ASIA/MIDDLE EAST – Document on the future of Christians in the Middle East: Western “protections” or “alliances between minorities” do not help us

Antelias (Agenzia Fides) – In the Middle East there are ecclesial realities that “in order to obtain assistance from some American and European Christian groups, they adopt ideas that militate against coexistence, exaggerate the suffering of Christians, and promote the theory of systematic persecution by Muslims”. Other ecclesial subjects are betting everything on the strategy of the “alliance between minorities” or on the protection of authoritarian regimes as the only ways to ensure the survival of indigenous Christian communities in the Middle East. These are misleading choices and orientations, which risk weighing negatively on the future of the Christian presence in the Middle East and denying the same mission to which the Church called today in the part of the world has lived her earthly life. These are some of the provocations disseminated in the document entitled “Christians in the Middle East: Towards Renewed Theological, Social, and Political Choices”.

The long and dense contribution, divided into one hundred paragraphs, is offered as a systematic attempt to consider in depth the present condition of Christian communities in the Arab-Middle Eastern context. This is an initiative that has no equal in the recent history of theological and pastoral reflection on the present and future of Christians in the Middle East.

The document, released today during an official presentation organized in the conference room of the church of Sant’Elia, in Antelias (Lebanon), is the result of the long work carried out by an ecumenical team of specialists in theology, social studies and geopolitical issues , “Men and women, ordained and lay ministers, who wanted to confront themselves with frankness and freedom also “on issues that some may consider inappropriate for a public debate”.

The team, which has taken as its initials a formula that echoes a verse from Deuteronomy (“We have chosen life in abundance”), includes, among others, Professor Souraya Bechealany, former secretary general of the Council on the Churches of the Middle East, and Maronite priest Rouphael Zgheib, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Lebanon.


Sunni scholars who left Afghanistan hope Islam’s tolerant message survives Taliban

CAIRO, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Clerics from Egypt’s ancient seat of Sunni study Al-Azhar, who spent years teaching in Afghanistan and were planning to open an education centre for girls, hope their tolerant message of Islam will survive the return of the Taliban.

The 1,000 year-old institution had opened a mission in Kabul in 2007, promoting what its clerics describe as Islam’s peaceful tradition in a country where guerrillas have used religion as a justification for fighting for decades.

The 23-person mission was repatriated to Egypt after being briefly stranded in Kabul when the Taliban swept into the Afghan capital last month.

“There must be a presence for Al-Azhar in the country of Afghanistan, in order for us to communicate with the Afghan people and youth, to spread Islam’s tolerant message,” Shawki Abuzeid, the 58-year-old head of the mission said in an interview in Cairo.

Al-Azhar hosted 700 male Afghan students in Kabul, and over the years thousands have gone on to further religious and Arabic language studies at Al-Azhar university in Cairo. The mission also gave lectures and sermons, and contributed commentary in Afghan media.

It had been preparing to open a newly-built education centre for girls. Abuzeid expressed hope that the Taliban would fulfil a promise to let girls and women study.

“The Taliban are from the fabric of the Afghan people, and as I heard from the media and from our contacts with professors and heads of universities and some important figures, the thinking changed and they value women, and they said they will educate them but in a way compatible with Islamic law.”


Muslims, Our Brothers and Sisters in the Abrahamic Faith

Afghanistan has once again been captured by the Taliban, who are known for their complete disregard for human rights and international conventions, sending tremors across the region. The electronic and social media displayed images of Afghan citizens trying to leave the country in fear by hanging on to the planes that took off from the Kabul airport. Who will forget the images of the Afghan women throwing their children over the barbed wires of the airport walls begging American soldiers who were leaving Kabul for good to take them away with them? The situation has become even murkier with many a regional power entering into the embroiled scenario.

