With COVID restrictions eased, Muslims flocked to mosques and parks across New Jersey on Tuesday to mark Eid al-Adha, a holy day that observes Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command.
Unlike last year, some worshippers were maskless and embraced one another as they celebrated with prayer, festivals and family gatherings.
But while the crowds had returned, Eid al-Adhawas still not the same. For the second year, Muslim Americans were unable to join the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in which the faithful across the world travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to worship in the Ka’bah, the most sacred site in Islam.
In a typical year, thousands of Americans would join the 2.5 million Muslims who make the annual pilgrimage. But this year, COVID restrictions limited attendance to 60,000 vaccinated Saudi residents, up from just 1,000 in 2020.
Muslims celebrate the Eid al-Adha religious festival, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.
Muslims around the world are celebrating the Eid al-Adha religious holiday, which, in Arabic, means the “festival of the sacrifice” and marks the end of Hajj, the five-day pilgrimage Muslims undertake to cleanse the soul of sins and instil a sense of equality and brotherhood.
Eid al-Adha commemorates the story of the Muslim Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith when he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Ismail.
The belief holds that God stayed his hand, sparing the boy and placing a ram in his place.
The day is marked with the sacrifice of an animal, usually a goat, sheep or cow, and the distribution of the meat among neighbours, family members and the poor.
This year, the holiday – which starts on Tuesday – comes as many countries battle the Delta COVID variant first identified in India, prompting some to impose new restrictions or issue appeals for people to avoid congregating and follow safety protocols.
(UPDATED) Pew surveys 30,000 Indians across 6 faiths and 17 languages and finds support for tolerance yet also segregation.
A third of Hindus in India would not be willing to accept a Christian as a neighbor. Neither would a quarter of Indian Muslims or Sikhs.
Only a third of Indian Christians are very concerned about stopping inter-religious marriage, vs. two-thirds or more of Hindus, Muslims, and the general Indian population.
A quarter of Christians say religious diversity harms India, while about half say it benefits the country.
A third of Indian Christians identify as Catholics and half identify with Protestant denominations. A third of Christians identify as members of Scheduled Castes, often called Dalits (and formerly the pejorative untouchables).
Almost all Indian Christians are very proud to be Indian, and three-quarters agree that Indian culture is superior to others.
These are among the findings of “Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation,” a significant new report released today by the Pew Research Center. Its conclusion, in a sentence: “Indians say it is important to respect all religions, but major religious groups see little in common and want to live separately.”
Outreach programs to dispel COVID-19 vaccine disinformation are having an impact on vaccination rates within some Muslim communities.
Shaikh Rahman, a business systems analyst in Chicago, was not a proponent of COVID-19 vaccines because he did not feel that credible information about them was being disseminated effectively and the distribution seemed rushed.
“Our faith says to investigate a matter before passing it off as truth,” he says.
But Rahman’s sentiment changed after his local imam, Shaykh Jamal Said of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, began to suggest that those who were not vaccinated may be prohibited entry to the mosque.
Rahman was concerned about this potential restriction for prayer services and he considered getting vaccinated. He had tested positive for the virus prior to this potential restriction. So he decided to get the shot to build up his immunity after the Mosque Foundation held a Pfizer vaccination drive.
“With the country reopening, I don’t want my family or my loved ones to be at risk of exposure through me,” Rahman says.
While vaccine hesitancy trends continue to evolve across the United States, a shift also is underway within some Muslim communities. Vaccine rates among Muslims had been among the lowest in the nation in the early months of the pandemic. But outreach programs from mosques, community organizations, and cultural centers that work with immigrant communities are helping to dispel disinformation and promote vaccination.
As they hear from trusted figures, such as imams, some Muslims are now opting to get the shot.
Anti-Muslim views have become more widespread in Europe over the past 30 years, but it is important to distinguish between criticisms of certain forms of Islamic practice and the belief that Muslims are taking over Europe.
Mosque in Oslo, Norway. Photo: Oskar Seljeskog / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0
People with anti-Islamic views wish to restrict Muslim immigration and Islamic religious practices. In their view, Islam is a homogenous, totalitarian ideology that is threatening western civilisation. When we talk about anti-Muslim racism, the attitudes concerned are so generalizing that all Muslims are lumped together, regardless of whether they are secular Muslims or fundamentalists. In other words, we are talking not only about criticism of a set of religious ideas, but about attitudes that dehumanize and generalize a whole group in the population.
Although such attitudes have a long history in Europe, the idea that Muslims are ‘the enemy’ has become more widespread over the last 30 years. In the aftermath of the Cold War, one could say that Europe needed a new archetypal enemy, and research shows that Muslim immigrants gradually took on that status. For example, it became gradually more common for people to talk about “Muslims”, rather than immigrants with Pakistani backgrounds.
Events that direct a critical focus onto Muslims
Research from various countries shows increases in anti-Muslim views towards Muslims in connection with various critical events. This does not suggest that anti-Muslim bias is growing in a continuously upwards trend. Rather, it suggests that this bias increases temporarily in connection with societal events that direct a critical focus on Muslims.
