Sola Scripturas: Can Evangelicals Befriend the ‘Protestant Reformers of Islam’?

Interview with scholar of American Salafism finds commonalities—and potential for engagement—between the austere Islamic interpretive movement and the Christian community most wary of them.

If one pictures “radical Islam,” chances are the image resembles Osama bin Laden, Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the ISIS fighters of Iraq and Syria. And the connotation is that they are out to kill—or at least to turn the world into an Islamic caliphate.

They are known as Salafis: Muslims who bypass accrued tradition to imitate meticulously the example of Muhammad, his companions, and the first generation to follow them. After the death of the prophet in 632 A.D., the nascent faith’s collective zeal established a sharia-based global empire that did not end until the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Muslims who look like these jihadist images are found in every major American community.

Matthew Taylor counterintuitively argues that, at least in the United States, Salafis actually compare better with evangelicals—the religious group with the most unfavorable perception of Muslims in general.

Author of the forthcoming Scripture People: Salafi Muslims in Evangelical Christians’ America, Taylor argues that the Salafi impulse to return to the origins of Islam parallels the evangelical desire to imitate the early church. And both communities, as the title implies, center their approach on sacred text.

The question is: Do the two scriptures take them in radically different directions?

CT asked the Fuller Seminary graduate, now a mainline Protestant scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, to address the common concern about Salafi extremism and to advise evangelicals on how to pursue a path of possible friendship:

What makes a Muslim a Salafi?

Salafism has very deep roots in the Muslim tradition, and the term Salaf refers to the first generations of Muslims. The idea is to get back to the original authentic practices and theology of Islam, before the tradition became corrupted or diluted.


Educational mobility gap between Muslims and Christians in Africa isn’t budging, study finds

Co-authored by a Brown economist, the study found that over the last three generations, Christian children have surpassed their parents’ level of education at a much higher rate than Muslim and traditionalist children in Africa.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — It has been more than a half century since most African countries gained independence from their European colonizers, who spent decades mining the continent’s precious natural resources and spreading Christianity. 

Yet many decades later, African Christians are still seeing bigger generation-over-generation educational gains than Muslims, and they’re seeing even larger gains than those who practice traditional Indigenous religions. And in some areas, the educational gap between Christians and non-Christians is growing wider.

That’s according to a new study led by economics scholars at Brown University, Harvard University and the London Business School. The study drew on 50 years of census data from 2,286 districts across 21 African countries to present the first comprehensive account of the differences in intergenerational educational mobility across religious denominations of Africa, home to 17% of the global population and some of the largest Christian and Muslim communities in the world.

Published in Nature on Tuesday, May 16, the study raises new questions about the connections between education, wealth and culture in Africa.

“It has always been well understood that there is an educational gap between Christians and Muslims in Africa,” said co-author Stelios Michalopoulos, a professor of political economy at Brown. “What was less understood was whether the gap was changing from generation to generation, particularly after many African countries underwent decolonization. We wanted to find out: Is the gap shrinking, expanding, staying the same? And what we found is that the gap has remained stable in the last 50 years, and in some cases, it has even grown wider.”

Michalopoulos and his co-authors found that, over the last three generations, Christian children across 21 African countries have surpassed their parents’ level of education at a much higher rate than Muslim and traditionalist children. That was true, the scholars found, even when Muslims lived in the same districts as Christians and came from households with comparable economic and family backgrounds. 

Take Nigeria, for example — Africa’s most populous country, where the population is roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. The researchers found that Nigeria’s overall rate of intergenerational educational mobility over the last 50 years was 0.612 — in other words, 61% of all Nigerian children whose parents didn’t finish primary school have been able to surpass their parents’ education levels, completing primary school and attaining literacy. That rate was much higher for Christians — 0.786 — than for Muslims — 0.466. For traditionalists, the rate was even lower, at 0.229.


Muslims in Sweden ‘particularly at risk of discrimination’: report

Discrimination in Sweden is a “widespread issue affecting all areas of Swedish society”, according to a new report by the country’s Discrimination Ombudsman, with Muslims and people with ‘visible’ ethnicity particularly vulnerable.

