Meet the Muslim family who looks after a Jewish synagogue in India

og-video-kolkata-synagogueMORE THAN HALF a century ago the pews of Kolkata’s stately synagogues were filled with members of a thriving Indian Jewish community. Today, the congregants are missing—less than two dozen remain—but multiple generations of Muslim families continue to maintain the houses of worship.

The first Jew to migrate to Kolkata was a Syrian jewel trader named Shalom Cohen in 1798. More followed, mainly from Iraq and Syria, opening businesses and exporting silk, indigo, and opium. In the mid- to late-1800s, synagogues were built to host the city’s 3,000 Jews. Famous movie stars and pageant queens came out of the minority group. Hybrid dishes were invented, blending Middle Eastern and Indian flavors. During World War II, Jews fleeing Europe sought refuge in Kolkata.

The synagogues host more tourists than congregants, yet caretakers still recall days when the prayer sections were full.

Before India gained independence from the British in 1947 there were nearly 5,000 Jews living in Kolkata. The community teemed with Jewish newspapers, schools, and businesses. But uncertainty about the country’s stability under the new government spurred an exodus from India. Many more left when Israel was founded, just one year later.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC 

Do men have the exclusive right to interpret the Qur’an?

ASMA BARLAS 25 February 2019

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Several years ago, Muslim students of the Avicenna Society of Rotterdam organized a debate between Tariq Ramadan and myself about the status of Muslims in the West. In speaking about the discrimination and violence Muslim women have suffered in the name of Islam, I pointed out that the Qur’an actually affirms their equality with men. It does so by teaching that God created both from the same self (nafs), made them viceregents (khalifa) on earth and appointed them one another’s guides and guardians (awliya) with the mutual obligation to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. Yet, there is no trace of these verses in dominant interpretations of the Qur’an or in Muslim law. Instead, both law and exegesis foreground a handful of verses/lines (less than six out of more than 6,000 verses) that they take as advocating male supremacy over women.’

My larger point was to question why Muslims invest only men with the authority to interpret the Qur’an and why they are averse to interpreting it differently than they do. I have read it as an egalitarian and anti-patriarchal text in Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. At the end of the debate, several women in the audience asked Ramadan what he thought about women’s readings of the Qur’an. Women, he eventually said, had to achieve a certain mastery in order to be able to comment on it knowledgeably. All these years later, I can still recall the incensed face of a young woman in hijab who was repeatedly pushing him to clarify just how many more centuries he felt women had to wait before men would regard them as being knowledgeable. He didn’t say.

The truth is that the Qur’an doesn’t authorize only men or a scholarly community to interpret it and nor is there an ordained clergy or church in Islam. Nor does the Qur’an say it came only for the literate. To the contrary it says it is meant also for the “unlettered” Bedouins in the deserts of Arabia. In a remarkably post-Reformation vein, it insists that believers should have a direct relationship with God and should rely on our own reason and intelligence to decipher its verses (ayat, or “signs” of God).

FULL ARTICLE FROM OPEN DEMOCRACY 

Is the UK still a Christian country?

_82981533_prayerAre we losing our religion? The answer for the UK seems to be “Yes”, while the answer for the developing world is a resounding “No”.

That was the conclusion of a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center in the US.

It suggests that in the UK, if current trends continue, the proportion of the population identifying themselves as Christians will fall from 64% in 2010 to 45% by 2050, while the proportion of Muslims will rise from 5% to 11%.

The proportion of the population claiming no religion in the UK – the “unaffiliated” – will also rise significantly, from 28% to 39%.

Pew’s research also suggests there are likely to be more Muslims than Christians in the world by 2070, with Islam’s share of global population equalling that of Christianity at just above 30% each by 2050.

Equally eye-catching is its conclusion that by 2050, under half of the population will be Christian not just in the UK, but also France, the Netherlands, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Australia and New Zealand, while Muslims will make up about 10% of Europe’s population, up from 6% now, thanks to higher birth rates.

However, Christianity globally will continue to grow, with the number of Christians projected to rise significantly in sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

According to demographer Conrad Hackett at Pew, in 1910 some 66% of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Now that has fallen to about 25%.

By 2050, however, Europe will be home to just 16% of the world’s Christians, while four out of every 10 Christians globally will live in sub-Saharan Africa, thanks to high birth rates and falling infant mortality.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BBC 

Christian Politician in Indonesia Is Freed After Blasphemy Prison Term

merlin_121812149_3d86d3ce-82c4-4b6b-9cf0-d76d64db4b7a-superJumboBANGKOK — It began with a political jest and culminated in a shocking prison sentence.

