What I learned teaching Islamic studies in Texas

d27oiqyirvfdvb72fmjlmjunda(RNS) — As far as I know, I was the first Sikh hired to teach Islamic studies at an American university. I loved every minute of it, especially because my employer, Trinity University, was located in my beloved hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

My first real job also shed new light for me on what it’s like to be an underrepresented minority in this country. Most Americans, in short, don’t know who Sikhs are. Typically they presume we are Muslims, mostly as a result of Islam being racialized in the past few decades: It’s not just a faith, it’s also a look, and the resulting stereotypes square with the appearance of many Sikh men — brown skin, turban, beard. That’s me.

Of course I had long since learned what “looking Muslim” meant in post-9/11 America. I knew firsthand the violence that came with misguided understandings of Islam, and as a Sikh especially, I felt compelled to do something about it. It’s precisely what sent me down the path of studying religious communities and addressing the racism they experience. I decided to make allyship with Muslims and those affected by anti-Muslim hate a centerpiece of my life.

Because my path seemed so obvious to me, I never considered my field of study to be odd. Only when I began interviewing for jobs did I realize that some might find it strange for a Sikh to teach Islam. “How can you teach a religion you don’t even practice?” people would ask, including the president of a university during a job interview.

I wanted to point out to the president that the scholars in his own religion department, like most of the religion scholars I knew, did not practice the faiths they taught. It’s considered normal for white scholars to be interested in traditions other than their own. I didn’t alert him to his bias — I wanted the job, after all. But ever since I’ve wished I could have asked why it was problematic for me to express the same interest — because I’m a person of color? Because I identify as a religious minority?

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

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‘If you enter a camp, you never come out’: inside China’s war on Islam

In Hotan, documents show officials are expanding detention camps and increasing surveillance

The Luopu County No 1 Vocational Skills Training Centre is hard to miss. It emerges suddenly, a huge campus towering over hectares of farmland.

Outside the compound, surrounded by tall white concrete walls lined with barbed wire and surveillance cameras, a police car patrols while several guards carrying long batons stand watch. The centre, which straddles a highway, is bigger than most of the surrounding villages – about 170,000sq metres. A banner on one building says: “Safeguard ethnic unity.”

Half a dozen people stand on the roadside, staring at the buildings. No one is willing to say exactly what this prison-like facility is or why they are waiting on its perimeter.

Images of Xinjiang, China, taken in December as part of a Guardian investigation into the mass detention of Uighur Muslims across China.
 Images of Xinjiang, China, taken in December as part of a Guardian investigation into the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in China. Photograph: Lily Kuo for the Guardian

They are reluctant to talk because the building is not a formal prison or university, but an internment camp where Muslim minorities, mainly Uighurs, are sent against their will and without trial for months or even years.

Researchers and residents say southern Xinjiang, where the Luopu County No 1 Vocational Skills Training Centre is located, has borne the brunt of the government’s crackdown on Muslims because of its density of Uighurs and distance from major cities.

“We have a saying in Hotan: If you go into a concentration camp in Luopu, you never come out,” said Adil Awut*, from Hotan City, who is now living overseas.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN (UK)

UAE Muslims prepare warm welcome for Pope


20170921T1318-11715-CNS-POPE-MUSLIM_800-690x450‘This is without doubt a historic visit, as a Pope has never been to the Arab Peninsula before and until recently this was considered unthinkable’

Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, has said the Pope’s coming visit to United Arab Emirates next month is being warmly anticipated by Muslims as well as Christians.

Francis would be paying a visit to the “ very heart of Islam” so to speak, Hinder said in a long interview in the January issue of Alle Welt, the quarterly magazine of the Austrian branch of the Pontifical Mission Societies, or Missio.

The Pope’s visit to a mosque and the interreligious dimension of the visit could be compared to St Francis of Assisi’s visit to the Egyptian Sultan 800 years ago, Hinder said. “St Francis reached out to the Sultan across entrenched fronts at the time, which led to a friendly visit. I think Pope Francis is going to set a sign, namely that we must build bridges even if we do not believe in the same things”, he added. Such encounters and setting such signs were most important as far as the Muslim world was concerned, “as Muslims react very positively to them”.

“This is without doubt a historic visit, as a Pope has never been to the Arab Peninsula before and until recently this was considered unthinkable,” Hinder recalled. Francis was, moreover, coming in the year when the Catholic Church was celebrating the 800th anniversary of the meeting between St Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil at Damietta in Egypt in the year 1219.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE TABLET (UK)

Want to Cultivate a Liberal European Islam? Look to Bosnia.

Bosnian Muslim brides wait for a collective Sharia wedding ceremony for sixty couples in SarajevoThroughout the 20th century, Bosnian Muslim thinkers offered creative theological interpretations that squared with European life.

When French President Emmanuel Macron said last summer that he would create a new “framework and rules” for Islamic institutions in France, he was not alone. Other politicians and thinkers have also been involved in a broader effort to find an articulation of the religion that meshes with what they see as European values.