The report, written in English, is titled ‘The state of discrimination 2023’ and is the first yearly report published by the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) on discrimination in Sweden.

Although discrimination can affect everyone, the report shows that the risk of experiencing discrimination is larger for some individuals and some groups of individuals depending on their individual situation and their role in society. 

It states, for example, that many children with neurological disabilities experience discrimination in school, through not being offered the support and accommodations necessary for them to achieve their academic potential.

“People who, based on their appearance, can be presumed to belong to a certain ethnicity or religion are subjected to harassment, mistrust and aggression in various contexts, such as people that wear visible signs of a certain ethnicity or religion,” it reads.

Hijabi women are more likely to experience discrimination, and job applicants with names that sound “Arabic or Muslim” are more likely to be discriminated against in recruitment, with men with Arabic or Muslim-sounding names more likely to be discriminated against on the labour market than women with similar names.


For Years, This Christian NGO Worked with Muslims in Myanmar. Then Came Cyclone Mocha.

When Hlaing heard that the “extremely severe” Cyclone Mocha was barreling toward Sittwe township on the western coast of Myanmar, she worried about her family and the 105,000 other displaced Rohingyas living in camps on the low-lying floodplains. Where could they go to shelter from the storm?

From the Thailand office of the Partners Relief and Development, Hlaing (who asked to only be identified by one name for her security) started sending updates about the cyclone’s strength and location to the group’s local contacts so they could alert the rest of the Rohingya community in the area. Team members on the ground urged people to evacuate to schools or temples that could withstand the wind. Hlaing’s family was able to shelter at a school across the street from their home.

Through the organization’s local network, Partners sent money to secure 200 bags of rice and provide for other needs ahead of the storm. “We expected the worst,” said Brad Hazlett, president of Partners. “There didn’t seem to be any way for the people to escape, and we’ve had other experiences where people were restricted from escaping the path of the cyclone.”

As the storm lashed out with 150-mph winds on Rakhine state Sunday, Hlaing continually checked Facebook for updates but saw no news about the camps.

Then on Monday night, she finally heard from Partners’ local contact: “Everything in the camp is destroyed,” he said. He sent pictures of piles of bamboo where homes used to stand, broken bridges, downed trees. He also visited her family to check up on them: They were unhurt, but the roof of their house had blown off.


What ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Gets Wrong About Interfaith Families Like Mine

I devoured this book as a kid, but I did not relate to the stressed and confused interfaith child.

I was clearly the original target audience for Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” 

When the novel came out in 1970, I was an interfaith kid heading into puberty. And yes indeed, I found the book transgressive and thrilling, for the frank way it addressed boy crushes, mean girls, trying on your first bra and waiting to get your period. I have a visceral memory of lying on the blue-and-green shag carpet on my bedroom floor, breathlessly turning the pages of this book. So, I was not surprised when it became a beloved and iconic touchstone for generations of preteen girls. 

But did I relate to the novel’s other subplot, about being born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother? Not so much. While I was born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother, I never bought this novel’s storyline about the stress and confusion of being an interfaith kid. It did not align with the reality of my experience. I have surveyed, interviewed and coached hundreds of interfaith family members in the process of writing two books on the topic. I know that many interfaith families have harmonious experiences. In fact, I fear that the popularity of this novel — which is finally coming to the big screen later this month — has added to the myth of the stressed and confused interfaith child. 

To refresh your memory (assuming you also devoured this book as a preteen), while Margaret’s parents each come from different religious backgrounds, they leave it up to their daughter to choose a religion (or none). From the very first chapter, Margaret makes it plain that her favorite family member is her spunky and affectionate Jewish grandmother. In contrast, her Christian grandparents have refused to accept her Jewish father. In fact, Margaret has never even met these Christian grandparents. 

Personally, I adored my Christian grandparents, even though I was being raised “exclusively Jewish.” We traveled to be with them on virtually every school vacation, including at Christmas. And they supported the decision of my parents to raise Jewish children. A generation later, my husband and I chose to raise our children, who are now adults, with both family religions. Have cold and intransigent Christian grandparents like Margaret’s ever existed in real life? Probably. But in my experience, Christian grandparents of interfaith kids tend to either be proud, or at least supportive, or just curious but not mean, about their Jewish or “raised with both” grandchildren.


