Political Islam and democracy crisis in North Africa

WHEN the news circulated that Morocco’s leading political group, the Development and Justice Party, has been trounced in the latest elections, held in September, official media mouthpieces in Egypt celebrated the news as if the PJD’s defeat was, in itself, a blow to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement. Regionally, political commentators who dedicated much of their time to discredit various Islamic political parties — often on behalf of one Arab government or another — found in the news another supposed proof that political Islam is a failure in both theory and practice.

‘Regionally, the news of the failure was greeted with jubilation,’ Magdi Abdelhadi wrote on the BBC English website. ‘Commentators regarded the fall of PJD as the final nail in the coffin of political Islam,’ he added.

Missing from such sweeping declarations is that those who greeted the defeat of the PJD with ‘jubilation’ are mostly the very crowd that dismissed political Islam even during its unprecedented surge following the Arab Spring in 2011; and the same intellectual mercenaries who unashamedly continue to sing the praises of such dictators as general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt and the various Arab monarchs in the Gulf.

The PJD was not only defeated but almost completely demolished as a result of the vote, saving only 12 seats from the 125 seats it had obtained after the 2016 elections. The reasons behind such failure, however, are being misconstrued by various entities, governments and individuals with the aim of settling old scores and tarnishing political rivals. The ultimate objective here is to cement the status quo where the fate of Arab nations remains in the grip of brutal, corrupt and self-aggrandising rulers, with no tolerance for genuine political plurality and democracy.


Interfaith peacebuilding through short films

LWF showcases grassroots initiatives from Iraq and Indonesia during Geneva Peace Week 

(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) participated in the Geneva Peace Week from 1 to 5 November with a video highlighting the way short films can be a powerful tool in the work of interfaith peacebuilding. The video showcases two short films produced by peace activists in Iraq and Indonesia, with support from the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies

The annual peace week is focusing this year on the theme: From seeds to systems of peace: weathering today’s challenges. It is taking place partly in person and partly online, offering a wide variety of podcasts, videos and other multimedia resources produced by civil society organizations and peace groups in different parts of the globe. Its goal is to galvanize leadership, build trust and strengthen international cooperation, at a time of growing concern over extremist voices and actions that promote hostility against members of different faith communities. 

LWF’s contribution includes the two short films, ‘Place among the stars,’ produced by the LWF National Committee in Indonesia and local partner Jakatarub and ‘Peace Journey,’ produced by JAV, a team of young Yazidis living in Iraq. Both films are part of the Norwegian Center’s Inclusive Citizenship Project, supported by the Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The video also features panel discussions with the film makers about the impact that this medium can have in promoting dialogue and inclusion in interfaith contexts.  

Peace journey in Iraq 

‘Peace Journey’ is a documentary style film showing the interaction of members from different faith communities in Iraq, as they learn about each other’s traditions during a visit to the holy sites of Christians in Alqosh and Yazidis in Lalish. “Our point of this trip,” says one of the organizers, “is to convey a message to the world: religious diversity has always been a part of Iraqi society and it will continue to be so.”  

The young Yazidi film makers worked together with renowned director and producer, Zahavi Sanjavi, who comes from Iraqi Kurdistan but currently lives in Sweden. Discussing the impact of the film on audiences in his native country, he notes that short film is one of the most effective ways of sharing information about other communities, in a context where there are people and organizations “which don’t want to spread knowledge and information about minorities and their rights.” 

Also taking part in the panel discussion is Saad Salloum from the non-profit organization MASERAT for media and cultural development. A journalist and university professor, he was also a co-founder of the Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue. He underlines the way in which short films can combat hate speech in social media by challenging stereotypes around different communities. He stresses “the power of images to change hearts and minds,” adding that Iraq’s diversity is one of its most important resources for the future of the country. 


Environmental Protection in Islam

Islam is keen to protect the environment with all its components by creating a complete conception of life and its system and what it requires of  development according to fixed rules that do not change with the change of time and place. This is what gives Islamic environmental principles the status of validity that achieves happiness and prosperity for its members in this world and the hereafter. Islamic principles of the environment is not a fantasy nor a myth from the myths of the Greeks and Romans, but rather it is part of instinct which God has put in humans, a sincere approach to the creator, the one who created everything. The Almighty said: {So be steadfast in faith in all uprightness ˹O Prophet˺—the natural Way of Allah which He has instilled in ˹all˺ people. Let there be no change in this creation of Allah. That is the Straight Way, but most people do not know.} Ar-Rum verse 30. Nature, including the resources that Allah has gifted to His servants, such as water, soil, sun, and air, is the responsibility of man in this society to preserve -if possible- these natural resources that Allah Almighty has brought forth. However, modern civilization, despite its undeniable services and achievements, has had a negative impact on the human body, from work-related injuries to environmental pollution.


