American Muslims use pop culture to dispel stereotypes

src.adapt.960.high.80500147.1379530505490Since 9/11, many American Muslims have struggled with misconceptions and stereotypes made about them and their religion. According to a Pew Research Center study, a majority of US Muslims say it is more difficult to be a Muslim in the US after 9/11. Yet many have decided to fight these stereotypes with good humor – literally.

The Muslims are Coming is a documentary that follows Muslim comedians as they use their stand-up shows and pranks to fight Islamophobia:


Harvard University’s Pluralism Project


Check out Harvard University’s pluralism project’s latest project:  

For twenty years, the Pluralism Project has followed the development of America’s fast-changing religious landscape and studied new forms of civic and interfaith relationships. The events of 9/11 demonstrated the importance of interfaith groups already formed; in the ensuing decade we have witnessed the growth of hundreds of new interfaith initiatives. Given this rapid expansion, what we might describe as the “interfaith infrastructure” is emerging in real-time, providing an innovative context for the kind of engagement we describe as “pluralism.” In 2011, we embarked on a pilot study, funded by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, to look closely at interfaith efforts in twenty cities across the United States. While this initial study is a selective portrait, it is a first step towards our larger goal: to document and resource the interfaith movement in America.

Bridging the Gap Between Islam and Christianity

by Pearl Stewart

ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITYTo some it might seem counterintuitive that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 inspired Dr. Brad Tyndall to begin a series of presentations titled “The Loving Side of Islam.” But the former Peace Corps volunteer and Fulbright Scholar says faculty and administrators at Colorado’s Front Range Community College, where he was teaching at that time, saw a need for a swift response.

When an administrator called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, in light of the campus’ diverse population, which included Middle Eastern and Muslim students, Tyndall offered his services. His Peace Corps work and positions in Sudan, northern Yemen, Kenya and Tanzania with the U.S. Information Service and U.S. Agency for International Development gave him insights into Islam that he wanted to share with the campus community.

“A couple of days afterward, I did a presentation, and people wanted more and more of it in philosophy class, comparative religion class, sociology class and in the student center—and [the presentations] evolved in such a way that it got deeper and deeper spiritually,” he says.

Tyndall says that he wanted to address both Muslim and non-Muslim students in the aftermath of the attacks, so he chose to describe some of his positive experiences as a development worker in Muslim countries.

Thirteen years later, those campus presentations became the basis of Touching God: A Journey, a Guide to Mysticism in Christianity and Islam, published by AuthorHouse.

In his opening chapter, Tyndall recalls that on 9/11 “we were facing the reality that some American students ignorantly figured that we were attacked by Muslims and thus all Muslims were the enemy.

… As for our Middle Eastern students, or anyone who looked remotely Middle Eastern, we rightly figured that they’d feel targeted.

In fact most, if not all, refrained from going to class.”

Tyndall, who speaks Arabic and has a doctorate in economics from Colorado State University, is currently senior vice president of academic affairs at Colorado Mountain College, where he also teaches sustainable economics.


John Calvin and the Caliphate

John-CalvinBy Robert J. Joustra

When it comes to political Islam, received wisdom contains much which is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate. The term itself has spawned a cottage industry, with the twitterati locked in perpetual cyber-spats, and the talking heads battling over who is blowing up what and why. The challenge of “orientalism” always lives large, especially in popular Western analogies, (Islam needs a Reformation, Islam needs a Pope), and the polar to-and-fro has made the whole conversation a mess.

As analogies to Western history go, however, John Owen has just written one of the more convincing, certainly provoking, entries in the catalogue. A little précis of his new book, Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West’s Past is up at Foreign Affairs (“From Calvin to the Caliphate”), and it won’t disappoint to spoil polite dinner conversation with religion and politics.

Owen makes two general claims: (1) understanding political Islam at all means understanding secularism, and (2) understanding the Islamist-secularist struggle means understanding how that same “secular age” came about in the history of the Western world.

It is, admittedly, a little counter intuitive to start a study of political Islam with radical Calvinists, as Owen puts it, but the basic point is one which Scott Thomas in The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations also makes: “the problem of applying the modern concept of religion to the study of many societies in central Europe, central Asia, and most of the non-Western world is that they have still not entirely made, or are struggling not to make, this transition to a modern concept of religion.” (Thomas, 27).

In other words, to understand contemporary political Islam, the content of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age rears its head again: we need to know why people are so incensed by the globalization of the Westphalian state system and its attendant political theology. Why is there such strong blowback against the “secular” organization of life and society? Unhappily, if there is a term that is used more promiscuously than political Islam, it is “the secular.” To even speak of a “secular” organization of society is about as useful as speaking of a political Islamic organization of society.