Subsequently, prejudices and biases against Islam and Muslims have once again become table-talk across India. People passionately discuss the Taliban brutality and Islamic fundamentalism. It is important to discuss and debate public issues that affect millions of lives in our neighbourhood. However, only informed deliberations will profit us. Discussions driven by bigotry will do no good but remain one-sided and superficial and lead to unfair conclusions. During my conversations with many Christians recently, some portrayed Muslims as ‘communally charged fundamentalists’ who spread fear and unrest among people of other faiths. We do hear many Christians making sweeping statements connecting Indian Muslims and Indian Islam with ‘conspiracies against Christians’. These include members of the clergy and, at times, even members of the hierarchy. This editorial aims at offering in broad strokes some basic understanding of Islam and Muslims that will help us in pastorally engaging with Muslims and dealing with Christian-Muslim controversies.


The anti-Muslim AfD just scored big in Germany’s election. What does this mean for German Muslims?

At the height of the refugee crisis two years ago, many Germans thought that Angela Merkel’s days as chancellor were numbered. Merkel’s open embrace of Syrian refugees upset the conservative wing of her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and fired up the far-right, anti-Muslim Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Fast forward to Sept. 24, 2017, and the CDU lost millions of votes. But it remains Germany’s largest party, with Merkel at the head. The election campaign was widely characterized as boring, in part because her center-right CDU and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) largely agree on how to approach the immigration issue.

But this bipartisan centrist consensus alienated many voters and helped the AfD secure 12.6 percent of the vote. The AfD is now the third-largest party (behind the CDU and the SPD) and is sending over 90 politicians to the Bundestag.

From Sept. 23: New German election forecast: Merkel’s party will win but lose seats

How much do issues related to refugees, immigration and Islam matter in German politics?

Though significant in a country that has long kept far-right parties at bay, this outcome doesn’t actually tell us much about the status of immigrant integration in Germany today — or about the future role of Germany’s Muslims in politics.

That’s because parties in Germany are just starting to grapple with the inclusion dilemmas that arise when parties incorporate Muslim voters in their coalitions. According to recent estimates, 1.5 million eligible German voters are Muslim, representing 2.5 percent of the electorate.

Electoral inclusion may run counter to social inclusion

long-held view claims that political incorporation goes hand in hand with social inclusion: As immigrants begin helping major parties win, they also integrate into society. But there are reasons to think that this development is not afoot in Germany or in Western Europe more generally.


9 tropes about Muslims that are a product of Islamophobia

There are nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world, and the religious group continues to grow rapidly. Yet Islam continues to be largely misunderstood by many, which has given way to Islamophobia and even violence against Muslims.

While Islamophobia existed long before 9/11, a dislike for Islam and Muslims became more deliberately weaponized in the service of war and politics in the post-9/11 world, says Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).

Mogahed and others say that post 9/11 Islamophobia has manifested in different ways around the world, including the adoption of the Muslim travel ban — one of former President Trump’s signature policies; the persecution of the Uyghur people in China since at least 2017; and the mass murder of the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Twenty years after 9/11, ignorance about Islam and an “othering” of its adherents continue to be driven by tropes. Here are the most common:

1. All Muslims are Arab

Islam started in the Middle East, but has since spread all over the world. From the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the Uyghurs in China, and Bosniaks in the Balkans, Muslims are an extremely diverse community and do not come from a single region.

Although many people use the terms “Muslim” and “Arab” interchangeably, it is not accurate to do so.

“Arabs are actually a minority of the Muslim population, both globally and in United States,” Mogahed told CNN. “They make up 20% of the world’s Muslims.”

Muslims are not a monolith, and are of all different races, skin tones, ethnicities and speak different languages.


Islam’s deep traditions of art and science have had a global influence

For people who would like to learn more about Islam, The Conversation is publishing a series of articles, available on our website or as six emails delivered every other day, written by Senior Religion and Ethics Editor Kalpana Jain. Over the past few years she has commissioned dozens of articles on Islam written by academics. These articles draw from that archive and have been checked for accuracy by religion scholars.

