Islam as statecraft: How governments use religion in foreign policy

The discussion of Islam in world politics recently has tended to focus on how religion is used by a wide range of social movements, political parties, and militant groups. However, less attention has been paid to the question of how governments—particularly those in the Middle East—have incorporated Islam into their broader foreign policy conduct.

On January 8, the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted the launch of a report titled “Islam as Statecraft: How governments use religion in foreign policy,” authored by two senior fellows, Shadi Hamid and Peter Mandaville. Geneive Abdo­—resident scholar at the Arabia Foundation and author of several books on Egypt, Iran, and the broader Middle East—joined Hamid and Mandaville on the panel. Executive editor at the Pulitzer Center and Boston Globe columnist Indira Lakshmanan moderated the discussion.

SAUDI ARABIA: HAVE THINGS REALLY CHANGED?

Following introductions by Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow and deputy director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, the event began with a discussion of Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism. Mandaville pointed out that while the Saudi government plays an active role in disseminating its ideology abroad, there are also a number of smaller actors, such as Islamic charities, that have been involved in the same sort of activity.

FULL ARTICLE FROM BROOKINGS 

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Does God want religious diversity? Abu Dhabi text raises questions

20190207T0836-24312-CNS-VATICAN-LETTER-DIALOGUE_800-690x450ROME – That many religions exist in the world is a fact, but what that plurality communicates to believers about God is a question that theologians are still discussing.

Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, stepped into the debate Feb. 4 when they signed a document on “human fraternity” and improving Christian-Muslim relations.

“The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings,” the document said.

The document goes on to insist on the basic human right to freedom of religion, appealing to both Christians and Muslims not only to tolerate the religious faith of the other, but to recognize the other’s faith as something “willed by God in his wisdom.”

In other words, the message seems to be, if God “wants” religious diversity, who are human beings to be intolerant of it?

But can God really “want” a variety of religions? And is that what the statement Pope Francis signed really says?

In a post on the document, Father John Zuhlsdorf, a blogger, tried to explain things by saying that God has an “active or positive will” of what he desires and makes happen, and “a ‘permissive will’ by which he allows that things will take place that are not in accord with the order he established.”

In that case, God tolerates other religions.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CRUX NOW

How hundreds of Syrians found refuge in Ethiopia

SYRIANSA tiny number of Syrian refugees, having travelled through Sudan, work in restaurants while others beg in Addis Ababa.

Addis Ababa – Abdulwahid Mohammed, a young Syrian refugee from Hama, is tending to customers at Damascus, a restaurant jointly owned by Ethiopians and Syrians in Addis Ababa’s Bole Michael district.

Mohammed, now 20, travelled to Ethiopia as a teenager with his family five years ago, fleeing theSyrian civil war.

He currently manages the restaurant, serving a mix of Syrian and Ethiopian food.

Among his Ethiopian staff, he is known as a shy workaholic.

“I came to Ethiopia through Sudan. Ever since arriving in Ethiopia I have found it to be a stable country, with a relatively easy process to get foreign residence ID. Ethiopian people have been generous to me,” he told Al Jazeera. 

Mohammed wears sunglasses during the interview to disguise his identity. He fears exposing relatives back home in Syria to possible retribution by both government and rebel forces.

He is one of the hundreds of Syrians who have set up home in Ethiopia, a non-Arabic speaking, predominantly Christian, East African nation.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA 

Catholics, Muslims bond over weekly lunch at Indianapolis deli

INDIANAPOLIS CATHOLICS MUSLIMSINDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — The openness to people of other faiths that Pope Francis modeled during his Feb. 3-5 visit to the United Arab Emirates has been embraced for more than 20 years at a weekly lunch shared by Muslims, Catholics and other Christians at Shapiro’s Delicatessen in Indianapolis.

John Welch, a longtime member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, helped start the lunch meetings in 1997.

“It’s the presence of Jesus in our midst,” Welch told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Over the years, Welch and those sharing lunch and their lives together at Shapiro’s have included members of the Italy-based Catholic lay movement Focolare, members of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, as well as Protestant clergy in the city.

Welch, 84, was honored at a recent lunch by those in attendance as he prepared to move with his wife, Mary, to Chicago to live closer to family.

He was inspired to reach out to Muslims in the Indianapolis community through his involvement in Focolare, which emphasizes building unity among people based on sharing the love of God with them.

Welch said that the members of Focolare, who are known as “Focolarini,” are called to embody in their daily lives Jesus’ teaching to love others as he loved them.

“Our vocation is that, when Jesus said, ‘Whenever two or more are united in my name’ — which means his commandment to love one another — ‘there am I present in their midst,'” Welch said. “So whether we’re a father (of a family), or a Protestant pastor, an imam, the vocation is to live such mutual love … that Jesus dwells in our midst.

“If people are touched by their exposure to us, it’s not us. It’s the presence of God in our midst that attracts them,” he added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE 

The Creeping Liberalism in American Islam

Mustafa Akyol

00Akyol-superJumboSince 9/11, a recurrent theme in the far-right circles of America has been “creeping Shariah.” It reflects the fear that Islamic law will silently spread through the land of freedom to ultimately overtake it — to put all women in burqas and all adulterers to death. In this scenario, American Muslims, who make up only 1 percent of the population, will pursue this grand scheme because they are here not for freedom and opportunity, but to form a fifth column in it, as Steve Bannon seriously claimed in 2016.

