Islam in the Christian College?

imagesThe conference mentioned below in this previous post has been funded and will take place on the campus of Gordon College on September 21, 2015. For more information, write to or go to

In a post 9/11 world, engaging Islam in the college classroom is more important than ever. Unfortunately, too many evangelical schools are ill-equipped to meet the challenge. For that reason, I am working on a grant application presently titled “Islam in the Western Classroom: Challenges and Opportunities of Teaching about Islam in a post-9/11 World.” If successful, the grant would bring a conference to Gordon College, where I teach, at some point in the academic year 2014-15 or 2015-16. Below is the shape of my thinking so far. I’d welcome comments and questions from readers.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the complexities of the “Arab Spring,” and ongoing unrest in countries such as Syria and Egypt have brought the informed American citizen into almost daily media contact with events in countries with a predominantly Muslim citizenry. Since most of the coverage focuses on politics, foreign policy, and the immediate roots of violence, it is easy to ignore the deeper cultural and religious currents in the countries being covered. What is more, because of longstanding prejudice against and misinformation about Islam in the United States and other Western countries, it is all the more easy today for even the reflective student to associate Islam with violence and its extremist manifestations—which is, of course, not to say that those extremist manifestations are any less troubling! How then does one develop more nuanced, accurate knowledge?

I think evangelical/Christian colleges possess both assets and liabilities to answer this question. As church-related schools, they instinctively take religion seriously as a category of analysis in human affairs. They are not beholden to reductionist notions of “secularization” as the inevitable march of modern times nor are they given to explain religious behavior exclusively as manifestations of “deeper” socio-economic or political motivations. However, since many Christian colleges are more homogenous in their student and faculty make-up than larger public universities, they often have few or no practicing Muslims on their campuses. What is more, some schools are rooted in traditions whose past adherents (and, alas, some present ones) were more eager to refute or caricature before bothering to understand the religious Other—as fellow blogger Thomas Kidd has made clear in his excellent American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism, a book, I am proud to say, that began in part as a lecture at Gordon College.


4 Ways Tunisia Is Now More Progressive Than The United States

AP559170567276-638x425After what had at times been a slow and frustrating process, the Tunisian National Assembly on Sunday evening voted to approve what is one of the most progressive constitutions in the region, with only 12 members of the 216-member legislative body voting against. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and outgoing Assembly chief Mustapha Ben Jaafar signed the document on Monday morning, bringing it into effect.

With its new constitution, Tunisia, the starting place of the massive protests that swept Western Asia and North Africa in 2011, manages in some ways to surpass even the United States in terms of enshrining progressive ideals. According to the most recent unofficial draftavailable in English, the government takes on responsibilities that the U.S. government has had to struggle to provide. Most of these principles are laid out in a Chapter 2 of the constitution, a section titled “Rights and Liberties” in the translation, which lays out 29 areas that the Tunisian state must provide for the betterment of the people — both now and in the future. Here are three highlights that showcase some of the most progressive of these guarantees:


Egypt’s Struggle Is Against Political Islam, Christian Editor Says

August 24, 2013|1:10 pm

While the Western world sees the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi as a military coup, the editor of Egypt’s weekly Christian newspaper says it was a coup by the people of the country and an attempt to abort efforts towards political Islam.

Youssef Sidhom, editor of the weekly called Watani (My Homeland), told Voice of America in an interview that Egyptians were hopeful that the Islamist President Morsi would govern the nation impartially, which did not happen.

“Months and months had elapsed when they failed to do so. And there has been during the past year of the rule of President Morsi an accumulating level of bitterness and anger on (the) part of Egyptians – that the Muslim Brotherhood are only clever in taking power in their hands and ousting every other political faction,” Sidhom said.

Referring to massive protests that preceded Morsi’s ouster, he added, “Egyptians enormously went down to the streets – whether Christians or Muslims – saying enough is enough and we’re not taking any more of the rule of Morsi. And I have to admit they were very lucky that their anger, which erupted, was sided by the Egyptian military.”

