and into 2010,” it says.

We are praying for Muslims during a month (Ramadan) that they are seeking God and waging spiritual warfare on behalf of Muslims in the form of evangelistic prayer,” Molina was quoted as saying.