In the 1980s, for example, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses provoked Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against Rushdie, and many Muslims joined anti-Rushdie demonstrations and tore pages out of his book. In many cases, their demonstrations were met with highly generalizing and critical representations of Muslim in the media, where Islam as a religion was questioned.
Wayne Te Brake is Professor Emeritus of History at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of Religious War and Religious Peace in Early Modern Europe (2017) and Making Religious Peace: Historical Perspectives on a Global Challenge (forthcoming).
Nearly twenty years ago, on October 7, 2001, the United States, supported by a broad international coalition, started what the Bush administration called a War on Terrorism; it began with an aerial attack on Afghanistan, whose radical Islamist Taliban government had harbored those responsible for the devastating 9/11 attacks. Two weeks earlier President George W. Bush had described the coming conflict as the necessary response to “a new kind of evil. . . . This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while, and the American people must be patient.”
The President’s aides quickly tempered Bush’s rhetorical impulse, insisting that this was not a “crusade” against Islam, but a defense of freedom and democracy. Still, Bush was right in at least one respect: The War on Terrorism has taken a while. At this point, we still don’t know how and when our war in Afghanistan will end, but the Taliban and “radical Islam” are still generally considered to be the principal obstacles to peace. As the Biden administration struggles with the questions of whether and how soon to withdraw the remaining US military forces from Afghanistan, it is critical to recognize the religious dimensions of our “forever war” and to accept the challenge of making religious peace possible.
The day the aerial attack on Afghanistan began, Andrew Sullivan declared, in an essay in the New York Times Magazine, “This is a Religious War,” not unlike Europe’s religious wars. As a scholar of Europe’s religious wars, I appreciated Sullivan’s sense of historical recognition, which is still useful today. The problems and enmities that underwrote Europe’s religious wars as well as the War on Terrorism were religious in the sense that the forces in conflict recurrently and often insistently identified their enemies in term of religious ideas, behaviors, or affiliations. While some observers framed the War on Terrorism as a global struggle between Islam and the (Judeo-Christian) West, Sullivan framed it as a “war of fundamentalism against faiths of all kinds that are at peace with freedom and modernity.” After twenty years of “religious” war, however, religious fundamentalism has not been defeated in Afghanistan. It’s long past time to make religious peace.
But how do we shift from prosecuting religious war to making religious peace? Here the historical analogy with the religious wars in Europe is particularly useful. During more than a century of intermittent and increasingly destructive religious wars, Europeans learned to accept and manage their religious differences, thereby establishing the foundations of modern religious pluralism. This European religious peace, which I have described as complex and messy, has since been disrupted by revolution, nationalism, authoritarianism, and world war, but so far it has survived even the mass religious migrations of the last decades without descending to the coordinated destruction of religious war.
To learn anything useful from this history, however, we must shift our focus from contentious ideas to political action. Ideas, theologies, and ideologies provide useful clues for understanding the motives and intentions of those who prosecute wars, but it is a much broader array of political actors and actions that make war and peace possible, as often as not quite unintentionally. This is because the outcomes of large historical processes – like the cycles of religious conflict, violence, war evident in early modern Europe and in the world today – are the product of contentious human interactions, which do not yield clear winners and losers. Indeed, European history shows that if the essential foundation of religious war is ideological intransigence, the essential foundation of religious peace is political compromise.
Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, embraced by one fourth of the global population and with three and a half million adherents living in the United States. Yet dialogue between Christians and Muslims is fraught, given differences in theology, ethics, history and contemporary political realities. Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast offers this slim book, 99 Names of God, as a beginning point for Christians to enter into the devotional life of Muslims in the hope of opening up dialogue between them.
Steindl-Rast is well positioned to do this. Born in 1926, he was awarded a doctoral degree in psychology and anthropology from the University of Vienna. He entered the Benedictine monastery at Mount Savior in Elmira, New York, in 1953 and was co-founder of the inter-religious Center for Spiritual Studies. Although best known for his writings on gratefulness, he has been engaged in interfaith dialogue since 1966, in both Christian-Buddhist and Christian-Muslim discussions.
His insight is that if Christians can explore a principal devotional ritual of Islam, namely repetition of the Koranic names of God, this will give them a starting point to appreciate what can seem like a strange and inaccessible religion to some Christians. All three of the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are “people of the book,” each has a written scripture and all name God.
Steindl-Rast is clear about why humans name. In their encounter with God, who is understood as “Thou,” they make clumsy attempts to address and call by name the transcendent yet intimate reality. He attests that this naming expresses the human experience of God, but only indirectly the Ultimate Reality encountered. All these 99 names are related and connected but none singly or together can capture God. Steindl-Rast analogizes these names both as a prism that refracts God’s resplendent beauty and as windows onto God’s mystery.
Some of these names of God derive from human intellect and reason, including the “almighty,” “the powerful,” “the sovereign.” Others arise from the intimacy of the encounter, such as “the merciful, “the compassionate,” “the ever-forgiving.” The devotional purpose of repeating these names is to bring one closer to the encounter that produced them. Naming is a stammering attempt to “call to” Ultimate Reality experienced as “Thou.” Christians should find here a ritual practice familiar to them.