Conservative Muslim Women Helped Erdoğan Win Previous Elections. Now Some Are Turning Against Him

Şeyma Çetin is bursting with color: bright blue and pink eye shadow, a green half-sleeved shirt with jeans, a tie, and an orange headscarf. Her clothes and makeup stand out among other Turkish women in headscarves, and that’s Çetin’s goal: to show that it’s okay to be different. It’s a statement of defiance.

The headscarf was for a long time a controversial symbol in Turkey, where it was seen as a threat to the modern republic’s secular origins. For Çetin, though, it symbolizes freedom of choice.

“This is part of my political identity,” she says softly with a smile. “Society says a lot about what a woman in a headscarf should do, but actually, we can do anything.”

The 23-year-old student is among a growing number of women who call themselves Muslim feminists—and who aren’t going to be boxed in by stereotypes. They belong to a new generation of religious women marked by their increasingly vocal opposition to Turkey’s conservative government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Read More: How Women Activists in Turkey Keep Fighting in a Climate of Fear

Their mothers saw Erdoğan as an ally thanks to his lifting of a highly contentious ban on wearing the headscarf in government offices in 2013. Earlier that year, as the Gezi Park anti-government protests swept across Turkey, he had co-opted them as a constituency, describing them as “our sisters in headscarves.” But in the decade that followed, many younger religious women like Çetin have shifted away from the President and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). They accuse the government of trying to roll back the hard-won rights of Turkish women, including removing legal protections against gender-based violence and severely limiting access to abortion.


Dearborn Mayor brings Muslims into the mainstream

  • Dearborn’s first Arab-Muslim mayor achieved the first paid holidays for Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha in the country
  • Dearborn’s first Arab-Muslim Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said he won’t compare himself to John F. Kennedy

CHICAGO: Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud won’t compare himself to US President John F. Kennedy who battled bigotry in the 1960s to gain acceptance of his Catholic religion. Hammoud said that the key to success for any leader was to ensure that government fairly reflected the diversity of its community.

Since his election as Dearborn’s first Arab and Muslim mayor, Hammoud has achieved public acceptance of Muslims by ensuring that everyone is treated equally and that their needs and interests are addressed equally and fairly.

Hammoud convinced the city’s powerful unions through negotiations to grant all city employees paid days off for the two Muslim Ramadan holidays, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, similar to the paid religious holidays granted to Christians and Jews.

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“We found out that was a first when we did it. When we were negotiating with our union sisters and brothers in the collective bargaining agreements, we offered Eid Al-Fitr, the Eid after Ramadan, as well as Eid Al-Adha, the Eid that commemorates the returning of the pilgrimage, the conclusion of the pilgrimage both as paid holidays. I think it is important because when you have a diverse workforce you want to ensure you are addressing the needs of this diverse workforce,” Hammoud said during an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.


Good and bad Muslims: New UK report reinforces a false narrative

The independent Bloom review on faith engagement falls short of scrutinising the government’s longstanding prejudices against Muslim civic activism

In emphasising the dearth of religious literacy in the British government and the public sector, the recently released Bloom review seeks to raise the game when it comes to the state’s engagement with faith. 

The independent review, published last month, challenges the government to take religion seriously by recommending the institution of an Independent Faith Champion to take the lead on consulting fairly with faith groups and establishing oversight. 

The report by faith engagement adviser Colin Bloom expresses concern about poor levels of religious literacy, and this is not misplaced. But his recommendations fall short of scrutinising the government’s longstanding prejudices against Muslim civic activism, and as such, it could serve to entrench the draconian reach of the state in regulating minority faiths and containing dissenting perspectives. 

Setting the tone for the rest of the document, the review’s foreword presents a curiously simplistic typology of three different categories when it comes to faith or belief. Bloom’s “true believers” and “non-believers” are the good guys – “sincere, peaceful and decent”, and thus deserving to be taken seriously by government. 

