In the aftermath of the Brussels and Pakistan attacks, we once again find ourselves in a heightened climate of panic and anxiety. The widespread fears emanating from these attacks, while understandable, nonetheless can get the best of us, tempting us to buy into deceitful propaganda that views all Muslims as enemies.
The Christian tradition calls its followers not to bear false witness. So how do we live out this calling? What does it mean not to bear false witness against Muslims in the age of ISIS? Here are three false assumptions, if not outright lies, often repeated about Muslims and terrorism, along with some facts that can help us have more honest conversations about our Muslim neighbors and about the violence we encounter in western nations.
1. Muslims do not condemn ISIS or terrorism.
Every time ISIS-inspired attacks strike close to home, a chorus of voices calls upon Muslims either to condemn ISIS or to speak out more forcefully against them than they are.
The problem with these calls is that they ignore the many instances in which Muslims have condemned ISIS and terrorism. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti, the Arab League, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim Council of Britain have all condemned ISIS in no uncertain terms. More than 100 Muslims scholars signed an open letter to al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliph, to condemn his interpretations of Islam.
This Sunday, Catholic churches across Sydney, Australia will bear the usual signs of Easter: incense, fresh flowers, a lit Paschal candle — and a few rows of churchgoers wearing kufi and headscarves. Every year for the past 13 years, groups of Muslims have attended Easter Mass in the Sydney Archdiocese and Broken Bay Diocese.
It all started around 2001 when a group of Gülen Muslims who had immigrated to Sydney from Turkey sought to dismantle animosity in their new home. For the group, who practices love of the creation, sympathy for the fellow human, compassion, and altruism, one way of coping was to actively foster understanding among Christian faith groups. So, they called the Catholic Dialogue and Interfaith Office of Sydney and explained that people were pulling veils off of Muslim women, spitting at them, and attacking them. The Director of the Office, Sister Trish Madigan, O.P., sprung into action. A Dominican Sister of Eastern Australia and Solomon Islands, Sister Trish holds a master’s in Ecumenical Interfaith Studies with a focus on Islam from Trinity College and a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of Sydney.
Earlier this month the Runnymede Trust launched a new report, Islamophobia: Still a challenge for us all, to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of the landmark 1997 report, Islamophobia; A challenge for us all. The significance of the original Report is hard to over-estimate. While it is the case that it did not coin the term Islamophobia, it certainly gave it legs. And while it is also true that the report did not end Islamophobia, it did indict it.
The 1997 report was the first comprehensive combined survey and policy intervention on an increasingly prominent phenomenon and against the context of heightened global problematisation of Muslims as Muslims. This is worth remembering for two reasons. Firstly, whatever its final form as a document, the consultative nature of the work which fed into its pages generated a momentum and a sense of stake-holding important to its reception and impact. Whether adopted as leverage or contested in whole or in part, the report and the momentum of its discussion produced Muslim agency over Muslim agendas. The publication of the report propelled Islamophobia into public consciousness. It shaped the national and global conversation, even if much of that conversation was only to contest the vocabulary that the report sought to establish. Second, because it is worth being reminded that already in 1997 the report was a response to diverse interrelated historical shifts, both local and transnational: the post third worldist and post-67 global resurgence of Muslims signified by the Revolt of Islam; the increasing debasement of the grand narratives of modernisation come-secularisation in the social sciences; cumulative postcolonial and post-cold war challenges to the Eurocentric world order; the identification and ascriptive reclassification of ethnically marked and immigrant populations as Muslim, and concomitant mobilisations over the way in which existing race-relations based anti-discrimination legislation afforded them only uneven and inadequate protection, recourse, and redress as Muslims. This isn’t just about recasting a twenty year view into a longer genealogy. Against presentist fixation on framing the Muslim Question in the horizon of 9/11, it bears remembering that the report was published four years before George W. Bush declared the ‘war on terror’, and that in some ways this never-ending war was as much a reflection of Islamophobia as it was its intensification.
The 2017 report does not repeat the impact of the original report; perhaps never could. In any case, it is a very different document. The 1997 report was the work of a commission; the present report is an edited collection. It is based neither on community consultation, nor on new research and evidence into the policy areas it covers, but rather on commissioned chapters by academics summarising their research in different registers. Each chapter, as their bibliographical references mostly attest, speaks in an individual voice, and the volume makes little effort to engage let alone convey or build upon the mounting and increasingly diverse body of academic scholarship on Islamophobia produced across the world, including in two specialist journals, and numerous reports. Even its most significant departure from the 1997 report, that of defining Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism, is eroded by this lack of engagement. There is something to be said for an edited collection of single-theme focused chapters, but the absence of connection and engagement across the chapters is problematic.