Even ideal types don’t agree, and history is never filled with ideal types anyway. This is probably the best reason that Owen’s book does the heavy comparative historical work of finding out how European society struggled to make – or not to make – this kind of political-theological consensus; a mysterious, bloody, bizarre history that rivals in violence and outright fanaticism the worst of what political Islam has to offer.


Islamic Golden Age

islamic-golden-ageDo you know about the “Islamic Golden Age?”  Here’s a synopsis of the era.

The Islamic Golden Age is traditionally dated from the mid-7th century to the mid-13th century at which Muslim rulers established one of the largest empires in history.

During this period, artists, engineers, scholars, poets, philosophers, geographers and traders in the Islamic world contributed to agriculture, the arts, economics, industry, law, literature,navigation, philosophy, sciences, sociology, and technology, both by preserving earlier traditions and by adding inventions and innovations of their own. Also at that time the Muslim world became a major intellectual centre for science, philosophy, medicine and education. In Baghdad they established the “House of Wisdom“, where scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, sought to gather and translate the world’s knowledge into Arabic in the Translation Movement. Many classic works of antiquity that would otherwise have been forgotten were translated into Arabic and later in turn translated into Turkish, Sindhi, Persian, Hebrew and Latin. Knowledge was synthesized from works originating in ancientMesopotamia, Ancient Rome, China, India, Persia, Ancient Egypt, North Africa, Ancient Greece and Byzantine civilizations. Rival Muslim dynasties such as the Fatimids of Egypt and the Umayyads of al-Andalus were also major intellectual centres with cities such as Cairo and Córdoba rivaling Baghdad. The Islamic empire was the first “truly universal civilization,” which brought together for the first time “peoples as diverse as the Chinese, the Indians, the people of the Middle East and North Africa, black Africans, and white Europeans.”A major innovation of this period was paper – originally a secret tightly guarded by the Chinese. The art of papermaking was obtained from prisoners taken at the Battle of Talas (751), spreading to the Islamic cities of Samarkand and Baghdad. The Arabs improved upon the Chinese techniques of using mulberry bark by using starch to account for the Muslim preference for pens vs. the Chinese for brushes. By AD 900 there were hundreds of shops employing scribes and binders for books in Baghdad and public libraries began to become established. From here paper-making spread west to Morocco and then to Spain and from there to Europe in the 13th century.


First Fox Debate Included Repeated Questions On Islamic Terrorism, Zero On White Supremacist Attacks

debate-1024x682In the first GOP debate, consisting of the seven candidates whose poll numbers failed to put them in the top 10 prime-time debate, Fox News moderators asked question after question about how the contestants would confront ISIS and other Islamic extremists in the U.S. and abroad.

“ISIS-inspired terrorists have been arrested in this country, in the homeland, and the FBI assures us there are likely many more to come,” asked the moderators. “How far are you willing to go to root out this problem here at home?”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has a long history of making inaccurate pronouncements about Islam, replied he would solve the problem by declaring religion the enemy: “Unlike President Obama, I’ll actually name the enemy that we confront,” he said. “We’ve got a president who cannot bring himself to say the words radical Islamic terrorism. How can we beat them if our Commander in Chief doesn’t have the honesty and moral clarity to say that problem is radical Islam?”

There was no question, however, about the threat of right-wing, white supremacist mass violence, which has killed many more Americans since 9/11 than attacks by those inspired by Islam. American Muslims have carried out 20 plots in the last 13 years resulting in 50 deaths. In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.

A survey of 382 law enforcement agencies conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum also found that police cited right-wing, anti-government extremism as a much more pressing threatthan extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations.

Even the most recent tragedy, the mass shooting at a historic African American church in Charleston carried out by a young man who explicitly vowed to spark a race war, received no mention Thursday night.


The Triumph of Abrahamic Monotheism?

monotheismBy Paul V.M. Flesher

Just a couple years ago, the world’s population reached 7 billion. This took place through a centuries-long process of growth and migration — the same process that formed the distribution of the world’s religions as we now know them today. The current result of that process is somewhat surprising in that more than half of the world’s people follow one of just two religions: Christianity and Islam. These two monotheistic religions comprise the two largest religions in the world.

Christianity and Islam both trace their origins back to the Jewish Patriarch Abraham. The biblical book of Genesis tells how, during the second millennium B.C., Abraham and his household of 80 people followed a god known as Yahweh. Abraham’s family grew into the People of Israel, who formed Judaism, the earliest monotheistic religion, and worshipped Yahweh only. Later, in the first millennium A.D., both Christianity and Islam drew upon Judaism to create new religions worshipping this same God.

