Is the world still living in the shadow of the crusades?

For several centuries in the Middle Ages, Christians waged a ‘holy war’ aiming in part – ostensibly, at least – to liberate the Holy Land. Six experts discussed the question for BBC World Histories earlier this year, writing on whether those events, recreated in books, films and firebrand speeches, continue to affect lives and politics in the region and around the globe today.205-BBC-WH16-color-1-2aa84ba (1)

Suleiman A Mourad: “We invoke the crusades because we want to believe that the past determines the present”

Do we live in the shadow of the crusades? This question suggests a passive role on our part, as if what happened back then explains what happens now. But history is often shaped by what we choose to remember, why and how. History is about the way the present writes the past.

The history of the crusades is told invariably as a savage, religiously inspired clash of civilisations between medieval European Christians and oriental Muslims. We think that this explains (at least in part) modern violence and the political tension between the west and Muslim countries, linking it to what happened centuries ago between the crusaders and the Muslims.


With interfaith exhibit, Boston’s Abrahamic faith groups revisit their shared roots

Sinan-Hussein-Welcoming-the-StrangerBOSTON (RNS) — Just over a year ago, the day after the deadly mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, more than a thousand locals gathered together on the Boston Common to mourn and pray.

As the Rev. Amy McCreath, dean of the historic St. Paul Cathedral that overlooks America’s oldest park, watched people of various faiths unite once again to mourn another national tragedy, she was hit with an emotional realization.

“I looked out over the crowds of people, and it was so clear that all of them really want a peaceful future,” she remembered. “We want to work together against violence, but we don’t even know each other. Unfortunately, the odds are good that something like that will happen again, and we need to be prepared to support one another and defend one another.”

That’s part of the reason the Episcopal cathedral agreed to host a new interfaith art exhibit that explores the faith and life of Abraham, the shared spiritual forefather of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions — and launched an accompanying interfaith book study to spotlight Abraham’s wives, Sarah and Hagar.

The two-year touring exhibition “Abraham: Out of One, Many,” is curated by the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler of Caravan, an international art non-profit affiliated with the Episcopal Church. After premiering in Rome in May, the show began a 20-month U.S. tour at Nebraska’s Tri-Faith Initiative this fall.


She Doubted Her Place in America. Now She’s Virginia’s First Muslim State Senator.

In helping to flip the General Assembly to Democrats, Ghazala Hashmi became part of a wave of Muslim women winning public office.

06-muslim-va1-jumboGhazala Hashmi was on her way to work one winter morning in 2017 when she heard news on the radio that left her in a panic: President Trump’s order banning refugees from certain Muslim countries was making headlines, and she was concerned about the possibility of a Muslim registry being created in the United States.

Ms. Hashmi, who came from India to the United States at the age of 4, pulled up to the community college where she worked, parked her minivan and felt frozen with fear. As a Muslim who had lived in the United States nearly all her life, she wondered, did she still have a place in the country she called home?

She shed those doubts on Tuesday when she became the first Muslim to be elected to the Virginia State Senate, a milestone that comes amid a wave of Muslims running for elected office across the country and increased visibility for Muslim women in politics.

Ms. Hashmi, 55, upset the Republican incumbent to represent a district based in Chesterfield County, which includes suburban Richmond. Her victory helped to flip the Senate on a night that Democrats took control of both chambers and consolidated power across state government for the first time in a generation.



Preaching ‘hate’ for Islam, speaker arrives in a divided Willmar

Organizers plan to protest an appearance Thursday from Usama Dakdok, who has visited Minnesota dozens of times to convince his audience that Islam is dangerous.

e0e678-20161024-antiislam12John Burns had been living in Willmar, Minn., for some time, but one interaction in particular stands out. An acquaintance wanted to recruit him to a group that has been warning others about the dangers of Islam and the infiltration of Muslims into their west-central Minnesota community.

But Burns, 75, was the wrong guy. He’s been voicing concerns against anti-Islamic sentiments in the town, which is home to a growing Somali American population. He’s written letters to the editor, spoken at city council meetings and called every media outlet he could think of.

“These people often have the enthusiasm of somebody who’s just discovered a new religion that explains everything,” Burns said of a local group that bills itself as a patriotic Christian organization. “At some point it turns into fanaticism, and that’s troubling.”

The group, called “Thee Book Club,” has rented an auditorium Thursday evening at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar to host a controversial speaker who’s made his mark across Minnesota and beyond trying to convince attendees that Islam is a dangerous cult.

Usama Dakdok, a Christian who grew up in Egypt, visited northern Minnesota more than 20 times from 2015 to 2016, often speaking to rural communities with small or no Muslim populations. He’s back in Minnesota this week to address crowds in the communities of Backus and Willmar, where he’s spoken at least once before. He’s also taken his anti-Islam message to Rochester and St. Cloud and across the country.


Popular Muslim event serving homeless people draws hundreds, and a new Christian partner

11022019_homeless_164053-780x479Aziz Junejo was scared no one would come. This is the 14th year he’s helped organize an event for homeless people with volunteers from local mosques and Muslim groups. But the location for Saturday’s “Day of Dignity” was new: Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle.

He didn’t have to worry. “We’ve never had so many people before,” Junejo said, near the end of the four-hour event, previously held at the Millionair Club. “We’ve had well over 300 people.”

Around him, a half-dozen barbers were giving haircuts, an acupuncturist was working to relieve aches and pains, and volunteers were handing out winter coats, backpacks and an array of other items that filled large tote bags to the brim. Nearby, a medical station offered free HIV and other tests. Earlier, many had eaten a lunch of chicken and rice.

Junejo approached Plymouth in hopes of starting an interfaith partnership for the event. The church was eager, said its executive minister, the Rev. Steven Davis. Plymouth already provides space for Muslims to pray during the week, including for a Friday afternoon service. He offered Junejo free use of the same space where that service is held, and said members of his congregation may get more involved in future years.

In the Muslim community, said volunteer Maria Romero, “this is such a well-loved event” that she tried unsuccessfully to sign up for several years. All the volunteer spots were full. This year, she and 24-year-old daughter Iman Khalaf finally made it in. “It’s something that’s really important to us as a family,” Maria Romero said, explaining that volunteering empowered her to do something about a problem she has seen steadily worsen.




233671Muslim and Evangelical Christian students convened at a conference at Wheaton College over the weekend to explore what they could do to ameliorate relations between their two religious groups, a situation the event’s organizers called “the greatest interreligious challenge of our time.”

The conference, which took place on November 1-2 was arranged by Neighborly Faith, an organization that bills itself as “a nationwide movement bringing Christians and Muslims together.”

The conference resulted from a partnership between Neighborly Faith and various groups evangelical college, according to a press release from the organization.

If past polling results are any indicator, the folks at Neighborly Faith are right to think that there is room for improvement in evangelical-Muslim relations, especially on the part of the Christians.

According to the results of a survey from the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and PSB Research released in March, most evangelical Christians do not harbor much interest in “building bridges” with Muslims.

The survey (which used results from equal numbers of Evangelicals and Muslims), found that only 22 percent of evangelical participants said they had regular interactions with Muslims. A similarly small number believed “that such interaction helps the groups to understand each other better,” according to World Religion News. By contrast, 53 percent of Muslim respondents said they interact with Christians frequently.

Further, the survey indicated that 61 percent of evangelical Christians supported the so-called “Muslim ban” that the Trump administration implemented between 2017 and 2018, as opposed to only 20 percent of Muslims.

More than 20 speakers attended the event, which was designed for evangelical and Muslim students, according to the press release.


‘Beyond the mosque’: Seeing Islam’s diversity reflected in worship spaces

ens_102519_FridayPrayer_main-768x576(RNS) — For more than a decade, Rizwan Mawani has been living, working and praying with Muslims in 50 different communities across 17 countries. As you’d expect, he has visited plenty of masjids, as mosques are called in Arabic, meaning “a place of prostration.”

But Mawani, a 45-year-old Canadian scholar and research consultant, whose new book is called “Beyond the Mosque: Diverse Spaces of Muslim Worship,” also spent time in Sufi khanaqas, Shia husayniyyas, Druze khalwas, Ismaili jamatkhanas as well as religious schools known as madrasas and other spaces of Islamic devotion from Canada to China.

Mawani uses these varied sacred spaces as lenses through which to offer readers a primer on the expansive histories, varied architectures and evolving ritual practices of Muslims around the world.

“While the mosque has come to predominate over our architectural assumptions and is often considered as the place of worship for Muslims, a survey of where ritual takes place … demonstrates that there are alternative venues in which Muslims pray,” Mawani wrote in the new book.