The Creeping Liberalism in American Islam

Mustafa Akyol

00Akyol-superJumboSince 9/11, a recurrent theme in the far-right circles of America has been “creeping Shariah.” It reflects the fear that Islamic law will silently spread through the land of freedom to ultimately overtake it — to put all women in burqas and all adulterers to death. In this scenario, American Muslims, who make up only 1 percent of the population, will pursue this grand scheme because they are here not for freedom and opportunity, but to form a fifth column in it, as Steve Bannon seriously claimed in 2016.

Those with deeper knowledge of American Muslims, a minority that is much better integrated than some of their counterparts in Europe, can easily see such sordid fantasy as paranoia. Those with some knowledge of American history can also see that this new calumny about Islam has precedents, in the McCarthyism of the Cold War era and the anti-Catholicism of the 19th century.

But here is something even more ironic: When you examine the internal discussions among conservative Muslim leaders or pundits in America today, they don’t come across as concocting some “Protocols of the Elders of Mecca.” Instead of cheering for any creeping Shariah, they seem worried about a creeping liberalism within American Islam.

Read Mikaeel Ahmed Smith, for example. He’s an imam in Virginia who has titled an internet article “A Spiritual Disease in American Muslims, Making Them Gods Above God.” His criticism targets a new genre of Muslim bloggers and writers who he says “challenge or outright reject the traditionally normative Islamic view on social issues and Muslim life.” These young people care less about traditional religious texts, the imam warns, because of “a rejection of any authority other than one’s own intellect.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

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MANUSCRIPTS REVEAL HORN OF AFRICA’S ISLAMIC HISTORY

islamic-manuscript_1600

This manuscript comes from the collection “Shaykh Kamal” located in Aggaro in Western Ethiopia (Jimma zone). It is not dated but very likely from the 19th century. It contains Islamic devotional poems and hymns. This particular section of a poem in praise of the prophet Muhammad written by Shams al-Din Muhammad al-Fayyumi (14th century) on the basis of the “Poem of the Mantle,” a very renowned panegyric of the Prophet which the famous Arabic poet Muhammad al-Busiri (d. 1294) composed. The marginal notes are explanations and clarifications of some difficult passages of the text. (Credit: U. Copenhagen)

Researchers have identified and analyzed more than 2,000 Islamic manuscripts in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.

Traditionally, scholars in Islamic studies have not associated the Horn of Africa with the Muslim world, which is why the Islamic literary tradition of this part of Africa has not been studied in detail before.

“SCHOLARS FROM THE FIELDS OF ISLAM STUDIES AND AFRICAN STUDIES HAVE LONG NEGLECTED THE HORN OF AFRICA…”

The researchers have digitized the manuscripts and created a database that will enable other researchers to study the fragile manuscripts and contribute to the research into this previously neglected literary tradition of Islam.

“Scholars from the fields of Islam studies and African studies have long neglected the Horn of Africa because they tend to find the area atypical of either field and primarily associate it with the Christian traditions of the Horn’s largest country Ethiopia. But as our research project has shown, there has been a rich and distinct Islamic literary tradition in the Horn of Africa that dates back at least to the 17th and 18th centuries,” explains Alessandro Gori, associate professor from the University of Copenhagen who is the principal investigator of the Islam in the Horn of Africa project.

“The manuscripts indicate that Muslims in certain parts of the Horn area seem to have had a penchant for composing devotional or mystical texts that people have gathered to recite or ‘sing’ accompanied [for example] by clapping hands and drums—although they would not have used the word ‘sing’ as it can become problematic in an Islamic context,” he adds.

