Egypt fights Islamic extremism by allowing women leaders at mosques

_7961_A2CAIRO (RNS) – Four years ago, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called on state-supported Muslim clerics “to improve the image of Islam in front of the world.”

In response, Islamic religious authorities are allowing Muslim women to be heard. Over the past three months, the clerics have announced that women can now serve as preachers in mosques and schools, serve on governing boards and sing in choirs dedicated to liturgical music.

“These measures show that Islam can grow in an open encounter with other faiths,” said Wafaa Abdelsalam, a 38-year-old female physician appointed by the government’s Ministry of Religious Endowments to give two sermons a week at a pair of influential mosques in the Cairo suburbs. “The audience for my Ramadan talks has been mostly upper-middle-class women who until recently have felt they have had nobody to talk to about how Islam fits into their lives.”

About 70 percent of mosques in Egypt have separate prayer areas for women, according to the Endowments Ministry. But the move to introduce women preachers – wa’ezzat in Arabic – marks the first time females have formally addressed worshippers in these spaces as officially sanctioned clergy.

“Religious education here is a chance for women to ask me questions about personal matters, including marriage problems, and to debate the merits and drawbacks of the choice to wear or not wear the (hijab) headscarf,” said Abdelsalam.

The wa’ezzat are following sermon guidelines set by the Endowments Ministry, she added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGIOUS NEWS SERVICE

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How Islam can represent a model for environmental stewardship

shutterstock_212981179-e1457059928754The world, not just the UN, is waking up to the power of faith-based organizations (FBOs). How can Islam, and other faiths, contribute to solutions to sustainability and mitigate climate change risks?

Odeh Al-Jayyousi, Professor and head of innovation at Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain, scholar in sustainable innovation and a member of UN Global Scientific Advisory Panel, for UN Environment’s Global Environment Outlook 6 (GEO6), argues that Islamic worldview represents a unique model for a transition to sustainable development by focusing on justice, degrowth and harmony between human and nature.

He commented that Islam views the environmental challenges as an indicator for a moral and ethical crisis. Looking at the creation of human, Earth, and cosmos as signs of the Creator (Kitab Manthoor) is a key in Islamic values.

Prof. Al-Jayyousi elaborated that Islamic worldview defines a good life (Hayat Tayebah) living lightly on Earth (Zohd) and caring for both people and nature. Islamic discourse offers a sense of hope and optimism about the possibility of attaining harmony between human and nature. Earth will find a balance if humans rethink their lifestyles and mindsets as stated in the Quran:

Corruption has appeared in both land and sea
Because of what people’s own hands have brought
So that they may taste something of what they have done
So that hopefully they will turn back
Qur’an 30: 41

Professor Al-Jayyousi calls to revive the holistic view of Islam which is founded on the notion of harmony and “natural state” (fitra) and in respecting balance (mizan) and proportion (mikdar) in the systems of the universe. These notions provide an ethical dimension and a mandate for all humans to respect nature and all forms of life.

FULL ARTICLE FROM UNENVIRONMENT.ORG

Founder of Muslim Girl magazine now writes fiction inspired by human rights, migration and identity

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The shelves lining Ausma Zehanat Khan’s study hold her biography in books.

There’s the leather-bound set of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle titles that her father, himself more inclined to poetry, gave her when she was a teenager. Harry Potter and Terry Brooks epics. Studies of the Quran and human rights reports. And copies of her own books: well-regarded mysteries featuring a Canadian detective who is Muslim and his hockey-playing woman partner, as well as the first part of a fantasy series steeped in Islamic culture.

Khan, the British-born child of Pakistani immigrants, was raised in Canada and is a newly minted US citizen. She explores themes of identity and exclusion, bringing imagination and perspective to the current — and sometimes contentious — global conversation about faith and diversity.

“There’s a thread of continuity in all the work that I’ve done, which is to claim a space for marginalized voices and allow them to speak for themselves,” Khan says.

That work began not as a writer, but as a legal scholar and lawyer. Khan, 49, published her first book just four years ago. Her impressive output since then, which includes a short story featuring her detectives and a nonfiction children’s book about Ramadan, might attest to pent-up creative energy she’s had since she was a teenager. Early on, she tried her hand at poetry and then a Terry Brooks-style fantasy, and in college, she published a few short stories.

Khan grew up hearing Urdu poets reciting at her home in salons hosted by her parents, who encouraged her writing as a hobby. But her homemaker mother and psychiatrist father wanted her to be a doctor. Immigrants of their generation were “very concerned with financial security,” Khan says, adding with fond amusement that she found that “a little bit ironic because they all come from a culture that venerates literature.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM PRI.ORG

On World Refugee Day, Muslim family recalls warmer welcome in decades past

srebrenicaDURHAM, N.C. (RNS) — Long before President Trump’s travel ban, barring entry to the U.S. from several mostly Muslim countries, and before millions of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing civil war began flooding Europe and trickling into the U.S., there was another wave of Muslim migration to this county.

Almasa Bass was among them.

She and about 130,000 other Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, settled in the U.S. as a result of the bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Arriving in Washington state as a teenager alongside her parents and her younger sister, Bass started life anew — learning a new language and a new culture and adopting a new national identity.

On World Refugee Day (June 20), established by the United Nations to draw attention to the plights of the world’s 68.5 million displaced people (about 25 million are refugees), Bass is grateful to President Clinton and the U.S. for providing her family refuge and a home.