In the previous installment of this series, you learned about the different Muslim sects and the interesting ways they mix in the United States. This article will take you through the historical contributions of Islam and its influence on other faiths across geographical regions.

Your understanding of Islam is perhaps incomplete without a deeper appreciation of its cultural and intellectual history. History books in the U.S. can give an incomplete picture about the richness of its past, so many students may fail to appreciate the importance of this history.

Islamic scholars contributed to early developments in astronomy, medicine and mathematics. Their work was crucial to Renaissance scientists who built on some of the existing scholarship.

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For example, the 11th-century astronomer al-Qabisi, one in a line of famous Islamic astronomers, helped formulate a critique of the then-prevalent notion that the Earth was at the center of the universe. As scholar of Middle Eastern studies Stephennie Mulder writes, that model later informed the view of Nicholas Copernicus, a Renaissance astronomer.

Important works of mathematics were written by Islamic scholars, including substantial contributions to algebra and a commentary on the fourth-century B.C. Greek mathematician Euclid that was later translated into Latin. An early description of surgery to remove cataracts was written by Islamic ophthalmologists in the year 1010.

Many of these scholars were based in Mosul in modern-day Iraq, a city that was occupied by the Islamic State from 2014 to 2017. Mosul was a key center on the Silk Road – a network of trade routes – which also contributed to its rich diversity of people and traditions. As Mulder notes, “The city was home to a diverse group of people: Arabs and Kurds, Yazidis, Jews and Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, Sufis and dozens of saints holy to many faiths.”

Black-and-white picture of an ancient building with a tower
The tomb of the Prophet Jonah in 1932, before it was destroyed by the Islamic State in 2014. Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Among the Islamic State’s destruction of architectural sites in Mosul was the tomb of the Prophet Jonah, a figure revered by all three Abrahamic faiths. Jews venerate Jonah as a symbol of repentance. In the Islamic faith, Jonah, also known as Yūnus, is seen to be an exemplary model for human behavior. In the Christian faith, Jonah’s story appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.


Trump is gone, but Muslim federal workers say reforms are still needed

Muslim Americans in Public Service has published a set of 12 recommendations to improve working conditions for Muslims in public service.

(RNS) — Muslim federal employees who say they felt discriminated against under President Trump are advocating for new federal policies to prevent workplace bias, with many backing a new initiative from Muslim Americans in Public Service aimed at getting the Biden administration to adopt measures that reflect the needs of Muslim Americans who work for government agencies.

Earlier this year, President Biden signed Executive Order 14035, launching a “government-wide initiative to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all parts of the Federal workforce,” according to a White House statement. The Biden administration has also announced policies to root out far-right extremists in the military, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies.

While Trump’s executive order preventing citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States attracted media attention, Muslim federal employees faced various forms of discrimination, harassment and unwarranted investigation from the Trump administration.

“You had people at USAID who publicly hated Muslims. Can you imagine this being tolerated if this was a member of a different minority group?” asked Ahmad Maaty, an economist for the Department of Transportation and chair of Muslim Americans in Public Service, which was founded in response to their treatment. 

An internal State Department report released in 2019 found that the Trump administration had discriminated against a diplomat of Iranian heritage.


The Taliban’s Ideology Has Surprising Roots In British-Ruled India

DEOBAND, India — Hundreds of young men in crisp white tunics and skullcaps sit cross-legged in classrooms ringed with porticoes, poring over Islamic texts. From a marble minaret above them, a dozen voices wail Quranic verse in unison.

They start and stop in rounds, echoing like a canon across an otherwise scruffy landscape of rickshaws, tea stalls and open sewers.

This is where the Taliban’s ideology was founded. It’s not Afghanistan; nor is it the Middle East. It’s not even a Muslim-majority country. It’s a small town in India about 100 miles north of the capital, New Delhi.