New Initiative Aims to Change How Movies Portray Muslims

An advocacy group has created a worker database with help from Disney to bring more Muslims into the filmmaking process.

A scene from “Ali’s Wedding” (2017), which was cited in a report about Muslims in movies as having “the only present-day Muslim lead.”Credit…Netflix

A new initiative to promote the inclusion of Muslims in filmmaking has been created by an advocacy group with the support of the Walt Disney Company — following a report issued this year that found that Muslims are rarely depicted in popular films and that many Muslim characters are linked to violence.

The project, the Pillars Muslim Artist Database, was announced on Tuesday by the Pillars Fund, an advocacy group in Chicago. It produced the earlier report on depiction along with the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and others.

Kashif Shaikh, a co-founder of Pillars and its president, said that when the group discussed the findings, those in the industry often said they did not know where to find Muslim writers or actors.

The database, Shaikh said, aims to give Muslim actors, directors, cinematographers, sound technicians and others, who could help create more nuanced portrayals, the chance to compose online profiles that can be reviewed by those hiring for film, television and streaming productions.

That way, “Muslims around the country would be able to opt in and talk about their talents, talk about their expertise,” Shaikh said. “It was really meant to be a resource for studios, for the film industry.”

The report on depiction, “Missing & Maligned,” was issued in June and analyzed 200 top-grossing movies released between 2017 and 2019 across the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.


Is the seduction of a single story limiting your view of Muslims?

The cave was dark, cool, and very, very close. 

I’d been through it twice before (a veritable expert!), so I felt upbeat leading my friends. 

I confidently chose the path to the left. Soon, we were crawling on hands and knees. Shortly after squirming along on our bellies, our hard hats bumped the ceiling! 

Two thoughts competed in my head: “I thought this was the right way” and “I sure don’t recognize this!” 

After five minutes of prone shuffling, my fears were confirmed when I poked my head around a corner to discover the path completely closing down. 

I thought I’d known the way. I thought I’d known that cave! 

But when it became apparent I didn’t, when I had to tell my friends to reverse squirm back to the junction, I thought they might bury me right there.

Perhaps you can recall being “blessed” with a similar realization. It’s a gift even when it doesn’t feel pleasant. Seeing things as they really are is better than assuming we know more than we do. (Just ask my caving friends!) 

But, boy oh boy, are we prone to assume. 


Bangladesh likely to remove Islam as state religion

The Bangladeshi State Minister for Information, Murad Hassan, has said Islam is not the state religion and the country will soon go back to its original secular constitution of 1972 envisioned by founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

“We have the blood of freedom fighters in our body. At any cost, we have to go back to the constitution of ‘72. I will speak in Parliament to go back to the constitution that Bangabandhu (Sheikh Mujibur) went through. Even if no one speaks, Murad will speak in Parliament,” he said in a statement.

“I do not think that Islam is our state religion. We’ll get that bill enacted in Parliament under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership… This is a non-communal Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a secular country. Everyone will practice their faith here.”

The original secular constitution of Bangladesh was amended during the rule of General HM Ershad in the late 1980s and Islam was instituted as the state religion.


Progress? Next NJ Legislature may include two Muslims, and author of anti-Islam posts

Shama Haider of Tenafly notched a milestone in New Jersey politics last week, becoming the first Muslim to win a seat in the state Legislature. Soon, she may not be alone in that historic feat: Sadaf Jaffer, the former Montgomery Township mayor, now leads in a close state Senate race in Central Jersey.  

Yet while Muslims cheered the groundbreaking rise of the two women, both Pakistani Americans, they also learned that another candidate surrounded by even more fanfare had written bigoted comments about Islam online.

Republican Ed Durr, who beat the powerful Democratic leader of the state Senate, denigrated the religion followed by more than 300,000 state residents as a “cult of hate” and “false religion” in social media comments that gained attention after his upset win. 