Christianity migrated as it expanded. After its origins in the first century in Palestine, it became the religion of the Roman Empire. That established Christianity in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea and then brought it into Europe. When the European nations began colonizing other continents in the mid-second millennium A.D., they carried their religion with them, with the result that the population of three continents became almost entirely Christian: North America, South America and Australia. Christianity also has become the largest religion in the southern half of Africa.

After its origins near the coast of the Red Sea in the seventh century, Islam quickly moved into the Middle East and the northern half of Africa. From there it went east, colonizing the Indian sub-continent and moving farther east into Malaysia and Indonesia, which today constitutes the most populous Muslim nation.


The Genocide Initiative – When Islam and Christianity come together against radicalism

topicBy Catherine Shakdom

Terror has a face and it moves under the ominous black flag of ISIS. Under each of its denomination, whatever the language and whichever the angle, terror today, has found a powerful vessel in the ideology carried by Wahhabism – the fountainhead of radicalism and religious extremism.

An evil onto the world, ISIS miasms have darkened the skies of Arabia, threatening to engulf regions and continents in their deadly and godless embrace. Before ISIS, no communities can claim shelter, no faith stands immune and no man, woman or child can hope to survive.

At such a time when terror is being debated in the public squares, its ideology dissected and its methodology studied; as experts and world leaders have scrambled to make sense of the nonsensical and thus find means to combat a movement rooted in hatred and blood, men of faith have stepped out of the shadow to reclaim God and reclaim Religion.

It all started with one man and a universal message of peace.

In October 2013, Dr John Andrew Morrow published a book, “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad and the Christians of the World.” Meant as both a testament and a witness to Islam’s commitment to interfaith solidarity, Dr Morrow’s book found a deep echo among Muslims and Christians.

A bridge in between communities and a reminder of sacred oaths spoken long ago, The Covenants Initiative was born under the impetus of men such as Dr Morrow and Charles Upton, a light shone forth against the darkness of radicalism, a shield against the evil of war.

As words quickly spread and as more gathered around the Covenants Initiative, a plan began to form – one which would see men of all faiths come come together against takfirism.

Today, under the impetus of the Covenants Initiative and thanks to the courage of countless Muslims and Christians, a movement is being born – one which will fight evil with what is better, one which will answer violence with solidarity and unshakable resolve.

Today Muslims and Christians have said to be ready to break ISIS where it stands and denounce its deeds for what they are: religious genocide.


Want to Understand Islam? Start Here

Originally published in 2007 in a Washington Post article, John Esposito’s concise explanation of the essentials of Islam remains one of the best introductions to Islam that has ever been published on the web.  It is worth re-printing here.

Nearly half of Americans have a generally unfavorable view of Islam. That climate makes it easy to lose sight of the fact that the majority of mainstream Muslims hate terrorism and violence as much as we do — and makes it hard for non-Muslims to know where to begin to try to understand a great world faith.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam originated in the Middle East. As F.E. Peters shows in “The Children of Abraham,” the commonalities can be striking. Muslims worship the God of Abraham, as do Christians and Jews. Islam was seen as a continuation of the Abrahamic faith tradition, not a totally new religion. Muslims recognize the biblical prophets and believe in the holiness of God’s revelations to Moses (in the Torah) and Jesus (in the Gospels). Indeed, Musa (Moses), Issa (Jesus) and Mariam (Mary) are common Muslim names.

Muslims believe in Islam’s five pillars, which are straightforward and simple. To become a Muslim, one need only offer the faith’s basic credo, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God.” This statement reflects the two main fundamentals of Islamic faith: belief in the one true God, which carries with it a refusal to worship anything else (not money, not career, not ego), and the crucial importance of Muhammad, God’s messenger.


Franklin Graham, Islam, and the Future of Progressive Christianity

franklin-fb-page-1Franklin Graham recently made a stir with his 2.1 million fans on Facebook when he posted about the murder of four US marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He wrote,

Four innocent Marines (United States Marine Corps) killed and three others wounded in ‪#‎Chattanooga yesterday including a policeman and another Marine–all by a radical Muslim whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from Kuwait. We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized–and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we’ve got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates. Pray for the men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.

Franklin Graham is the “mouth piece of God” for many Christians throughout the world – a modern day prophet for his millions of fans. But, sadly, Franklin misunderstands the very nature of God.

I share Graham’s concern for the victims of this violent act and pray for their families, but his statement about how Christians should respond to that violence also concerns me. Graham’s understanding of God is contaminated by fear and exclusion that responds to violence with more violence. He believes that Islam is a great threat to America and that we should respond by excluding Muslims from the United States because “they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad.”

I’m pleased that many Evangelicals have already critiqued Graham’s misunderstanding of Islam, but here I’d like to offer a progressive alternative to his understanding of Christianity.