Jesus and Muslim students at prayer

Jesus took a whip and drove the money changers from the temple. This doesn’t suggest he would have interrupted Muslim students at prayer.

A teacher at Franklin Academy Charter School in Pembroke Pines, Fla., however, interrupted Muslim students during prayer because, in her words, she “believes in Jesus” and accused the students of “doing magic.”

In the background, an adult can be heard telling the teacher, “They’re praying.”

In Muslim culture, the five daily Islamic prayers are extremely sacred and once started should not be disrupted by others or those involved in the praying.

During the sacred prayers, Muslims must keep their heads bowed and prostrate themselves a number of times, depending on the prayer and which time of day it falls under.

Such a rude, bad-mannered, thoughtless and cruel act as done by this teacher usually elicits the necessary cries of violations of the First Amendment. I gladly join those who would scream to the highest heaven about this blatant violation. There is, however, something else going on that deserves scrutiny. How Jesus gets dragged into the most insidious conspiracies, false claims, prejudice and mean-spiritedness is worthy of critique.

“How could a teacher accuse praying Muslims students of being magicians?”

How could a teacher accuse praying Muslims students of being magicians? Perhaps we should offer some charity and clarity. Perhaps the teacher really was overcome with righteous indignation. Perhaps she was deeply offended by the student actions. By no means has it been odd for a person of one religion to make wild accusations about persons of other religions. The Pharisees said Jesus was a devil. Christians were accused of being cannibals.

When the Reformation heated up the 16th century, Protestants and Catholics were ablaze with ugly accusations. Martin Luther said the Roman Catholic belief in miracles was superstition. Luther called them “lying wonders,” a “tom foolery” of the devil for “chasing people hither and yon.”


Opinion: I’m a Muslim immigrant, and my Canadian-born children changed my perspective on Christmas

Christmas music makes me cringe, unless it’s “Last Christmas”by George Michael. The sounds of strange old songs blaring through loudspeakers in retail stores doesn’t ring nostalgic for me, it just grates, like those cheesy tunes you would rather forget but aren’t given the opportunity to.

I may sound like a Grinch but nothing about North American Christmas traditions is sentimental to me because I grew up Muslim, in a Muslim country. Dec. 25 was just another day of winter break in my house, when my brother and I would watch endless hours of television as most ’90s kids did on days off from school.

When I first came to Canada, I was charmed by Christmas light displays, and festive markets selling handmade ornaments and hot cider. That charm wore off as expectations to participate fully were thrust upon me by friends and Catholic in-laws.

For those who have known Christmas their entire lives, it is difficult to try to understand the perspective of someone like me, who did not grow up with the same traditions.

Eid-al-Fitr, the feast day that marks the end of Ramadan, was the equivalent of Christmas for me growing up. We ate delicious food every night during Ramadan, and on Eid we gobbled up sweets and wore new clothes. I wanted to recreate these traditions for my own children who were born in Canada and will grow up far from their Muslim relatives. It felt like an impossible challenge because Christmas was too overpowering to compete with.


In Gaza, Christian and Muslim Palestinians celebrate Christmas together

  • About 1,300 Christians, both Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic, live in the Gaza Strip
  • Early Christmas mass this year was presided over by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa

GAZA CITY, PALESTINE: In Gaza City, the small but tight-knit Catholic Christian community gathered at the Holy Family Church for Christmas mass earlier this month, presided over by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
As Israel has prevented many Christians in Gaza from traveling to Bethlehem to attend midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity, they celebrated the holiday early.
“For years, I have been coming to Gaza to celebrate with the Christian community, to get close to them and support them,” Pizzaballa told Arab News.
The Patriarch spent three days in Gaza City, during which he visited the educational and medical institutions of the Latin Patriarchate.
“Not all Christians in Gaza have been granted permits, so it is necessary to share Christmas with them. I feel so warm here in Gaza,” he said.
Israel initially agreed to issue 645 permits to Palestinian Christians, submitted by the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs. The Israeli government decided earlier to grant Christians in Gaza 500 permits, not including children, to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem during Christmas.
The Israeli Gisha organization, which specializes in freedom of movement for Palestinians, said that as of Dec. 6, a total of 996 requests for permits had been submitted, of which 781 were for individuals above the age of 16. Of those, 514 were approved, in addition to 131 permits for children.


Eboo Patel: A Muslim family celebrates Christmas

By Eboo Patel

The stockings are up. So is the tree. Gifts appear throughout December. Some are unwrapped on Christmas Eve, the rest on Christmas Day. It’s all pretty typical for an American family, with one little twist.

We’re Muslim. And we celebrate Christmas not in spite of being a Muslim family — but because we are a Muslim family.

One reason we do this is what scholars of Islam call adopting good custom. This is an Islamic principle in which Muslims are encouraged to absorb the healthy and positive elements of the culture in which we live. Bringing people together during the darkest time of the year. Giving gifts to family and friends and people in need. Increasing charitable contributions. Taking a break from work. If that’s not good custom, I don’t know what is.

(Sure, I could do without the commercialization and the incessant holiday music, but nothing’s perfect.)

Christmas is also an opportunity for religious education, both about our own Muslim faith and about a different religion.

“Jesus is the reason for the season” my wife likes to say — and she means it. We spend a lot of time talking about Jesus at this time of year. I also think of this as quite natural for an American Muslim family.


Muslim Rule in Spain Was a Crucial Part of Europe’s History

For half a millennium, modern-day Spain was mostly ruled by Muslim kingdoms that presided over an extraordinary cultural experiment. The key to understanding Al-Andalus lies in its unorthodox social structure and its political location between two worlds.

A century after its birth in the western Arabian Peninsula at the beginning of the seventh century, Islam had conquered the Middle East, Africa, and part of Southern Europe. This vibrant, expanding religion had established its western outpost in what is today most of Spain and Portugal.

What followed may be surprising to those familiar with the history of medieval religious polities on both sides of the Mediterranean. Here more than elsewhere in the Muslim world — not to mention the Christian states of Europe — minority faiths enjoyed a degree of toleration. Christians and Jews were able, at least during certain times, to continue to practice their faith, sometimes even alongside Muslims.

The Koran advocated acceptance of what Mohammed called other “religions of the Book,” such as Christianity and Judaism. However, such acceptance was generally accompanied, in practice, by certain forms of discrimination against the followers of these faiths — notably the requirement to pay additional taxes.

Yet in this region called Al-Andalus, this fluctuating tolerance — sometimes quite exceptional in its scope, sometimes reduced to nothing, depending on the period — was combined with extensive mutual cultural borrowings over a long period. Some authors have gone so far as to speak of a genuine Andalusian Enlightenment.

In a Europe where the role of Islam, past and present, is a matter of bitter political controversy, the experience of Al-Andalus continues to fascinate those who have studied its history. But what were the conditions that made this experience possible?


Cairo’s Dominican Institute builds bridges between Islam and Christianity

Father Emmanuel Pisani’s intensity and rapid-fire conversation belie his life’s vocation and the lofty goals he pursues.

The 50-year-old French monk is the director of Cairo’s Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies, a prominent academic centre whose genesis lies in a tiny monastery established by three Dominican brothers from Jerusalem more than a century ago.

It is now a global magnet for scholars of Islam and Arab civilisation and, more importantly to Father Emmanuel, it acts as a bridge between Christianity and Islam.

The holder of a doctorate in medieval Islamic philosophy and a fluent Arabic speaker, Father Emmanuel says his leadership of the institute is more than a job or even a calling — it is everything.

It is not easy, but it’s our hope, my calling and my mission in life. It’s what gives my life a meaning

Father Emmanuel Pisani, director, Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies, Cairo

“It is not easy, but it’s our hope, my calling and my mission in life. It’s what gives my life a meaning,” he told The National during a tour of the institute’s library of more than 180,000 volumes, which has one of the Middle East’s largest collections of Islamic heritage books in Arabic.

“I have no spouse or children. So, if I have no calling or a sense of purpose, then my life will be difficult. What I try to do is what gives sense to my life.”

