In Ethiopia, religious extremism fans the flames of ethnic division

RTX1MR5AEthiopian Christians took to the streets after morning mass on Sunday to protest multiple attacks on Ethiopian Orthodox churches in the country.

The protests were mainly centered in the Amhara region and parts of Addis Ababa, and follow a year-long spate of attacks on both Orthodox and Protestant churches in the country. Protestors are demanding an end to what they view as “a planned and orchestrated attack on the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church”, according to a report on Borkena.com.

  • Thousands protested despite church organisations announcing on Friday that the action was postponed in favour of dialogue.
  • Diaspora communities are also planning a similar protest on 19 September in four North American cities.

Like many such issues in Ethiopia, the attacks on houses of worship have taken an increasingly ethno-nationalist form. The growing religious violence has raised fears of politically-instigated extremism pitting the largely Christian population (60%) and Muslim populations (35%) against each other.

  • Since July 2018, over 30 churches have been destroyed, most of them in Jijiga, the capital of the Somali region.
  • In August 2018, BBC Amharic reported that seven priests had been killed and seven churches burnt in Jijiga, according to a report by BBC Amharic.
  • Two attacks in March and April 2019 in Jijiga left 12 people dead, while five churches were attacked in Sidama in July, resulting in three deaths.

Political interests and fake news

On 9 February, 10 churches belonging to eight different Christian denominations were destroyed in Southern Ethiopia after fake reports that mosques had been attacked in Durame, a town in south-east Ethiopia.

  • The next day, two mosques were attacked in Amhara after unconfirmed reports indicated that scrap paper from a Muslim wedding’s decorations included desecrated images of St. Mary. A third mosque was burnt a few days later.
  • “The act is a deliberate move by those who want to use religion to wreak havoc in the country,” the Amhara Media Agency quoted Islamic Council secretary general Sheikh Mohammed Hassan after the attacks.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE AFRICA REPORT 

Who is a ‘Muslim American?’

49fcc0f92e234e50b33d2d4c96c3e719_18I am a Muslim. I am also a US citizen. Am I a ‘Muslim American?’

I recently read two very informed and informative pieces on Al Jazeera on the situation of “Muslim Americans.” One was very critical and the other, quite complimentary. Both authors of these two short essays were making important and cogent points. I did not think I had to take side with one or the other. They were both making valid points.

In one of those articles, I read about “the political impotence of the Muslim American community,” in which Ali Al-Arian argued: “Today prominent Muslim American figures and organisations stifle the spirit of political resistance in our community.” In the other, Abbas Barzegar countered: “Actually, American Muslims are at the centre of the resistance,” further telling us: “Despite challenges inside and outside the community, Muslim Americans have stood up to Islamophobia and the far right.”

I always read these pieces with obvious interest and a bit of curiosity for I wonder who gets to be this thing they keep calling “Muslim American?” In between their learned exchanges I kept asking myself a question they were both taking for granted.

Who is a “Muslim American?” I am a Muslim. I am also a US citizen. Am I a “Muslim American?” Yes, no, maybe – and if so in what particular sense? When they say “our community” who exactly is the member of this community? Are they all Americans who profess to be Muslims, or those who congregate at certain types of mosques? The question at some point becomes quite existential. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

EVANGELICALS AND ISLAMOPHOBIA: Critical Voices and Constructive Proposals

The link below is to a pdf file of a magazine produced by Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.  This evangelical institution has been at the forefront of a dialogue that is largely unknown and unheralded by the mainstream media – a lively and fruitful dialogue between Muslims and evangelicals.  It stands as a counterpoint to the assumption made by many that evangelicals as a whole are Islamophobic to the extreme.

Please read these articles then spread the word.  Not all evangelicals fit the stereotype.

Inter-religious meeting in a church

LINK TO MAGAZINE 

4 Ways Muslims’ Religious Freedom Fight Now Sounds Familiar to Evangelicals

92050Religious freedom for Muslims in America has become a significant issue in recent years, as Asma Uddin details in her book When Islam Is Not a ReligionWe have seen campaigns in various communities to block the construction of mosques, and spikes in vandalism and harassment against Muslims. (Read CT’s interview with Uddin here.)

The campaigns rest on claims that American Muslims incubate terrorism or plan to impose Sharia law, and that globally “Islam hates us,” as President Trump has said. Evangelical Christians help lead these campaigns. Anti-mosque rallies have featured sermons by pastors and hymn singing by demonstrators. Polls show white evangelicals “are more likely than any other Christian group to have low respect for Muslims,” reports Fuller Seminary professor Matthew Kaemingk.

I have written on religious liberty and advocated it in courts and legislatures for 25 years. The majority of my cases have involved Christian individuals or organizations. I want to explain why evangelical Christians have a stake in protecting the religious freedom of Muslims.

Above all, Christians should affirm everyone’s religious freedom as an aspect of human dignity: Every soul must be free to seek and respond to God. To affirm that, you do not have to say that all beliefs are true. You simply affirm that true faith can come only from God convicting the heart, not from government pressure. And the prerogative to judge souls belongs to God, not government.