But she looks around with sadness at the difference 20-plus years have wrought.

“When we came here we felt welcomed. We never felt any vitriol, and to this day I never felt any animosity because of who I am,” said Bass, 41, who now lives in Durham, N.C., with her husband and 8-year-old son.

Trump has slashed the total number of refugees who will be admitted into the U.S., from 110,000 in fiscal 2017 — a bar set by former President Obama — to 45,000 in fiscal 2018, which started in October.

He has pushed for a crackdown on asylum seekers, a reduction in immigrant visas and the construction of a border wall. His “zero-tolerance” policy calls for criminal prosecution of all those caught illegally crossing the border. And in recent weeks he separated parents and children at the border.

It’s part of a larger post-World War II rethinking about refugees and other migrants happening not only in the United States but across Europe, too, said Niklaus Steiner, director of the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

10 key findings about religion in Western Europe

Most Christians in Western Europe today are non-practicing, but Christian identity still remains a meaningful religious, social and cultural marker, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 15 countries in Western Europe. In addition to religious beliefs and practices, the survey explores respondents’ views on immigration, national identity and pluralism, and how religion is intertwined with attitudes on these issues.

Here are 10 key findings from the new survey:

1 Secularization is widespread in Western Europe, but most people in the region still identify as Christian.Rising shares of adults in Western Europe describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, and about half or more in several countries say they are neither religious nor spiritual. Still, when asked, “What is your present religion, if any?” and given a list of options, most people identify as Christian, including 71% in Germany and 64% in France.

Even though most people identify as Christian in the region, few regularly attend church. In every country except Italy, non-practicing Christians (that is, those who attend church no more than a few times a year) outnumber church-attending Christians (those who attend church weekly or monthly). In the UK, for example, there are three times as many non-practicing Christians (55%) as practicing Christians (18%). Non-practicing Christians also outnumber religiously unaffiliated adults in most countries surveyed.

3Christians in Western Europe, including non-practicing Christians, believe in a higher power. Although many non-practicing Christians say they do not believe in God “as described in the Bible,” they do tend to believe in some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe. By contrast, most church-attending Christians say they believe in God as depicted in the Bible. And religiously unaffiliated adults generally say they do not believe in God or any higher power or spiritual force in the universe. Non-practicing Christians are also more likely than religiously unaffiliated adults to embrace spiritual concepts such as having a soul and feeling a connection to something that cannot be measured.

Majorities in most countries across the region say they would be willing to accept Muslims in their families and in their neighborhoods. Still, undercurrents of discomfort with multiculturalism are evident in Western European societies. People hold mixed views on whether Islam is compatible with their national values and culture, and most favor at least some restrictions on the religious clothing worn by Muslim women. In addition, roughly half or more in most countries in the region say it is important to have been born and have ancestry in a country to truly share its national identity. For example, roughly half of Finnish adults say it is important to be born in Finland (51%) and to have Finnish family background (51%) to be truly Finnish.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PEW RESEARCH 

Islam scholar Bernard Lewis’ legacy of disdain for Muslims

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Bernard Lewis in 1993. Photo by Denise Applewhite/Princeton University

(RNS) — When I was an undergraduate, still in awe of the wealth of knowledge suddenly available to me in the college bookstore, I stumbled on a volume called “The Assassins,” an early work by the Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis.

Lewis’ transformation from scholar to neo-imperialist was not sudden, but there is a hint to be found in “The Assassins.” Originally published in 1967, it is an erudite work that sought to correct the record on the Nizari Isma’ilis, a Shiite Muslim community that had long been maligned as consumers of hashish, known in Arabic as “hashashin,” which transformed into the word “assassin.” The book fascinated me because it was a scholarly book at a time when scholarship was rarely applied to such topics.

Yet despite Lewis’ knowledge, he still chose the pejorative name for the Nizari Isma’ilis for the title of his book, suggesting he did not see the humanity of the people he studied; they were still objects to him.

This blindness can be seen in his later academic work, which commonly conflated Muslims with Arabs, and religion with politics. The book that made Lewis’ popular reputation, “What Went Wrong?,” was originally subtitled “Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response.” This was later changed, significantly, to “The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East.” Suddenly a book about geopolitics became a book about a religion. Lewis treated the two interchangeably, as if the Middle East were synonymous with Islam, and vice versa.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

In blockaded Gaza, Muslims, Christians live in harmony

thumbs_b_c_7dfaf5fa79778619ce1afb811b9013f5By Mohamed Majed

GAZA CITY, Palestine

The friendship between two Palestinians — Hatim Hiriz, a Muslim, and Kamal Tarzi, a Christian — reflects the religious and cultural coexistence that has always characterized the Gaza Strip.

Tarzi, 56, accompanies his friend, Hiriz, 47, who is blind, to and from the mosque each day and helps him perform everyday tasks.

In the Gaza Strip, where Christians and Muslims have long lived in harmony, their friendship isn’t considered unusual.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Tarzi said that the two communities had lived side by side since time immemorial.

“This is always how it has been in Gaza,” he said.

Tarzi recalled how he first met Hiriz 15 years ago, with whom he has since established a strong bond of friendship.

“Hiriz, who used to work as a pharmacist, lost his sight six years ago while preparing a prescription,” he said.

“Before going blind, he used to frequently pray at the mosque, so I decided to help him,” Tarzi added.

“Now I accompany him to the mosque each day, waiting for him outside while he prays,” he said. “When he is done, we come back together.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AA