(RNS) — I spent the 16th anniversary of 9/11 at the 16th annual meeting of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, held under the joint auspices of the Union and Jewish theological seminaries in New York City. Appropriately, the central question before the group was how best to expand long-standing Jewish-Christian interfaith encounters in America to include Muslims.
My assignment was to discuss the use of “Judeo-Christian” language to reinforce the idea of a clash of civilizations. As in when Tony Perkins said on the Family Research Council’s “Washington Watch” in 2014, “We are a nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that’s the foundation of our nation, not Islam, but the Judeo-Christian God.”
Or when, last year, retired Air Force Col. Tom Snodgrass, a contributor to a website called Right Side News, referred to “the overt and covert war being conducted by the political forces of Islam in order to subjugate the Judeo-Christian religions and their societies.”
A fellow panelist was Columbia’s distinguished Middle East historian Richard Bulliet, who spoke about his “Islamo-Christian” conception, first published in 2004 as “The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization.” Bulliet’s idea is that theologically, doctrinally, and historically, Islam and Christianity have far more in common than most adherents of either faith tradition realize.
Two Muslim men, on prime-time television, clutching shiny metal objects close to their black garments amid an unsuspecting crowd.
No, this wasn’t an episode of “Homeland,” and those weren’t weapons.
It was the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, where actor Riz Ahmed and actor-writer Aziz Ansari won two top categories for shows that exploded stereotypes and made history in front of an audience too dazzled by all the other history-breaking moments that evening to notice.
There were so many firsts in L.A.’s Microsoft Theater on Sunday night that the oversight was understandable. The evening’s swag bags should have included tally sheets to keep track of the multiple barriers being broken.
Donald Glover, creator of FX’s “Atlanta,” became the first African American comedy director to be so honored; “Master of None’s” Lena Waithe the first black woman to win the prize for writing on a comedy series. Streaming service Hulu broke network and cable TV’s monopoly on the top Emmy, outstanding drama series, when it won for “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Thank you all very much for your hospitality. We’ve just had a wide-ranging discussions on the matter at hand. Like the good folks standing with me, the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday’s attacks. And so were Muslims all across the world. Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens.
These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.
The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself: In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.
“Immense faith had brought me here,” he writes. “I was obeying my highest calling as a Muslim.”
Somehow, the name on his Indian passport did not set off any alarm bells. The result is the first book about the Hajj from a gay perspective, written by a man with a deep knowledge of Islamic history. This pilgrimage is the centerpiece of his book, and he recounts it with courage and fierce emotion.
Part of Sharma’s compulsion to find his spiritual salvation at Mecca was a need to prove to himself that despite his sexual orientation, he was still holy enough to be worthy of this journey. It was far from a casual decision. As a child, a medical issue prevented him from having the required circumcision. To reduce one major risk during his pilgrimage, when he would be forced to wear an ihram, two seamless pieces of white cloth with no underwear, he had to have the operation as an adult.
He writes: “In my nightmares, my ihram would fall off in Mecca, subjecting unsuspecting pilgrims to my un-Muslim penis.” His grandfather had told him how after the partition of India and Pakistan, his two best friends were stripped and identified as Muslim by their genitals. They were then hacked to death.
Sharma’s struggle to reconcile his faith with his sexual orientation leads him on a search for the essential humanity of the prophet Muhammad. “Scholars learn to question faith,” he writes, “while believers just accept it. My adult self seemed to possess both abilities.”
Evangelicals look down on atheists’ values. Nonreligious people fear that conservative Christians want to limit their freedoms. Republicans worry that Muslims pose a threat to their physical safety.
In short, many American identity groups are awfully concerned about one another. That’s the takeaway from a new survey, released Thursday morning by Baylor University, which polled Americans about their perceptions of their fellow citizens.
Part of the study, called “Fear of The Other,” examined negative attitudes toward four groups — atheists, conservative Christians, Jews and Muslims — and found that Americans generally harbor fears and judgment about all four. What those fears were, however, differed by the group.
“People think atheists have terrible values, but they’re not a physical threat. They think Muslims have inferior values and are also a physical danger,” said Paul Froese, the sociologist at the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion who led the survey. “People make distinctions between ‘you’re a deviant person’ versus ‘you’re a dangerous person.’ … Over one-third of Americans don’t fear their safety when it comes to conservative Christians, but think they’re out to limit their freedom. You have that interesting dynamic: different kinds of threats.”
We’ve recently seen the results of a new study called Muslims for American Progress. Commissioned by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the study is considered the first of its kind, offering a broad look at Muslim contributions to the state of Michigan. It examines the ways Muslims have improved Michiganders’ lives over the last five years in such areas as engineering, civics, economic development, medicine, philanthropy, arts and even sports.
The study found that Muslims constitute about 1 percent of the U.S. population, and about 2.75 percent of Michigan’s. Given the community’s small size, another key finding is understandable: Most Americans say they don’t know a Muslim. And when media content analysis reports that more than 80 percent of U.S. media coverage of Islam and Muslims is negative, the report says this “opens the door for a narrow media image to distort public perceptions of this diverse community.
That’s where this study works to correct many of those misperceptions, especially in our state. In fact, the study’s findings demonstrate a wealth of contributions to the economic, cultural, and political life of Michigan, which has been a magnet not just for Muslims from the Middle East, but from South Asia, West Africa, and Muslim communities from around the world.