Religious freedom for everyone rests also in the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must treat others as we would wish to be treated. Jesus’s moral call is to identify with the neighbor.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY

Evangelicals Who Distrust Muslims Likely Don’t Know Muslims

92108Earlier this week, a Baptist church in Michigan canceled an event titled, “9/11 Forgotten? Is Michigan Surrendering to Islam?” due to pushback from fellow Christians and politicians.

“The personal relationships with Muslims, that’s a game changer,” Todd Green, Luther College professor and former Islamophobia adviser to the US State Department, told ThePost. “It tends to make you less Islamophobic.”

Yet surveys from various sources have noted the friendship gap between evangelicals and their Muslim neighbors. More than a third (35%) of white evangelicals knew a Muslim personally in a 2017 Pew Research Center release, fewer than any other religious group, and evangelicals surveyed rated Muslims more negatively than other faiths.

The Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research found in 2017 that 17 percent of those with evangelical beliefs reported having a Muslim friend, while the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) reported this year that only 22 percent of evangelicals say they interact frequently with Muslims. FFEU, led by a rabbi seeking to improve Muslim-Jewish relations, also noted that 1 in 3 evangelicals with frequent interaction with Muslims viewed Islam as similar to their own faith compared to 1 in 4 evangelicals overall.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Ashura reminds us that Islam is an integral part of the Abrahamic tradition ǀ View

file-20190903-175673-8bwl2vIslam, far from being an alien Eastern religion, is an integral part of the Abrahamic tradition that binds Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This shared heritage connects more than half of the world’s population and is a crucial tool in our efforts to increase co-existence in the world.

This makes it all the more tragic that many of the events that unite the three religions are eclipsed by divisive – or even downright racist – rhetoric pushed out by the Far Right. First amongst these events is Ashura, which falls today. This event is commemorated by Muslims and followers of other religions, even including some Hindus who are known as Hussaini Brahmins.

Ashura is the annual commemoration of the murder of Imam Hussain, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, at the hands of Yazid, an early ruler of the brutal Umayyad dynasty. It was an event that happened 1300 years ago, but many Muslims see it as the culmination of Islam’s Abrahamic heritage and a pivotal date in world history.

Ashura is a date in the Muslim tradition that has been significant in the lives of patriarchs revered in what is often termed the Judeo-Christian tradition. Starting with Adam, through to Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, all those Prophets have had, from the perspective of many Muslims, huge life events on the day of Ashura.

Both the raising of Jesus’ soul to heaven (analogous to the crucifixion in Christian belief), and the splitting of the Red Sea by Moses (celebrated by Jews during Passover) are believed by many Muslims to have occurred on Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram in the Islamic calendar.

And the themes of the slaughter of Imam Hussain are universal enough that they can help non-Muslims relate to Islam in a way that can sometimes be difficult in the current climate.

FULL ARTICLE FROM EURONEWS

A school where Muslims and Hindus pray together stirs strife in divided India

b777a66ed0a221649c1ec8141d934b2d-1024x768ALIGARH, India (RNS) — Every morning at the Chacha Nehru School, 10-year-old Mahanand recites verses from the Quran to a roomful of his fellow students.

He then walks over to a consecrated space for Hindus in the same room, and amid the lighting of ritual lamps for Hindu deities, chants Vedic mantras.

Raised an orthodox Hindu in this city southeast of New Delhi, Mahanand believes both Hindu mantras and Islamic rituals are conduits to the same god.

“In this school we are taught that Hindus and Muslims can study, pray and eat together without fear or discrimination,” said Mahanand. “This is where we break all barriers on grounds of faith.”

Named after India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (affectionately known by many Indians as uncle, or “chacha”), the Chacha Nehru School was founded 19 years ago with the idea of educating underprivileged children of India’s two predominant faiths in the fundamentals of both Islam and Hinduism.

The approach has always been an anomaly in this city whose large Muslim minority prefers to send its young people to Islamic madrassas. But as India’s religious divide becomes increasingly political with the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Chacha Nehru has become a sore spot for Muslims and Hindus alike.

In July, the school’s founder, Salma Ansari, 75, wife of India’s recently retired vice president, Hamid Ansari, went a step further, building a separate prayer room where the students can not only learn each other’s faiths but pray in common.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

9/11 and the Challenge of Jesus

love your enemies

As an American Muslim, I felt the tension experienced by all Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yet all Muslims were and still are suspects. The media put Muslims on the defense, and we are still trying to prove our innocence. Explaining Islam became an urgent necessity especially in view of the hatred preached by Islamophobia.

During that infamous morning, my wife was in our house in Fairfax, VA, with my two boys who were attending George Mason University. I was in Saudi Arabia doing a project for a Saudi prince. My wife suddenly called and asked if I was watching TV. I said, “No, I’m busy working on a business plan for a client.” But with a horrified voice she said, “Oh my God, a plane hit the World Trade tower and another plane is going to hit the second tower!” She sounded horrified, and she asked again, “Are you watching?!” Moved by the urgency of her voice, I turned to CNN to see the most horrifying event I witnessed ever. A plane hit the second tower as I watched the screen. Suddenly it dawned on me this is not an accident, but a disaster of colossal dimension was taking place in front of my eyes. Additional disastrous events took place that day to make it one of the darkest days ever for the U.S. and for American Muslims.