The religions share a deep heritage based in love, which can’t be confused with the actions of misguided, fire-breathing followers on both sides.
For the Sufi mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi, spring was more than spring: it was a reflection of all that was divine, in our lives and history.
In his poem, “Spring is Christ,” he writes of how a flower is more than a flower, a tree more than a tree and the wind more than just wind. He writes of a love so strong it permeates everything it comes into contact with. And he writes about Jesus and his mother, Mary: Jesus as the spring that brings plants into bloom after a lifeless winter, and Mary as the tree that gives life, refuge and shade.
Surprisingly for many in the West today, Islamic mystical poetry is full of allusions to Jesus and Mary. The only religion besides Christianity that accepts Jesus as a prophet, Islam confirms his unique birth and the Qur’an refers to him as the “Messiah,” the “Messenger,” the “Prophet” and the “Word and Spirit of God.”
It is a commonality that is often overlooked by fundamentalists on both sides who choose to focus on the points of divergence. And yet, at this moment, when so many seem to be rooting for a collision between the Christian West and Islamic East, there has never been a greater need for both sides to acknowledge their shared heritage.
The event is set for this Wednesday with government, religious and civil authorities present. For the patriarchal vicar to Amman, this will be part of the “theological, religious, spiritual dialogue” that accompanies everyday life. “We want to show the common points between Christians and Muslims, concerning the event of the Annunciation, in which even Muslims believe,” he said.
AMMAN: This year, Jordan will hold its first interreligious celebration on the feast day of the Annunciation of Mary. On Wednesday, 28 March, government and civil authorities, Muslim religious leaders, Christian bishops and ordinary believers from both faiths will gather in a large hall in the capital to mark the occasion.
The event will serve to highlight “the importance of Mary in the Qur??n, and the value of the narrative of the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke,” noted Mgr William H. Shomali, patriarchal vicar of the Latin Patriarchate in Amman.
In doing so, “We want to show the shared points between Christians and Muslims, concerning the event of the Annunciation, in which even Muslims believe.”
For the past 12 years, the feast day of the Annunciation on 25 March has been a national holiday in Lebanon, a day off for everyone and an important moment for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
Christian and Muslim leaders in India have expressed concern over an initiative to “revise” the country’s history in an apparent effort to assert the dominance of Hindus.
According to Reuters, a committee of scholars was tasked six months ago with revising India’s history by the government of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The aims of the committee include using archaeological finds and DNA as evidence to prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and making the case that the Hindu scriptures are fact not myth.
“I have been asked to present a report that will help the government rewrite certain aspects of ancient history,” said K.N. Dikshit, the committee’s chairman.
Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, the creator of the committee, has stated that the group’s work was part of a larger effort to revise the history of the country.
Christian and Muslim leaders have denounced the efforts as a systematic attempt to sideline non-Hindus as second-class citizens in their own land.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian bishops’ conference, said that the initiative “cannot be appreciated,” especially as it comes amid allegations that the government is ignoring “burning issues” in the country.
(A LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA NEWSPAPER)
In the age of the “Muslim Ban” and increased Islamophobic hate crimes, Islam is at the forefront of political discourse. Although Muslims are at the center of attention in the media, the public and even at the dinner table, they are rarely involved in these discussions. From conservatives who try to restrict Muslims from entering the United States to liberals who strive to “save” Muslim women, debates and conversations about Muslims occur regularly, but Muslims are not being invited. Islam is discussed by CNN and Fox News, who constantly perpetuate false stereotypes and homogenize Muslims. Although we like to think university campuses are a space for critical thinking and open discourse, the ideas that are pushed by the mainstream media still make their way to schools like the University of Minnesota.
On our campus, there have been several instances of Muslims being targeted. In early November 2016, the Muslim Students Association’s panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge was vandalized with “ISIS” written boldly across the Islamic calligraphy. Just a few weeks earlier, several Muslim Students were personally targeted and had their names and information posted on flyers around campus. Muslim students have reported being harassed on the streets of Stadium Village.
Many false claims about Islam made on the news and by people in positions of power are echoed on campus, having a wider impact on students pursuing ambitious careers in many diverse fields. With the constant negative stereotypes of Muslims, spectators often take these claims as the truth. With disproportionately limited access to positions in media and political power, Muslims are being told what they believe in and what their religion is.