Those with deeper knowledge of American Muslims, a minority that is much better integrated than some of their counterparts in Europe, can easily see such sordid fantasy as paranoia. Those with some knowledge of American history can also see that this new calumny about Islam has precedents, in the McCarthyism of the Cold War era and the anti-Catholicism of the 19th century.

But here is something even more ironic: When you examine the internal discussions among conservative Muslim leaders or pundits in America today, they don’t come across as concocting some “Protocols of the Elders of Mecca.” Instead of cheering for any creeping Shariah, they seem worried about a creeping liberalism within American Islam.

Read Mikaeel Ahmed Smith, for example. He’s an imam in Virginia who has titled an internet article “A Spiritual Disease in American Muslims, Making Them Gods Above God.” His criticism targets a new genre of Muslim bloggers and writers who he says “challenge or outright reject the traditionally normative Islamic view on social issues and Muslim life.” These young people care less about traditional religious texts, the imam warns, because of “a rejection of any authority other than one’s own intellect.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

MANUSCRIPTS REVEAL HORN OF AFRICA’S ISLAMIC HISTORY

islamic-manuscript_1600

This manuscript comes from the collection “Shaykh Kamal” located in Aggaro in Western Ethiopia (Jimma zone). It is not dated but very likely from the 19th century. It contains Islamic devotional poems and hymns. This particular section of a poem in praise of the prophet Muhammad written by Shams al-Din Muhammad al-Fayyumi (14th century) on the basis of the “Poem of the Mantle,” a very renowned panegyric of the Prophet which the famous Arabic poet Muhammad al-Busiri (d. 1294) composed. The marginal notes are explanations and clarifications of some difficult passages of the text. (Credit: U. Copenhagen)

Researchers have identified and analyzed more than 2,000 Islamic manuscripts in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.

Traditionally, scholars in Islamic studies have not associated the Horn of Africa with the Muslim world, which is why the Islamic literary tradition of this part of Africa has not been studied in detail before.

“SCHOLARS FROM THE FIELDS OF ISLAM STUDIES AND AFRICAN STUDIES HAVE LONG NEGLECTED THE HORN OF AFRICA…”

The researchers have digitized the manuscripts and created a database that will enable other researchers to study the fragile manuscripts and contribute to the research into this previously neglected literary tradition of Islam.

“Scholars from the fields of Islam studies and African studies have long neglected the Horn of Africa because they tend to find the area atypical of either field and primarily associate it with the Christian traditions of the Horn’s largest country Ethiopia. But as our research project has shown, there has been a rich and distinct Islamic literary tradition in the Horn of Africa that dates back at least to the 17th and 18th centuries,” explains Alessandro Gori, associate professor from the University of Copenhagen who is the principal investigator of the Islam in the Horn of Africa project.

“The manuscripts indicate that Muslims in certain parts of the Horn area seem to have had a penchant for composing devotional or mystical texts that people have gathered to recite or ‘sing’ accompanied [for example] by clapping hands and drums—although they would not have used the word ‘sing’ as it can become problematic in an Islamic context,” he adds.

“This is something that is characteristic of and particular to the Horn’s Islamic tradition, but it is still recognizably Islamic of course; you may compare it to the Lutheranism of Denmark that is different from, say, the Lutheranism of Northern Germany. But it is still Lutheranism.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM FUTURITY.COM

Strangely Familiar

22249363465_1b3eec5fee_o‘God in the Qur’an’

In his 1966 book The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel relates the Hasidic tale of the long line of rabbis who performed a miraculous ritual, averting catastrophe for their communities in times of crisis. They would go into the forest to meditate, light a fire, and recite a special prayer. They did so in imitation of the eighteenth-century master of all Hasidim, Israel ben Eliezer, usually known by the honorific title “the Baal Shem Tov,” the master of the Holy Name. The generations of rabbis who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov, Wiesel recounts, gradually forgot parts of the ritual. The fourth in that forgetful lineage, Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, spoke plaintively to God of his predicament: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And indeed, telling the story was sufficient to avert the catastrophe. Why? The Hasidic tale ends with a great tribute both to God and to humankind: “God made man because he loves stories.”

God made Jack Miles because God also loves someone who loves stories. In his 1996 Pulitzer-prizewinning God: A Biography, Miles approached the Hebrew Bible as one might approach a body of literary work produced by Yahweh-Elohim, the Lord God; in a follow-up 2001 book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, he undertook the same task with the New Testament, focusing in particular on the four Gospels. Holder of a Harvard doctorate in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Miles left the Society of Jesus before undertaking formal theological studies; yet his Jesuit education, tracing back to his days in a Jesuit high school in Chicago, equipped him to  comprehend multiple languages and their literatures: English, Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; but also Hebrew, Aramaic and, last but not least, Ethiopic (Ge’ez), the ancient Semitic language of the Horn of Africa. He has enjoyed a long career as a Distinguished Professor of both English and Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Miles admits that he does not know Arabic very well, but his background in other Semitic languages and his careful comparative study of various English and other renderings of the Qur’an allows him to read it with notable sensitivity. Most of the stories told at some length in the Qur’an that have biblical resonances find their parallels in the Torah, especially Genesis and Exodus. Thus do Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, the family of Abraham, the patriarch Joseph, and Moses appear on stage again to play their parts in the Qur’an.

FULL ARTICLE FROM COMMONWEAL MAGAZINE