More than 150 years ago, this is where Muslim scholars started a seminary that also became entwined in the politics of that era. The Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, founded in 1866, taught that by returning to the core principles of Islam, Indian Muslims could resist British colonial rule. Less than a decade earlier, the British crown had taken control of India from the East India Company. The previous Mughal — Muslim — rulers had been vanquished.

“The British have taken over. The Muslim glory has faded away. So there comes a kind of state of despondency within the Muslims,” says Luv Puri, a researcher, author and columnist. “Then they decide it’s time to get back the glory of Islam. And let’s start a movement.”Article continues after sponsor message

The movement they started became known as Deobandi Islam. Adherents later joined Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle. After the partition of India, they fanned out across South Asia and set up seminaries, or madrassas, teaching an austere version of Islam — particularly along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

And that is where they educated their most infamous students: the Taliban.


Muslim community grows, matures in New Hampshire following ‘terrifying’ aftermath of 9-11

As news reports fixated on images of crumbling towers and Osama bin Laden 20 years ago, Muslims living in New Hampshire and across the country became the focus — and in some cases, the target of scorn — of their neighbors.

Muslims suffered taunts — “go back to your country” — from motorists as they left the mosque in Manchester, which at the time was hidden away in an office building just across the street from the future police station.

In schools, children endured insults and in some cases assaults from fellow students.

When they left their homes, adults had to weigh whether traditional garments that would identify them, such as a hijab, were worth the risk to their safety.

“It was terrifying,” said Salaam Odeh, a Manchester resident and Muslim activist.

Odeh was the first victim in a hate crime case against Muslims following 9/11, after an apartment neighbor elbowed her while uttering racist slurs. The incident took place about a month after 9/11.

“We were already being mistreated, and then when this happened, people found a reason to bully us and mistreat us even more,” Odeh said.

“A label was put on you. You got the sense of having to explain yourself,” said Sheraz Rashid, who was in the seventh grade in Salem on 9/11.

A software engineer, Rashid is now the secretary of the Islamic Society of New Hampshire, which is building a mosque in Manchester.

Through the struggles, Muslims said they found comfort, too. Odeh said her host family — Vivian McDonald of Manchester and her daughter — doubled down and were very protective.

Rashid said teachers kept an eye on him.

“There was a lot of bad, but also a lot of good,” Rashid said. “People out and said, ‘No one is blaming you.’ A lot of people wanted to learn and understand.”


‘Those people are not me’

US Muslims reflect on how 9/11 changed their lives and what the future holds for them

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 10:53 AM ET, Fri September 10, 2021Watch CNN’s “Shine A Light,” a commercial-free 9/11 20th anniversary tribute, hosted by Jake Tapper and featuring musical performances by Maroon 5, H.E.R., Brad Paisley, and Common on Saturday, September 11 at 8 p.m. ET.(CNN) — Many Muslims in the United States point to September 11, 2001, as the day their relationship with the country changed.Islamophobia had always existed, but the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia seemingly made it worse — much worse.Muslims of all stripes — citizens, immigrants and refugees — faced backlash. Many were ostracized and harassed, some physically assaulted and even killed. Charged rhetoric, successive wars and attacks further inflamed the situation.Feeling condemned for crimes they didn’t commit, some Muslims changed their names and clothing to conceal their identities, while others clung even tighter to their faith. A few became outspoken advocates for the community.Every Muslim in America has a story to tell. Here are some of them.

Ruwa Romman

Ruwa Romman, 28, is a Palestinian American community organizer and policy analyst living in Duluth, Georgia.When the terrorists attacked, she was 8 years old and had just recently immigrated to the US with her parents. But the dream she had of building a new life in America quickly turned into a nightmare.Ruwa Romman and her husband Shahzaib Jiwani. Ruwa Romman and her husband Shahzaib Jiwani.”I remember the hallways and the day seemed darker even though I remember it was sunny outside,” Romman told CNN about her experience in school that day. “I don’t think I fully understood what was happening since I barely spoke English.”