What is too little noticed, however, is that a tolerant European Islam has already existed for centuries—on the southeastern part of the continent, where Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Turks, and others see themselves as fully Muslim and fully European. A 2013 Pew Research Center study shows that they’re among the most liberal Muslims in the world. For example, only tiny minorities of surveyed Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, think adulterers must be stoned and apostates executed, in contrast with large majorities in favor of both stances among Pakistani and Egyptian Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

Illuminating Islam’s Peaceful Origins

 

GOD IN THE QUR’AN

By Jack Miles
241 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.

MUHAMMAD
Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires
By Juan Cole
326 pp. Nation Books. $28.

Is Allah, the God of Muslims, a different deity from the one worshiped by Jews and Christians? Is he even perhaps a strange “moon god,” a relic from Arab paganism, as some anti-Islamic polemicists have argued?

What about Allah’s apostle, Muhammad? Was he a militant prophet who imposed his new religion by the sword, leaving a bellicose legacy that still drives today’s Muslim terrorists?

Two new books may help answer such questions, and also give a deeper understanding of Islam’s theology and history.

Jack Miles, a professor of religion at the University of California and the author of the Pulitzer-winning book “God: A Biography,” has written “God in the Qur’an.” It is a highly readable, unbiasedly comparative and elegantly insightful study of the Quran, in which he sets out to show that the three great monotheistic religions do indeed believe in the same deity — although they have “different emphases” when it comes to this God, which accounts for their divergent theologies.

To begin with, one should not doubt that Allah is Yahweh, the God of the Bible, because that is what he himself says. The Quran’s “divine speaker,” Miles writes, “does identify himself as the God whom Jews and Christians worship and the author of their Scriptures.” That is also why Allah reiterates, often with much less detail, many of the same stories we read in the Bible about Yahweh and his interventions in human history. The little nuances between these stories, however, are distinctions with major implications.

FULL REVIEW FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Interfaith Dialogue: Another Perspective

downloadWhile perusing the online December 31, 2018, issue of the Fillmore County Journal, I read the commentary by Aaron Schwartzentruber in which he contends that interfaith dialogue compromises the Gospels of the New Testament, especially if dialogue is between Christians and Muslims.

My personal experience with interfaith dialogue began very early in life when, growing up in Fillmore County, I was a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant community. Our interfaith community was one of neighborliness and of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). These formative experiences have been helpful in my interfaith dialogues with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Zorastrians, and Baha’i. I’ve learned that meaningful interfaith dialogue is based on mutual respect, healthy curiosity, and sincere desire to learn and understand. It is not proselytizing. It does not condone, in any way, denigration of any faith tradition or followers. It is not a contest in righteousness, nor right vs wrong. In these days of Islamophobia, too little effort is made to become informed about Islam with sources other than mainstream media.

For anyone who chooses to move beyond ignorance and the fear that ensues, I suggest starting with What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, an easily readable book by John Esposito, a Christian professor at Georgetown University. A source that specifically addresses the commonalities between Islam and Christianity is A Common Word, Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor, which is available as a book and online: http://www.acommonword.com. It has become part of religious studies curricula and has served as the basis for multiple international interfaith conferences to study and expand its content. It is enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of religious and governmental leaders from every part of the globe. The foundational principle of “A Common Word” is that Muslims and Christians (and Jews) believe in the commandments: 1) Love of God and 2) Love of Neighbor (Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:35-39; Luke 10:25-27). Muslims and Christians (and Jews) share not only these two great commandments but also the same God. Yes, they worship the same God. These three monotheistic Abrahamic religions refer to God as Yahweh (Jews), Arabic name of Allah (Islam), and Trinitarian God (Christian). Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is among the greatest of prophets in Islam. Muslims, like Christians, believe in His virgin birth.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE FILLMORE COUNTY JOURNAL 

Lamin Sanneh, Scholar of Islam and Christianity, Dies at 76

11sanneh1-superjumboLamin Sanneh, who was born into poverty in a tiny river town in Gambia and became a world-renowned scholar of Christianity and Islam, providing key insights into how each religion took hold in West Africa, died on Jan. 6 in New Haven. He was 76.

His son, Kelefa, said the cause was complications of a stroke.

Dr. Sanneh was born a Muslim but converted to Christianity as a teenager and became a practicing Roman Catholic, giving him experience in both Islam and Christianity and an unusual perspective for a scholar of religion.

Even more striking, he alone of his large rural family managed to migrate across continents and attend prominent universities. He ended up as a professor at Yale University, where he taught for 30 years. He was the D. Willis James professor of missions and world Christianity at Yale Divinity School and a professor of history at Yale.

His memoir, “Summoned From the Margin: Homecoming of an African”(2012), relates how, even as a youth, he was consumed with theological questions about the nature of God and human suffering; that passion led to his religious conversion and academic career.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES