Dems, GOPers, Muslims and Christians: Attacks On Any Religious Freedom Is Wrong

A rare glimpse of bipartisanship in the volatile political atmosphere  of Washington D.C.  kicked off the International Religious Freedom (IRF)  Summit 2023 Tuesday, setting a tone of cooperation and mutual understanding for the event.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee  joined Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat, on the stage at the Washington Hilton as part of a panel to  address why international religious freedom is key to U.S. foreign policy.

The panel followed a welcome by IRF Summit Co-Chair Ambassador Sam Brownback who declared the coalition’s mission was “religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time.” The two day summit brings together a broad coalition “that passionately supports religious freedom around the globe.” Patheos, the world’s homepage for all religions, is a summit partner.

McGovern and McCaul both agreed that religious freedom remains under assault around the world. While acknowledging the panel usually “wouldn’t even agree on lunch,” McGovern touted the work both men have done to promote religious freedom including introducing legislation to promote a peaceful resolution to the Tibet and China conflict.

McCaul highlighted the continued need to address religious freedom abuses in China, Afghanistan, Iran, Nicaragua and Israel, particularly against women.

“To all those listening, we stand with you,” McCaul said. 

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee joined Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, speaks as Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, listens at e International Religious Freedom (IRF)  Summit 2023. (Travis Henry)

McGovern noted that as a practicing Roman Catholic he knew his religious freedom depended on the same freedoms for his Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim neighbors.

“Unless freedom of religion belongs to everyone, it doesn’t truly belong to anyone,” McGovern said.  

Political diversity gave way to a faith kaleidoscope later in the afternoon when some of the world’s most preeminent religious figures joined a panel session on equal citizenship as envisioned by the Marrakesh Declaration. 

The distinguished panel included:

  • Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, President of the Abu Dhabi Peace Forum
  • His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem
  • Imam Mohamed Magid, Co-Founder Multi-Faith Neighbors Network and Executive Imam, All Dulles Area Muslim Society
  • Pastor Bob Roberts Jr., Co-Founder of Multi-Faith Neighbors Network
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center Director Emeritus and Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy


Muslim-American opinions on abortion are complex. What does Islam actually say?

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that ended the constitutional right to abortion, Zahra Ayubi started to notice a theme among some critics of the historic shift.

“They’ll draw analogies between abortion bans in the United States and Muslim conservatism,” Ayubi, a professor of Islamic Ethics at Dartmouth College, said of some of the commentary she saw on TV and on social media. Critiques ranged from attempts at humor to outright Islamophobia.

In some cases, as Ayubi recalled, critics blamed the so-called “Texas Taliban” for new abortion restrictions in that state. She also saw a widely-shared photo of Supreme Court justices edited to show them in beards, turbans, and burqas. The punchline?

“To show that SCOTUS has now become ruled by Sharia,” Ayubi said wearily.

New York City-based artist and writer Maryam Monalisa Gharavi shares a similar weariness, given the difficulty she’s faced in talking openly about abortion in her community, and in light of one simple fact: Sharia — the body of religious law in Islam — can, in fact, be very permissive of abortion.

“I myself started provoking conversations in my own circles, in my own family,” said Gharavi, “Saying, hey, do Muslims even know their own faith?”

What Sharia actually dictates on abortion

Polls show opinions on abortion, like in other faith groups, are deeply divided. According to a survey conducted last March by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 56% of Muslim Americans think abortion should actually be legal in all or most cases.


A Review of Year 2022 From the Muslim Perspective

Year 2022 is in the rearview. At the time of this writing, some parts of the world have already said goodbye to 2022. The year 2022 was a year of turmoil and triumph, both from a global and Muslim perspective. The war in Ukraine and Iranian protests took the center stage. Rise of Islamophobia, especially in India and France continued.

I will share the highlights and the lowlights from a Muslim perspective, and will also share some personal and family events. Links to important sites, events and my own posts relevant to the post are also shared. I have relied heavily on a similar topic on a highly respected organization, Sound Vision and included some content verbatim.


In India, protests began in early January after a government-run women’s college in the coastal city of Udupi barred Muslim students wearing the hijab from classrooms, saying it was not part of the school uniform. The following month, Muskan Khan, a student who gains international headlines after her iconic rebuttal of “Allahu Akbar” to a group of men who heckled her for wearing a hijab, puts a face on the challenge stating about her choice of dress that: “It is beyond a symbol of Islam for us; it is a vessel of our self-respect.”

The United Nations declares March 15 International Day to combat Islamophobia. Introduced by Pakistan, it marks the day in 2019 when a white supremacist gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 victims and injuring 40 others.

Denmark and Sweden continued their public Islamophobic expressions, in the name of “free speech”, when the Danish leader of the far-right Stram Kurs party burns a copy of the Quran in a heavily-populated Muslim area in Sweden.

In Canada, generally known for more open and tolerant society, five Muslims were injured In drive-by shooting In Toronto suburb of Scarborough. The men had finished Taraweeh prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.

Returning to India, the Islamophobia capital of the world under the nationalist Modi government, 20 Muslim-owned shops were demolished in New Delhi. The demolitions were eventually stopped after the orders from the Supreme court.


Islam’s rarest relics on show in Jeddah shed new light on the history of the Hajj

From the doors of the Kaaba to some of the oldest Quranic manuscripts on Earth, the Islamic Arts Biennale celebrates a history of diversity and equality

Walking through the galleries of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale, which kicked off in Jeddah on Sunday night, visitors can expect to encounter some of the Islamic world’s rarest relics, placed thoughtfully alongside striking contemporary art installations.

Saad Alrashid, curator and former deputy minister of antiquities, says the presentation of these relics is a “breakthrough” — something that will not only bring the history of the Hajj pilgrimage to life, but the timeless emotional experience of it, too.

“We want everyone to understand how Islamic civilisation grew and impacted the whole world, and how people have always gathered here from such far distances. Wherever there are Muslims, regardless of the colour of their skin or what languages they speak, even in times of catastrophe or war, they all gather and meet in Makkah.

“Historically, these people were coming to the Hajj from as near as Iraq, Syria, the Levant, Palestine and North Africa, and as far as Al Andalus and China.

The sitara, or curtain, commissioned by King Fahd bin Abdulaziz for the Kaaba in 1990. Crafted from silk and metal threads, it measures 634cm by 333cm. Hareth Al Bustani / The National
The sitara, or curtain, commissioned by King Fahd bin Abdulaziz for the Kaaba in 1990. Crafted from silk and metal threads, it measures 634cm by 333cm. Hareth Al Bustani / The National

“How could they bear the length of the journey, the weather conditions, climbing mountains and crossing deserts to get there? Coming to the holy site, to Makkah, to the Kaaba, and seeing people stand in rows and circle it in such a masterpiece of organisation, without any police or anyone controlling them, I can’t explain it. It really brings tears to your eyes.”

It is precisely this feeling he hopes the biennale can evoke through its galleries, and it’s one that truly comes to light towards the end of the journey, as visitors arrive at a colossal ornate curtain that King Fahd bin Abdulaziz commissioned for the Kaaba in 1990. Crafted from silk and metal threads, it measures 634cm by 333cm, suspended high above the floor.

The curtain, known as the sitara in Arabic, is the most important of all the textiles that cover the Kaaba, which is the most important buildings in the Islamic world. This particular specimen was inspired by some of the earliest recorded examples, which tended to be very colourful.


Muslim Activists Misunderstand Islam

Why the latest controversy over depictions of Mohammed was completely unnecessary.

It is evidence of the strange contemporary culture of higher education in the United States that a private university recently declared that the showing of an image of Prophet Mohammed, contained in a treasured Persian manuscript from the 14th century, painted by a Muslim scholar for a Muslim ruler and celebrating the birth of Islam, is “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor at Hamline University, the oldest in Minnesota, who committed this alleged academic atrocity, was fired after Muslim students on campus made the dubious claim that the professor insulted their faith by violating a tenet in Islam that forbids showing images of religious and holy figures. But they were aided in their efforts by the university’s own administrators and an outside professional Muslim activist who cooperated to manufacture a narrative of Islamophobia while waging an outrageous assault on academic freedom.

López Prater informed the students in her art history class in the class syllabus that she would show images of religious figures such as the Prophet Mohammed and the Buddha and asked them to contact her if they had any reservations. None did. Before revealing the painting, she gave the students a last chance to opt out of class. More importantly, she told them, “I am showing you this image for a reason. And that is that there is this common thinking that Islam completely forbids, outright, any figurative depictions or any depictions of holy personages. While many Islamic cultures do strongly frown on this practice, I would like to remind you there is no one, monolithic Islamic culture.” She then showed two images of Mohammed, one from the 16th-century Ottoman era showing Mohammed with his face veiled and a halo over his head, and the Persian painting, which caused the uproar.

The painting depicts a standing winged and crowned Archangel Gabriel delivering to a seated Mohammed God’s first revelation to be included in the Quran. Nothing could be more devotional to Mohammed than depicting him at the very moment of the birth of the religion of Islam. The understated colors, the juxtaposition of the two figures, and the streamlined strokes creating the surrounding mountains make the painting one of the most sublime expressions of high Persian art. One is hard-pressed to understand how students and academics in a U.S. institute of higher education—where learning, reason, academic freedom, open debates, and the questioning of dogmas and taboos are to be practiced and celebrated—could claim that they have been assaulted by the mere revelation of sublime art.

For centuries, Islam was seen by many Western scholars—and, unfortunately, by the overwhelming majority of Muslims themselves—as a static, immovable, undifferentiated, and immutable corpus. The Muslim world has always been as diverse politically and culturally—if not more so—than Christendom at any time. Let’s start with the bogus claim that Islam forbids the drawing or painting of religious or holy figures.


Sally Azar becomes first Palestinian woman pastor ordained in Jerusalem

A graduate of theology, Sally Azar was ordained as the first female Palestinian pastor in Jerusalem by the Lutheran church.

January 23, 2023

Sally Azar, a graduate of intercultural theology in Gottingen, Germany, was ordained on Sunday by a Lutheran church in Jerusalem; she is the first Palestinian woman pastor in the Holy Land.

She will head the English-speaking congregation at the Church of the Redeemer. Her position will also entail building bridges with the Arabic-speaking congregation while working with the youth.

According to media reports, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land sent an invitation for the event that emphasized gender equality and justice.  “Sally’s ministry sends a powerful message of acceptance and progress in the church’s journey toward gender justice,” the Church said. 


What Pope Benedict got wrong about Islam

(RNS) — In a barbed valedictory, my colleague Tom Reese portrays the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as the quintessential German professor, a brilliant theologian “who was not interested in listening to people who had other views.” I couldn’t agree more, and, as Reese points out, few episodes from his papacy show that better than the controversy Benedict stirred up by taking a swipe at Islam in the lecture he gave on faith and reason at the University of Regensburg in 2006.

What follows is an updated version of a look I took then at how Benedict stepped wrong.

It is hard to resist seeing the commotion stirred up by Pope Benedict XVI’s speech as an example of the perils of putting professors in positions of power. The temptation to value provocation over discretion, to wing it on subjects outside your proper ken, to show that you’re the smartest guy in the room — these would appear to have gotten the better of a pontiff returning to the academic podium where, 35 years earlier, he discoursed on theology to all comers.

What got Benedict into trouble was his quotation of a nasty put-down of Islam by the learned Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, delivered in a debate with a Persian professor on the relative merits of Christianity and Islam near the end of the 14th century. But even before trotting out the quote, the pope took aim at the principal proof text used today to claim Islam is committed to religious tolerance.

Manuel, Benedict mused, must have known the Koranic verse (Sura 2.256) that proclaims, “There must be no compulsion in religion.” Explained the pope, “According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Muhammad was still powerless and under threat.”


Actually, the pope’s own expert begged to disagree. “The consensus of scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, is that Sura 2 is from the Medinah period, when Muhammad had increasing political power,” said Kevin Madigan, S.J., president of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, in an interview with “Commonweal Magazine.” 


How art of the prophet Muhammad threw a college into the national spotlight

Hamline University in Minnesota has been embroiled in controversy after an adjunct art history professor said she was dismissed following complaints over her use of images depicting the prophet Muhammad during a lecture last fall. In recent weeks, the incident at the small liberal arts college has spilled into broader view and raised questions about campus inclusion, religious discrimination and academic freedom.

On Tuesday, attorneys for the professor, Erika López Prater, served Hamline with a lawsuit that, among other claims, alleges religious discrimination and defamation by the school. López Prater, through her lawyer, and Hamline University declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.

The situation has thrust Hamline, a private university in St. Paul that enrolls about 1,800 undergrads, into the national spotlight — for “all the wrong reasons,” the student newspaper lamented. Scholars in art history and other disciplines have been outraged by what they see as an affront to academic liberty and confused how sharing the medieval paintings of Muhammad made by Muslimscould be construed as Islamophobic, as Hamline suggested before backtracking. Some of Hamline’s Muslim students, who are a minority at the school, and their allies have said that showing images of the prophet in any form is an attack on their core beliefs and that academic institutions have a right to restrict speech that creates a hateful or hostile environment.


‘I’m not a model. I’m an athlete and people should focus more on my athleticism rather than my clothes’

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – JUNE 20: Ons Jabeur of Tunisia celebrates victory over Daria Kasatkina of Russia during the final of the Viking Classic Birmingham at Edgbaston Priory Club on June 20, 2021 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Cameron Smith/Getty Images)

Don’t be surprised if we hear more about Muslim women in sports this year.

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur is the No. 2 seed at the first grand slam of the 2023 tennis season – the Australian Open, which got underway on Monday.

Jabeur turned heads in 2022 with thrilling performances at Wimbledon and the US Open, and she’s not the only Muslim woman athlete in the spotlight.

Doaa Elghobashy has been training to help Egypt qualify for the 2024 Paris Games in beach volleyball. She and her teammate were the first Egyptian women to compete in Beach volleyball at the Olympics in 2016.

Meanwhile, three-time NCAA All American and Olympic bronze medalist in fencing, Ibtihaj Muhammad aims to empower women and girls through sports, her clothing line and books. And three-time Egyptian Olympian, Aya Medany is working to increase gender equality in sport.

These Muslim women have made history in their respective competitions and opened doors for a new generation of athletes.

Despite their accomplishments and years of progress making sport more inclusive of Muslim women and girls, there are still hurdles to clear.

This is a look at the roads to success for Jabeur, Elghobashy, Medany and Muhammad and how changing rules have impacted their faith and participation in sport.

What a difference a rule makes

According to the Pew Research Center, there were nearly two billion Muslims around the globe in 2019.

In recent years, Muslim women and girls have competed in a range of sports on the world stage – from fencing to figure skating.

But even with the rise of media and social media coverage, an exact number of Muslim women athletes is difficult to pinpoint in part because some don’t vocalize their beliefs or wear clothing indicative of their faith.


A restored medieval depiction of the Crusades shows how England embraced Islamic culture

(RNS) — An 800-year-old puzzle about a set of 13th-century floor tiles has added to historians’ thinking about the relationship of Europeans and Arabs at the time of the Crusades.

Amanda Luyster, assistant visual arts professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has spent more than two decades studying the so-called combat series, a group of floor tiles uncovered in the 1850s at the ruins of Chertsey Abbey, some 20 miles southwest of London.

Amanda Luyster, assistant visual arts professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has spent more than two decades studying the so-called combat series, a group of floor tiles uncovered in the 1850s at the ruins of Chertsey Abbey, some 20 miles southwest of London.

Luyster’s research findings underpin the exhibition “Bringing the Holy Land Home: The Crusades, Chertsey Abbey, and the Reconstruction of a Medieval Masterpiece,” which runs Jan. 26 to April 6 at the college’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery.

The tiles, which were illustrated and annotated with Latin inscriptions, are among the most significant medieval objects of their kind from England, if not all of Europe, according to Luyster. But since the discovery of the highly fragmented tiles, scholars had largely focused on reconstructing the illustrations, which include scenes of Richard the Lionheart battling Saladin in the Third Crusade a half-century before. The Latin text was too badly broken up at the time to be pieced together and read.