On Thursday, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a former governor of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, was released from prison after serving nearly two years for blasphemy against Islam.

An ethnic Chinese Christian in a country with the world’s largest Muslim population, Mr. Basuki, 52, ran afoul of Indonesia’s blasphemy law when he tried to counter suggestions that faithful Muslims should not support non-Muslim politicians.

As Muslim supporters cheered him on during a public event in 2016, Mr. Basuki said in a joking manner that a particular verse in the Quran was being misused to dissuade Muslims from voting for him.

The off-the-cuff comment, which was later edited online to sound dismissive of the Muslim holy book, incensed hard-line Muslim groups, some of which have called for an Islamic caliphate to replace Indonesia’s secular democracy.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Arkansas High School Students Use Art to Learn Islamic Faith

191102170_WC-FHS-ISLAM-003_ORIG_t800BY DAVE PEROZEK, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — A high school art project helped students gain a new perspective by connecting them with people of the Islamic faith.

 

Fayetteville High School students in Ashley Grisso’s advanced placement world history classes worked in groups of two or three. They interviewed Muslims in the community, then told their stories through art.

The students’ work was on display recently at the University of Arkansas‘ Kittrell Art Gallery. Each piece of the “Putting a Face on Islam” exhibit was accompanied by a one-page artist statement about the work. Students and their subjects gathered one evening for a reception at the gallery.

 

“It’s really great to be able to understand a person from a different culture, because you might see stuff on the news and read about stuff, but there’s like, a person right there,” Peter Herman, a Fayetteville High School junior, said to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Herman worked with classmates Robert Benafield and Grady Cape. They interviewed a man identified in the statement as only Amel. He was born and raised in the Comoro Islands, off the east coast of Africa. Amel is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the university.

 

The boys’ piece of art is a collage on paper, divided in halves. The left half, with a purple background, depicts some of the negativity Muslims feel from America. A quote from Amel — “I was so scared to show my religion to America” — is at the center of that half.

The other half, with a white background, was meant to showcase Amel’s jolly personality. It includes a picture of him with a broad smile standing on the university campus.

The high school students met their subjects during an event arranged by Cynthia Smith, assistant director of outreach programs in the university’s department of International Students and Scholars.

Religious freedom is for Muslims too

133623_w_700Religious freedom must be for everyone, or we all suffer.

Last week, a Muslim on death row requested the presence of an imam at his execution. The state of Alabama denied this request even though it had allowed it for executed inmates who requested a Christian pastor. We add our voice to the Christian leaders who have condemned this act.

Domineque Ray was executed Feb. 7 for murdering a teen girl after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review his request for a religious accommodation. The court’s conservatives, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas, who ostensibly were nominated partly due to their support for religious freedom, denied the request, while the court’s liberals, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled in Oregon v. Smith against a member of the Native American Church who sought a religious accommodation regarding his use of peyote, a banned hallucinogenic, as part of a religious ritual. A law that is neutral with regard to religion — banned people of all religions, not just the Native American Church, from using peyote — didn’t violate the free exercise of religion, the Court reasoned at the time.

Both conservatives and liberals united in opposition to that court’s “neutrality principle” and passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They recognized that all of us were in danger of losing our religious freedom if the state could infringe upon our religious practice as long as its actions applied to all religious groups.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN POST 

In Detroit, one organization is schooling Muslims on racial justice

C-ig4dPVoAAlEC2(RNS) — It began, as so many social justice movements these days do, on Twitter.

Namira Islam, a Bangladeshi-American lawyer living in Detroit, had noticed that many of the ongoing conversations about Muslims online showed ignorance of the faith group’s racial demographics.

Black Muslims were often presumed to be converts or activists. Black Muslims discussing their experiences with racism would receive messages saying that promoting separatism is un-Islamic. Non-Muslims as well as many prominent Muslims seemed to equate the faith with being Arab or South Asian. And the slur “abeed” — Arabic for “slave” — was commonplace.

As Black History Month approached in 2014, she rallied a crew of about 20 activists and scholars to launch a new hashtag: #BeingBlackAndMuslim.

“We wanted to reflect on the erasure of black Muslims in the conversations we were seeing online, as well as in our communities and institutions,” Islam said. “Because those erasures reflect what we’re seeing everywhere else.”

And it resonated. For four hours that Feb. 10 five years ago, the hashtag trended on Twitter not only in the United States, but globally. The responses showcased black Muslims’ pride and joy in their culture and experiences, Islam said, as well as the heartbreak and betrayal they felt at the hands of their brothers and sisters in faith.

Because of the racially egalitarian messages in the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, “people think if you’re Muslim you can’t be racist,” Islam noted. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, she said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE