Islam and Christianity: A history of harmony

One of the greatest Islamic philosophers graces libraries of the Western world

The scholar Abu Nasr Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Uzalag Ibn Tarkhan, born in 870AD in Turkestan region (now Kazakhstan), was known in the Arab world as Al-Farabi. Passionate about reading from a young age, he was fond of reading about logic and philosophy, and decided to travel to Baghdad — the capital of the Islamic caliphate — at that time.

Historians note that Al-Farabi read all the books of philosophy by Aristotle and Plato. He made several attempts to understand the science of philosophy until he recorded a phrase: “I have read it more than forty times, and I still need to read it.”

At a time when Muhammad Abu Nasr al-Farabi delved into philosophy and logic many Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars were already settled in Baghdad.

Knowledge flourished based on dialogue between the three main religious beliefs. Among the most important Christian scholars (some of whom were Al-Farabi’s teachers) included Abu Bishr Matta bin Yunus in Baghdad, Yohana Ibn Haylan in Harran (Turkey), and Ibrahim Al-Marwazi from Merv in Turkmenistan.


Singapore church leaders shocked by case of teen who planned mosque attacks

SINGAPORE – The National Council of Churches (NCCS) and other Christian leaders in Singapore on Wednesday (Jan 27) expressed sadness, shock and concern at the revelation that a local teenager of Protestant faith had plotted to attack two mosques and kill Muslim worshippers here.

They also decried his actions as unrepresentative of the Christian faith and its teachings.

The student, 16, is the youngest person detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related activities, and the first to be inspired by far-right extremist ideology.

The NCCS expressed its appreciation to the authorities for its swift action, which it said could have led to serious injury to Muslims.

“NCCS treasures the special relationship it has with the Muslim community… It wishes to assure our Muslim friends that there is no animosity between our communities, and that we remain committed to defeating hatred and violence,” it said in a statement signed by its president Reverend Keith Lai and general secretary Reverend Ngoei Foong Nghian.

The Council told The Straits Times it would meet Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, the highest Islamic authority in Singapore, and Muslim leaders on Thursday.


Muslim scholars are working to reconcile Islam and AI

Artificial Intelligence is being developed in uber-secular western labs. What should devout Muslims make of it?

Conceived in the research labs of the Silicon Valley, artificial intelligence is deeply rooted in secular ideals of progress. Yet – as AI goes global – advocates of different ethical traditions are weighing in, often calling for greater regulation of the technology. In particular, Muslim AI researchers have reignited a long-standing debate about the relationship between modern liberalism and Islam. Should algorithms be allowed to play God?

On June 25 last year, Facebook announced the winners of its Ethics in AI Research Initiative Asia Pacific, a $25,000 (£19,000) grant to support the integration of diverse traditional knowledge from around the world into the study of artificial intelligence.

Among those selected are Dr Junaid Qadir and Amana Raquib, two Pakistani academics who have been studying how Islamic ethical and legal principles can be used to regulate AI in Muslim countries. “Islam professes ethical traditions going back more than 1,400 years” says Qadir, chair of electrical engineering at Lahore’s Information Technology University.

“There’s a lack of representation in AI for the two billion people who profess these beliefs. Our work will plug this gap.”
According to Qadir and Raquib, liberal regulation of technology has precipitated a moral crisis in the Islamic world, where they believe colonial values have supplanted native worldviews. “Much of the advancement that has taken place over the last century has been imposed on Muslims, not created with Muslims at the helm” argues Raquib, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration. “As a result, no one asks the crucial question of why we need these technologies in the first place.”


Pope Francis plans focus on Abrahamism during Iraq visit

Pope’s message of peace, dialogue and fraternity will force Iraqi politicians to rise above sectarian squabbles.

By Ben Joseph
When Pope Francis visits Iraq in March, he plans to anchor his interfaith dialogue with Muslims in Abrahamism, the common root of Semitic religions that trace their origin to Judaism and the worship of Abraham’s God.

The Biblical birthplace of Abraham, Ur in southern Iraq, will figure prominently in the pope’s itinerary when he visits war-torn Iraq.

The impact of his visit will reflect on the entire strife-ridden West Asia region, where the two major Abrahamic religions — Judaism and Islam — are confronting each other and treat the ancient Christian communities as second-class citizens.

The pontiff is extending the olive branch through Abraham and the Old Testament, which the antagonistic warring groups and proponents of intra-Muslim rivalry will find difficult to renounce.

The pope is expected to produce something similar to the 2019 Abu Dhabi document on human fraternity while engaging Shia Muslim leaders in Iraq from March 5-8.

Shias are one of the two main branches of Islam and form some 65 percent of Iraq’s 39 million people. The Sunni sect, estimated to be 90 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, is a minority in Iraq, accounting for 34 percent of its population.

The Vatican has to deliver a Christian-Shia dialogue to match the Christian-Sunni ties cemented during the papal visit to the United Arab Emirates in 2019, suggested Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

The Vatican wants a pan-West Asia reach for the papal visit and has modeled the Iraqi visit motto: “You are all brothers.” The motto is written in the Arabic, Chaldean and Kurdish languages.


Saudi Arabia Redefines Role as World’s Defender of Muslims

When Chinese diplomat Tan Banglin defended his country’s treatment of Muslims amid an international outcry, his comments were less remarkable than where he made them.

In a column last July for one of the most widely read newspapers in Saudi Arabia—the traditional protector of Muslims worldwide—Tan talked about how the Communist Party had united with people in Xinjiang province, leading to “great” changes. That’s as nations including the U.S. were accusing China of putting Uighurs into detention camps.

The voice given to China’s consul general in Jeddah, less than 70 kilometers from Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, reflects the new political reckoning under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he prioritizes more secular national interests at a critical juncture for the kingdom. And it’s one that may serve him well as the administration changes in Washington, despite U.S. opposition to Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang.

The Month That Shook The Saudi Economy
Portraits of Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman at a construction site in the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh.Photographer: Tasneem Alsultan/Bloomberg

The Saudi world view is being shaped more by hard-nosed business calculations, shifting geopolitical realities and the emergence of clean energy as a competitor to oil while facing a challenge from Turkey for leadership of the Sunni Muslim sphere.


Legacy Of Travel Ban Will Be Hard For Biden To Erase

President-elect Biden has pledged to quickly end the Trump administration’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. But immigrant advocates say the lasting effects of policy will be harder to undo.


President-elect Joe Biden is expected to sign a bunch of executive orders when he takes office tomorrow, including one rolling back the so-called travel ban on immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. But that policy’s legacy won’t be easy to erase. Here’s NPR’s Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: After fleeing civil war in Syria, Haitham Dalati and his wife made it to the U.S. in early 2017. They hoped their daughter and her family would soon follow. But when I talked to Haitham Dalati a year later, the rest of the family was still stuck in Lebanon.


HAITHAM DALATI: This is so horrible for us. So I don’t know now whether America is good or bad.

ROSE: Dalati and his wife got into the U.S. during a brief window when the first version of President Trump’s travel ban was put on hold. In the months that followed, legal battles raged until the Supreme Court ultimately upheld a slimmed-down version of the ban. It wasn’t until November of last year, though, that Dalati’s daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren were finally allowed in as refugees.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

ROSE: The family hugged and wept at the airport gate in Pennsylvania. When we spoke again this month, Dalati said he sees America with new eyes.

DALATI: Much better than before when my daughter is with me with her children and husband. Really, it’s another America.


President Biden’s executive order ends Trump’s Muslim travel ban, outlines what’s next

Among the flurry of executive orders signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday was one ending the ban on travelers from several majority-Muslim countries, which was first issued by Donald Trump in January 2017.

“Beyond contravening our values, these Executive Orders and Proclamations have undermined our national security,” Biden’s executive order rescinding the ban reads. “They have jeopardized our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over. And they have separated loved ones, inflicting pain that will ripple for years to come. They are just plain wrong.”

Instead of a ban, the White House says it will improve the screening of visitors by strengthening information sharing with foreign governments and other measures.

The so-called Muslim ban went through multiple iterations before it was finally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018. The original ban affected refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

But the list of countries changed over the course of a protracted court battle that wound all the way to the Supreme Court. While the high court allowed the order to take effect in December 2017, the legal fight didn’t end until the following June. By then, the list consisted of five majority-Muslim countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen  – and two that are not: North Korea and Venezuela.


Muslim Americans ‘Thrilled’ Ahead of Travel Ban Being Lifted

It’s being hailed by advocacy groups as a day of hope, one after which families may once more be able to reunite with loved ones, marking the end of a “dark legacy”. Muslim Americans are anticipating the end of a travel ban President Trump imposed on predominantly Muslim countries, a ban President-elect Biden has vowed to repeal on his first day in office.

According to a memo sent by Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain to senior staff, Biden is planning to sign a raft of executive orders on his first day as President to mark a clean break with his predecessor, including an order to rejoin the Paris Agreement on the climate and the reversal of the travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.

Labeled a Muslim ban by critics, an executive order was signed by President Trump in January 2017 barring entry into the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the country for 90 days. It also banned the admission of Syrian refugees and suspended the U.S. refugee admissions program for 120 days.

President Trump said the travel ban was necessary in order to keep America safe from terrorism and that it was not a ban against Muslims. During his campaign for president, Trump had called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Justifying the imposition of his ban by executive order, Trump said: “Making America safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”

During his campaign, Biden promised to “end the Muslim ban on day one” of his time in office. Biden told attendees of the Million Muslim Votes Summit, an online conference hosted by Emgage Action, a Muslim-American political group: “Muslim communities were the first to feel Donald Trump‘s assault on Black and brown communities in this country with his vile Muslim ban. That fight was the opening barrage in what has been nearly four years of constant pressure and insults, and attacks against Muslim American communities.”

Ahead of the expected repealing of the ban on Wednesday, Iman Awad, deputy director of Emgage Action told Newsweek that she was “thrilled.” She said: “From the first time we heard President-elect Biden say that he was going to end the Muslim ban on day one, the community was definitely thrilled because that to us is a validation of how poor of a policy the Muslim ban was from the beginning.

“The fact that the Biden administration is upkeeping that promise, we’re very hopeful because again when somebody’s running a campaign and when President-elect Biden was stating he was going to rescind the ban there were still some questions around it but we are incredibly grateful that he’s upholding that campaign promise.”

Travel ban protest
Muslim Americans say they are “thrilled” a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries will be lifted by BidenGETTY


Faith on the Hill

The religious composition of the 117th Congress

When it comes to religious affiliation, the 117th U.S. Congress looks similar to the previous Congress but quite different from Americans overall.

While about a quarter (26%) of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – just one member of the new Congress (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.) identifies as religiously unaffiliated (0.2%).

Nearly nine-in-ten members of Congress identify as Christian (88%), compared with two-thirds of the general public (65%). Congress is both more heavily Protestant (55% vs. 43%) and more heavily Catholic (30% vs. 20%) than the U.S. adult population overall.

Members of Congress also are older, on average, than U.S. adults overall. At the start of the 116th Congress, the average representative was 57.6 years old, and the average senator was 62.9 years old.1 Pew Research Center surveys have found that adults in that age range are more likely to be Christian than the general public (74% of Americans ages 50 to 64 are Christian, compared with 65% of all Americans ages 18 and older). Still, Congress is more heavily Christian even than U.S. adults ages 50 to 64, by a margin of 14 percentage points.2


Biden to reverse Trump’s Muslim ban on inauguration day

Memo by Biden’s incoming chief of staff shows president-elect is looking to quickly reverse several Trump policies.

On his first day in office, US President-elect Joe Biden plans to issue a number of executive orders, including one rescinding the controversial travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries.

According to a memo circulated on Saturday by Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming White House chief of staff, the new US administration will launch a spate of reversals on policies implemented by US President Donald Trump over its first 10 days in office.

These also include new coronavirus prevention efforts, rejoining the Paris climate change accord, and immigration legislation allowing for millions to gain citizenship.

Shortly after taking office in 2017, Trump issued an executive order that banned travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

That order was, however, reworked several times amid legal challenges and a version of it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018.

‘Poison of hate’

Analysts say the ban could easily be undone as it was issued by executive order and presidential proclamation, though lawsuits from conservative opponents could delay the process.