In New Jersey, home to more Muslims in elected office than any other state, Durr’s words sparked a storm, leading thetrucker from Gloucester County to apologize. He is scheduled to meet with Muslim leaders on Wednesday, said Jacqueline Vigilante, the Gloucester County GOP chair. 


10 years of Egyptian Family House, an initiative that gathers top and grassroots followers of Islam and Christianity

CAIRO – 11 November 2021: It is impossible for all humans to agree on just one religion, that is why freedom of religion is “one of the most precious human rights,” Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said at the tenth anniversary of the Egyptian Family House initiative.  

Al-Azhar Imam said during the ceremony in November that the Egyptian Family House was the fruit of a deep and thoughtful understanding between Al-Azhar and the Church to fortify Egypt against strife. Religious division have destroyed not only some neighboring countries and societies, but also civilizations rooted in ancient times, claiming the lives of thousands, leaving behind thousands of maimed victims, widows, orphans, and people displaced from their homeland, Sheikh al-Tayeb continued.  

The Egyptian Family House is an initiative that represents a model of religious coexistence. Established in 2011 by the post-revolutionary cabinet of Essam Sharaf, the Egyptian Family House was first conceived by Sheikh al-Tayeb and late Pope Shenouda II. In the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, religious leaders in the country figured that there were attempts to instigate sectarian strife in Egypt, so they decided to establish the Egyptian Family House to spread several concepts and human rights.  

Headquartered in Cairo, the Egyptian Family House consists of Muslim scholars, clerics from the Coptic Church, representatives of various Christian faiths in Egypt, and a number of Egyptian intellectuals. 


Are Non-Christian Employees Represented in Your Holiday Policies?

Summary.   In the United States, many companies’ holiday schedules were built during an era when most workers were Christians. Today one-third of Americans do not identify as Christian, and that percentage has been increasing. When giving employees time off for religious…more

Accommodating a religiously diverse workplace is not just a nice to have practice; it’s increasingly becoming a must have for business and company leaders. For 15 years, I’ve worked for Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a nonprofit in Chicago that is dedicated to advancing interfaith cooperation in the United States. The number one question I get from peers in business and nonprofit spaces is not about the latest hot topic related to religious identity — it’s usually some version of this: “As an interfaith organization, how do you handle religious holidays for your employees?”

It’s not surprising that this question is coming up more and more. Religious diversity in corporate America is a fact. Although nearly two-thirds of Americans identify themselves as Christian, that number is down 12% over the last decade, according to Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, and the number of people in America who identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu is increasing, as is the number of people who identify as having no religious affiliation. For decades, many companies’ holiday calendars have been oriented around the major Christian holidays. As people who practice other religions become a large portion of the talent base, these shifts require that HR and internal DEI efforts update the way they handle policies for religious holidays — so that people can have time off to celebrate whichever religious holidays are meaningful to them, their families, and their communities.

Welcoming employees’ religious diversity can even be a competitive advantage. The Society of Human Resources points to studies that show that when employers are attentive to recognizing and accommodating their employees’ religious traditions, levels of employee engagement and retention increase. More and more companies and corporations are reaching out to IFYC, asking us to advise on religious accommodation issues and interfaith engagement for their employee and client base.

What can companies do to accommodate employees who need time off for religious observance?


Why taking action on climate change is an Islamic obligation

As more than 100 world leaders meet this week in Glasgow, attention is on a handful of major economic powers and the hope that COP26 turns the tide of climate change. If there is to be real progress, every country has to do its part, including Muslim-majority countries.

With an estimated population of 1.8 billion in more than 56 Muslim-majority countries, Muslims make up 23% of the world’s population. Muslim countries are generally developing nations and do not top the list of largest carbon-emitting nations. But they will need to be part of the conversation and the solution to this global crisis.

Islamic thinking in the contemporary world has often focused on issues such as radicalism, terror, security, and how to engage with the legacy of Western imperialism and the emergence of modern science. Climate change and environmental sustainability do not yet occupy an important place.

The pioneering work of Seyyed Hossein Nasr on an Islamic understanding of the care of creation has only occasionally stimulated further research and action. Nasr has drawn on the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions within the Islamic tradition to argue the importance of the environment and human responsibility to protect it. In the intervening years, global concern has shifted from sustainability and the loss of biodiversity to the urgent and serious threats posed by human-induced climate change.