“This is something that is characteristic of and particular to the Horn’s Islamic tradition, but it is still recognizably Islamic of course; you may compare it to the Lutheranism of Denmark that is different from, say, the Lutheranism of Northern Germany. But it is still Lutheranism.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM FUTURITY.COM

Strangely Familiar

22249363465_1b3eec5fee_o‘God in the Qur’an’

In his 1966 book The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel relates the Hasidic tale of the long line of rabbis who performed a miraculous ritual, averting catastrophe for their communities in times of crisis. They would go into the forest to meditate, light a fire, and recite a special prayer. They did so in imitation of the eighteenth-century master of all Hasidim, Israel ben Eliezer, usually known by the honorific title “the Baal Shem Tov,” the master of the Holy Name. The generations of rabbis who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov, Wiesel recounts, gradually forgot parts of the ritual. The fourth in that forgetful lineage, Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, spoke plaintively to God of his predicament: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And indeed, telling the story was sufficient to avert the catastrophe. Why? The Hasidic tale ends with a great tribute both to God and to humankind: “God made man because he loves stories.”

God made Jack Miles because God also loves someone who loves stories. In his 1996 Pulitzer-prizewinning God: A Biography, Miles approached the Hebrew Bible as one might approach a body of literary work produced by Yahweh-Elohim, the Lord God; in a follow-up 2001 book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, he undertook the same task with the New Testament, focusing in particular on the four Gospels. Holder of a Harvard doctorate in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Miles left the Society of Jesus before undertaking formal theological studies; yet his Jesuit education, tracing back to his days in a Jesuit high school in Chicago, equipped him to  comprehend multiple languages and their literatures: English, Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; but also Hebrew, Aramaic and, last but not least, Ethiopic (Ge’ez), the ancient Semitic language of the Horn of Africa. He has enjoyed a long career as a Distinguished Professor of both English and Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Miles admits that he does not know Arabic very well, but his background in other Semitic languages and his careful comparative study of various English and other renderings of the Qur’an allows him to read it with notable sensitivity. Most of the stories told at some length in the Qur’an that have biblical resonances find their parallels in the Torah, especially Genesis and Exodus. Thus do Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, the family of Abraham, the patriarch Joseph, and Moses appear on stage again to play their parts in the Qur’an.

FULL ARTICLE FROM COMMONWEAL MAGAZINE 

Muslims and Jews must focus on facing the common threat of white supremacy

Muslims-and-Jews

Last month, my dear friend Amy texted me pictures taken from the stalls in the bathroom where her daughter is a high school student in the Midwest. One picture had a swastika, the lower left corner said, “Kill” while the upper right corner read, “Jews.” “Kill Jews” was scrawled on other parts of the stall as well. Her daughter is one of a handful of Jews in a school of 1500.

The statements scrawled on the stall of the high school articulated a clear threat to the physical safety of Jewish students and yet there was a part of Amy that understandably felt numb, exhausted. With a constant stream of hate, the burden is left on the disenfranchised to navigate which form of discrimination rises to level where combatting it is a survival-based necessity and which to ignore or accept as the collateral damage of being a minority.

A few short months before this incident, eleven members of the Tree of Life Congregation were massacred in cold blood, targeted for their Jewish identity. According to FBI data released in November of last year, hate crimes against Jews increased thirty-seven percent between 2016 and 2017.

Anti-Semitism, like Islamophobia, is undoubtedly on the rise. Now more than ever, it is essential that Jews and Muslims recognize one another as natural allies against the common threat of white supremacy and continue to cultivate an alliance rooted in social justice, dignity and recognition.

This is already happening. For example, crowdfunding campaign by the Muslim American community to support the Tree of Life Congregation raised nearly $250,000. In 2017, a similar campaign raised over $150,000 to help with cleanup after a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis had been vandalized.  After a mosque burned down in Texas, a neighboring synagogue offered their keys for Muslims to continue their worship services.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HILL 

A milestone in the complex dialogue between Islam and Christianity

000_1d12n2When the head of the Roman church representing 1.2 billion Catholics signs a joint declaration with the head of the highest seat in Sunni Islam, it ought to be big news.

Yet the significance of the declaration signed in Abu Dhabi this month by Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, has slipped under the radar amid criticism over the Pope’s decision to visit the UAE while it is involved in the war in Yemen and the blockade against Qatar.