In contrast, “make-believers” are portrayed as insincere trouble-makers, guided by some form of self-interest and employing subterfuge to unfairly exert their influence – a problem and a threat for government and communities alike. 

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This is a judgment on which voices can be regarded as legitimate or representative. The problem with this framing is that it relies on subjective descriptors, which when handed over to government leave their interpretations reliant on specific implied notions of peacefulness, decency and sincerity – namely, ones that comply with the politically charged parameters laid down by the state. 

For a government whose ministers have long been proponents of a hawkish nativism, and indeed continue to champion such agendas, there is little doubt that in today’s highly securitised and xenophobic political climate, critical and dissenting Muslim civic voices will be classified as a threat to peace – as subversive and illegitimate disruptors.


Why Habitat for Humanity’s Theology of the Hammer Offers Hope in Polarized Times

(RNS) — Habitat for Humanity was built on a pair of simple yet profound ideas.

Everyone deserves a decent place to live.

Anyone who wants to help make that happen is welcome to pick up a hammer and get to work.

For nearly five decades, those ideas — which Habitat’s founder referred to as the “theology of the hammer” — have helped Habitat grow from its humble beginnings at a Christian commune in Georgia into a worldwide housing nonprofit that’s helped more than 46 million people around the world find a place to call home.

Among those homes are 30 “Unity Build” houses in Nashville, Tennessee, built by an interfaith coalition of congregations over the past three decades. Those congregations believe very different things about God, said Kevin Roberts, a former pastor and director of faith relations and mission integration for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville. But they share a common conviction about helping their neighbors.

That makes a Habitat build site a rare place where people who disagree can work together in polarized times. All they need is a willing pair of hands.

“When you step onto the Habitat build site and someone puts a paintbrush or a hammer or a saw in your hand, no one asks, ‘Who did you vote for?’” said Roberts. “No one asks, ‘Where did you go to church or did you go at all?’”

That inclusive approach has helped Habitat thrive despite the many challenges facing faith-based charities in the United States — including aging supporters in shrinking congregations, a loss of faith in organized religion, and the nation’s growing polarization.

Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, said the nonprofit’s mission is to put God’s love in action by providing housing. To do that, he said, requires bringing a wide range of people together.

Using volunteers to help build a Habitat house is a social change strategy, said Reckford, one that invites people to care about affordable housing and about working with their neighbors. That’s an important task in today’s isolated and polarized times.

“My observation is that when people serve together, they focus on what they have in common,” Reckford said in a phone interview. “They focus on shared values — as opposed to when we sit by ourselves online. Then it’s all about how we are different.”


US Muslim Faith Leaders Voice Concerns Over Mosque Attacks


Recent attacks on mosques in Minneapolis, in the Midwest U.S. state of Minnesota, have increased concerns by Somali American imams, mosque administrators and community activists about the safety of their congregations.

Fires were set at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center on April 23 and Masjid Al-Rahma Mosque on April 24, Minneapolis police said. The locations are close to each other.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota, was inside the Masjid Al-Rahma Mosque when someone set fire to the third floor.

“I was inside the mosque, meeting with the imam about the safety of his congregation, when I heard someone shouting with, ‘There is a fire. There is a fire,’” Hussein told VOA recently. “Thank Allah no one was hurt.”

He added that more than 40 children who were in the mosque’s day care were safely evacuated.

Hussein has been involved in the American-Muslim community’s fight against hate attacks, but he said this was the first time he witnessed one.

“I could not believe my eyes, I was shocked and bewildered that I was witnessing one of the things I have been documenting for many years,” Hussein said. “We have been receiving threatening calls and messages, but this was the first time I practically witnessed it.”

On April 29, authorities arrested Jackie Rahm Little on a state charge of second-degree arson regarding the April 24 fire at the Masjid Al-Rahma mosque.

On Thursday, Little was indicted on federal charges of arson and damage to religious property while investigators look into a series of crimes targeting Muslims and Somali Americans, The Associated Press reported.

Authorities are also investigating LIttle as a suspect in a fire that damaged the Masjid Omar Islamic Center on April 23, as well as in the January vandalism of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Minneapolis office, among other crimes, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said at a news conference last week.