My wife and I spoke several times that day. We were confused, angry, and scared. That evening my wife called to tell me that she was afraid and worried about the boys’ safety. A friend suggested that she join other friends for a prayer meeting and to bring the boys with her. This was a first for my wife, but she and my boys were welcomed and felt among friends. The group started praying for the President and other government officials, and then my wife was in for the surprise of her life when the group started praying for Osama bin Laden’s forgiveness.

This was the first time this Muslim woman was exposed to the concept of loving your enemies. I remember the long conversation I had with my wife about that concept and about Jesus. Jesus was well known to us through the Qur’an, where his miracles are stated in details. Culture teaches us to hate our enemies while, Jesus teaches us to love them. Talking about Jesus and his teachings seemed to take our minds away from the tragedy that surrounded us to another dimension of love. While 9/11 was a disaster for many, it was my first exposure to love, Jesus-style. I was challenged to start reading the Qur’an with fresh eyes looking for the concept of loving your enemy. It says, “Good and evil are never equal. Repel evil with good, until your enemy becomes like an intimate friend” (41: 34). Muslims often read this verse, but the principle of loving one’s enemies is not a part of our consciousness and it should be.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

When Islam Is Not a Religion in America

92048Is Islam a religion?

This question is regularly posed by populists seeking to restrict Muslims in America. If Islam is not a religion—if it is a militant ideological system, for example—then some argue it is not subject to First Amendment protection.

At stake is the protection of religious liberty, writes lawyer Asma T. Uddin in When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom. Her new book details recent legal cases involving Muslims, arguing that restrictions on one faith community affect the freedom of all.

Formerly a legal counsel with Becket, a leading religious liberty law firm, Uddin has worked with the US State Department to advocate against the former United Nations resolution on the defamation of religion, which was seen by many as an attempt at international cover for blasphemy laws. And through the Legal Training Institute, she has worked to extend the American understanding of religious liberty to several Middle Eastern, North African, and Southeast Asian countries.

Uddin, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, has worked on religious liberty cases at the federal and Supreme Court levels—including the Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor victories praised by conservative Christians—defending evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Native Americans, and Muslims. Christianity Today, which recently editorialized on why religious freedom isn’t just for Christians, spoke with her on the sidelines of the recent US State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

CT: American evangelicals are often concerned that Christians have their religious liberty threatened around the world, often in Muslim-majority nations. The focus of your book is Muslim religious liberty, threatened in the United States. What sorts of challenges do Muslims face in America?

Uddin: I think it’s important to point out that the book doesn’t just look at attacks on Muslims. The book looks broadly at the attack on religious freedom, seen through the prism of attacks on Muslims. I discuss violence against churches, synagogues, and Sikh temples.

But in terms of threats to Muslim religious freedom specifically, I look at the nationwide anti-mosque controversy, which started in earnest after the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” fiasco. From there, it spread to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which was the first community to be affected while attempting to build a mosque. That’s where the claim was made that Islam is not a religion.

To this day, there are ongoing struggles to build mosques. It’s not just litigation, but also arson and fire bombing. There is even a question about Muslim cemeteries, to the point where American Muslims are unable to bury their dead. That’s the challenge we’re facing to our human dignity.

I also look at the so-called anti-Sharia laws that now have been proposed in 43 states: 217 bills as of 2017. The movement continues in full force accompanied by “marches against Sharia” (religious laws based on Islam), where we see people taking to the streets. And not that long ago, there was a murderous attack in public transportation of two men who came to the defense of two women in headscarves.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

A Muslim teen builds bridges, one conversation at a time

aminaillustrationAs one of the few Muslims in Gig Harbor, I am aware of the need for understanding among different religions. I realize that many people in my community do not know much about Muslims.

A person once voiced a misconception to me about my religion being terrible to women: “Islam doesn’t give any respect to women.” This really hurt me.

It was just one of many comments and statements of ignorance I have faced while being a minority Muslim in America today. That’s why I set out to promote understanding and greater dialogue in my community.

When I was younger, I had my own misconceptions, including some about the Catholic faith; for instance, how could humans eat Jesus’ body and blood? In my mind it sounded a bit like cannibalism.

However, as I grew older, and thanks to my religion classes, I came to see it as symbolic rather than literal.

We all have our misconceptions, but it’s how we choose to seek out knowledge and use it to correct ourselves that matters.

In today’s political climate, understanding within our community is needed more than ever. With that in mind, I decided to host an event to promote understanding across faiths.

The discussion took place Aug. 30 at the Lakewood public library and involved eight women of faith. What they said surprised me.

The participants were three Muslims from The Islamic Center of Tacoma, three Christians from The United Church of Christ on Fox Island, one Catholic from St. Charles Borromeo parish and one Jehovah’s Witness.

Each woman was very friendly and genuinely interested in authentic, meaningful conversations.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWS TRIBUNE