But for those who have focused their attention on the contents of the document and the two leaders’ speeches, it is clear that the Grand Imam and the Pope have set a milestone in the complex dialogue between the two faiths.

The “Document on Human Fraternity” is the first ever signed by representatives of the two religions in which they pledge to work together for the benefit of the “human fraternity”. It implies the two faiths have found a common understanding and a united front against attempts to abuse God’s message and manipulate religion.

Rejecting violence

“We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood,” the document states.

“These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment …. This is done for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted.”

Both Sheikh al-Tayeb and Pope Francis have launched a joint appeal to political and religious leaders, intellectuals, artists and media worldwide to reject violence in all its forms, promote positive values and strive for establishing a more righteous and peaceful world – not only for the benefit of believers of the three monotheistic faiths, but also for non-believers.

Questioning the East-West dichotomy, the two leaders warned that religious hatred is causing ‘signs of a third world war being fought piecemeal’

“The fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept,” the declaration notes.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MIDDLE EAST EYE 

Evolution of interfaith friendships led to powerful experience of ‘trialogue’

Interfaith6-web-696x472Elyse Goldstein, it seems, is a popular preacher at St. Anne’s Anglican Church, in central Toronto.

“My people love Elyse’s preaching,” Canon Gary van der Meer, incumbent at St. Anne’s, says with a wide grin. “Oh my goodness, if I could just have her fill in for me whenever I’m sick, the church would be full.”

You might say she’d be an unusual choice for a fill-in Anglican priest. Goldstein is in fact the founding and current rabbi of City Shul, a Reform Jewish synagogue a 45-minute walk away. Then again, you might also call van der Meer an unusual choice to preach at a synagogue. But to the congregation of City Shul, he’s become a familiar face.

“I now know people by sight who are from City Shul, and they know me—they make a mistake and call me ‘Rabbi Gary’ sometimes, and I think it’s a big compliment,” he says.

For about three years, Goldstein and van der Meer, who is also the diocese of Toronto’s interfaith officer, have been doing a preaching exchange; Goldstein has been preaching at St. Anne’s on Christmas, and van der Meer at City Shul for the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The exchange was the natural evolution, they say, of an interfaith friendship they began more than five years ago, when van der Meer first approached Goldstein after his congregation had expressed a desire to learn more about other religions.

There are actually more than two members in this circle of spiritual friends. In early 2013, van der Meer met Ilyas Ally, the son of Shabir Ally—imam at the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International, a nearby mosque, and former host of Let the Quran Speak, a Toronto-produced television show on Islam—and the two discovered they shared an interest in interfaith relationships.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ANGLICAN JOURNAL 

Nigerian women’s network builds interfaith bridges

rns-nigeria-peacemaking2-120718 (1)When Fatima Isiaka, a respected Muslim leader in Abuja, Nigeria, asked a cab driver to drop her off at St. Kizito Catholic Church, the driver thought she was lost.

Isiaka, who wears a jilbab head covering and robe, recalled: “He told me, ‘This is a church!’ I said, ‘Yes, I know.’”

Isiaka was part of an innovative effort to bring Christian and Muslim women together in hopes of fostering religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network was started in 2011 by Agatha Ogo­chukwu Chikelue, a sister of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and Maryam Dada Ibra­him, a local Muslim businesswoman.

Isiaka, now deputy director in the network’s Abuja branch, looks back fondly on her time at the St. Kizito Catholic Church.

“I loved every bit of my stay there,” Isiaka said. “I found a place in the church where I performed ablution, to set up my mat and pray.”

Since the group began, the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network’s activities have reached more than 10,000 Muslim and Christian women across the country. The network also offers vocational training in catering, bead making, fashion design, and soap production to a smaller group of women who participate in an annual 21-day seminar.

Nigeria’s population is evenly divided: about half Muslim and half Christian. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian. Ensuring equal Christian and Muslim political representation at local, state, and national levels is an especially sensitive subject.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN CENTURY