When founded in the late 19th century, the monastery was located in the desolate desert on the eastern side of the Egyptian capital. The focus of the founding monks and their successors was the in-depth study of Egypt’s history to enable them to better understand the Bible from a historical perspective.

They also immersed themselves in theology and the interpretation of the Quran at a time when Egypt was witnessing a renaissance in Islamic thought led by scholars such as Mohammed Abdou and Rasheed Reda.

Inside the Cairo library built by Christian monks to study Islamic heritage

The monastery has not changed its location — although it became a research institute in 1953 — but the area around it has morphed beyond recognition.

The cemetery on whose edge it once sat has been rolled back to make way for a motorway. The barren desert that once surrounded it has become a busy but drab district of government, police and military buildings that becomes eerily deserted after sundown.

Visitors to the institute, however, only have to take a few steps after passing through its metal street door to be rid of the dreariness of its surroundings and savour the place’s isolation.


Early African Churches Shed Light on Religious Transitions from Christianity to Islam

A recent study reexamining two churches in Northeastern Africa is shedding light on the spread of Christianity and Islam in the region. As a result of this most recent excavation, archaeologists have identified some of the earliest securely dated churches in the Aksumite Kingdom.

Using modern techniques, including radiocarbon dating, a team led by Gabriele Castiglia from the Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, has collected new data on two churches located in the Aksumite port of Adulis (now in present-day Eritrea).

One of the churches, an elaborate cathedral near the city center with remains of a baptistry, was constructed between 400–535 CE, the researchers found. The second, residing east of the city and featuring a ring of columns that would have supported a dome, was erected in 480–625 CE. Those datings make the churches some of the earliest securely dated churches in the Aksumite Kingdom, and the oldest known outside the capital’s heartlands. The findings were published this month in the journal Antiquity. The churches were originally excavated in 1868 and 1907, respectively.


Our solidarity as Muslims must be with Qatar’s migrant workers

During a presentation I was giving on the plight of Ugandan migrant workers in the Gulf a few years ago, one observer furiously called me out for criticising Qatar. Convinced that such criticism was a Western plot to deny a Muslim country World Cup hosting rights, he felt betrayed to see a fellow Muslim exposing a brotherly country. According to him, wrongs by fellow Muslims should be concealed in public and any criticism should be shared privately.

The event was part of the annual Ramadan seminars organised by the Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly (UMYA), a leading public forum that has helped mentor many Ugandan politicians and intellectuals. I am a product of this group and have been a member since my student days at Makerere University. While I had previously presented in these seminars, my newfound activism on migrant rights, including authoring two books, was ill-received by my peers who took to the podium to disapprove of my criticisms of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

I recognised that many were reacting on the basis of their good faith and felt they must unconditionally defend a brotherly nation, regardless of the circumstances. As such, my response also came from a verse in the Quran (surah 58:9) in which God urges Muslims to converse on righteousness and piety, and not engage in mischief and oppression. I pointed out that oppression of migrant workers met the standard expressed in the verse, adding that there were also poor Muslims dying in the Gulf states. They, too, deserved their own Islamic brotherly defence, which should not be reserved for the privileged elite.

After Qatar secured the World Cup bid, Uganda stepped forward to meet the rising labour demand. Ugandans worked as security guards, porters, construction labourers and domestic workers. Qatar-based companies flocked to Kampala to recruit Ugandans.

But familiar scenes also re-emerged. Many Ugandan workers returned in coffins, with incapacitating life-long injuries, or without their full salaries. My WhatsApp was inundated with news of the dead and subsequent fundraising efforts to cover their repatriation costs to Uganda.


Pakistan On Its Way to Promote Interfaith Harmony

People from various cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds live in Pakistan.  96.28 percent of the country consists of a Muslim population. Minority groups make up 4% of the population, with Christians at 1.59%, Hindus at 1.60%, and Ismaili and Qadianis make 0.22 %. Unluckily this diversity is now being mistreated. Whether it is the ongoing violence against non-Muslims or the sectarian violence among Muslims across the nation, these misperceptions about other religions are a major contributor to violence among religious communities. Unfortunately, Pakistan has fallen prey to these social ills.

The government of Pakistan has contributed significantly by carrying out numerous initiatives and plans to guarantee all of Pakistani society with various religious and ethnic backgrounds the opportunity to socialize with one another.  The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan specifically mentioned the rights of minorities to preserve interreligious harmony.  To represent religious minorities’ voices Article 51 (2A) of the Constitution grants ten additional public services to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi religious communities in the national assembly. The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan mandated the establishment of a National Council for Minorities. The prime objective of the Council is to oversee, the effective application and protection of rights guaranteed to minorities by the Pakistani Constitution. The Council also demands from the Federal and Provincial Governments to structure the policy proposals to uphold and defend the rights of minorities as per the 2014 Jurisdiction of SC.

Since the last decade Pakistan has been working on the issues of protection of religious minority’s rights however, the process speeded up in 2018.  The Ministry of Human Rights created the Action Plan against Religious Persecution in 2016. The election campaign of the political Party “Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf” introduced, in their manifesto to establish a “legally empowered, well-resourced, independent National Commission on Minorities, followed by provincial Commissions/Departments”.The strategy outlines a strenuous effort to be undertaken with numerous stakeholders to protect and advance religious minorities so that they are better able to contribute to the peace and development of the nation and become a part of Pakistan’s mainstream social fabric fearlessly. It constitutes a task force at the federal level for developing a strategy for promoting religious tolerance. Curb hate speech in social media. The creation of an endowment fund for student scholarships, development of a complaint/redress mechanism, review/proposal of amendments for discriminatory laws, and protection of places of worship are just a few of the initiatives mentioned in the Action Plan. Others include raising awareness and providing training on interfaith harmony, reviewing and revising education curricula at all levels to foster a peaceful and inclusive society, and raising funds for student scholarships.

Subsequently, it is pertinent to mention here that religious harmony is crucial for maintaining interreligious relations. For this purpose, On January 16, 2018, a National Narrative (Paigham e Pakistan) for Peaceful and Moderate Pakistani Society based on Islamic Principles was presented under the watchful eye of government officials. In January 2019, the Paigham-e-Pakistan Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies released a fatwa (verdict) signed by over 1800 Pakistani religious scholars denouncing suicide bombings, armed uprisings, and other acts of terrorism committed in the name of Sharia.


Get Jews, Muslims and Christians talking and maybe they won’t want to stop

One hundred and forty Jews, Christians and Muslims will sit down together next month to discuss human dignity and how it is exemplified in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran for “Peoples of the Book,” the third in a series of interfaith events. This will be the first time Jews are taking part.

The first two events created by the Crosier Fathers and Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious order, and the Sema Foundation, a community service non-profit founded by Turkish Americans, were “Friends of Mary” and “Jesus: Word and Spirit of God,” and focused on theological considerations between Christians and Muslims.

Jewish partners were not included, but organizers said welcoming Jews at some point was a long-held desire.

Rabbi Debbie Stiel of Temple Solel was the first Jewish clergy member to join the group and she felt a warmth from the others right away. Each event had a different configuration of planners, so it was easy for her to enter the group on equal footing without the sense of being late to the game.

“I felt immediately there was a curiosity and an interest from them in learning more about Judaism,” she said. “It felt great to join and do some teaching — as well as some learning.”

Interfaith dialogue is often held up as a good way to engender understanding, tolerance and even friendships. Leonard Swidler, Khalid Duran and Reuven Firestone in their 2007 book, “Trialogue: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue,” stated its importance even more starkly:

“We human beings today face a stark choice: dialogue or death!”

However, pulling off a meaningful interfaith dialogue event is challenging and can take long periods of detailed planning. Indeed, for this particular series, every event required several months of meetings.

But it was sparked by a simple inchoate desire to make a connection.

In the summer of 2019, Crosier Rev. Bob Rossi shared the iftar, the meal Muslims eat after sunset during Ramadan, at Sema’s community center in Chandler. During dinner, Rossi recognized a need for some kind of formal interfaith dialogue between Catholics and Muslims.