The editor went on to say that the vast majority of Egyptians were happy with Morsi’s removal despite the recent bloodbath. “…On June 30, according to most of the estimations, it was an overwhelming 30 million Egyptian people going down to the streets, both Christian and Muslim. It seems that no less than 85 or 90 percent of Egyptians are very relieved to get rid of political Islam led by the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.


Egypt Christians Greet Revolution Against Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt_celebration-255x262After suffering severe persecution under ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Christians hope the regime change will improve their situation in the Arab nation.

CAIRO — Christians in Egypt have thrown their full support behind the popular uprising that has toppled the Islamist government of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after suffering the worst persecution in decades.

Egypt’s Christians have celebrated the Egyptian Army’s decision to force president Morsi out of power and set up a new government, after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand Morsi’s ouster. The June 30 protests sponsored by the Tamarod (“Rebel”) movement are being called the largest mass demonstration in world history.

With Morsi under arrest, Adli Mansour was sworn into office as Egypt’s interim president, while new presidential elections are set up and plans to write a new constitution are put in place.

Christian leaders have praised the military-assisted popular uprising to depose Morsi as a recovery of the ideals of the January 2011 revolution that saw Christians and Muslims demanding political freedoms and the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

“How wonderful are the Egyptian people recovering their stolen revolution in a civilized manner with the idea of Tamarod and its great youth’s sacrifice,” tweeted Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

Pope Tawadros II also tweeted in support of the decision to remove Morsi, praising “three greats of Egypt — the people, the army and the youth.”


Egypt’s Coup: Muslim and Christian leaders back military roadmap

A protester holds a cross and Koran during a protest demanding that President Mohamed Mursi resign at Tahrir Square in CairoJust hours after the Egyptian military removed President Mohamed Morsi from office on Wednesday leading Muslim and Christian clerics announced their support for an army-sponsored plan to suspend the constitution and hold early elections according to Egypt’s state-controlled Ahram Online.

Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, one of the highest authorities on Sunni Islam, and Pope Tawadros II, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, sat beside one another in a symbolic gesture of sectarian unity as General al-Sisi announced the transition plan on Egyptian State Television.

The general was also surrounded by other noteworthy Muslim, secularist and liberal political leaders in a show of consensus that could help Egyptian military leaders garner support for their plan in Washington.

Reactions from the White House and the State Department have been ambiguous, although President Barack Obama expressed deep concern over the removal of Egypt’s first democratically-elected president and called for a quick return to civilian leadership.

In May Secretary of State John Kerry quietly approved $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt despite the country’s failure to meet congressional democracy standards. U.S. law requires non-humanitarian aid to be cut-off to any country “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat.”


Egyptian Activists: Our Religion Is None Of Your Business

mideast_egypt_15877123Since Egypt’s revolution began, tensions among Egypt’s Muslims and Christians have only increased. Earlier this month, it once again turned deadly. Tit-for-tat killings left three Muslims and at least six Christians dead.

That and other religious violence is prompting a public debate about religious identity in Egypt. One group of young Egyptians wants to remove religious labels from national ID cards.

‘Where The Trouble Starts’

Aalam Wassef, one of those advocates, will gladly tell you he’s a video artist, a musician and a publisher. When it comes to his religion, though, he says it’s none of your business.

That’s the motto of his new campaign, too. Wassef, along with two other Egyptians, is calling on others to cover up their religion on their national ID card and start identifying as human first. They’re spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

One of their videos plays images of a particularly bloody day for Christians last year, when the military — in power at the time — drove over Christian protesters, and state television called on “honorable” Muslims to come out and defend the troops from the Christians. Twenty-seven people were dead by the end of that day.

The lyrics sung to these images are just as chilling: “The racist republic of Egypt, the sectarian republic of Egypt. It’s ingrained on your ID, and this is where the trouble starts.”

“Egypt has a long history of sectarian violence and sectarian issues, which have always been covered up with this narrative of national unity,” Wassef says. “And so it’s a big lie, actually, because there’s a lot of embedded discrimination in the society.”


Protests held in Bahrain ahead of Formula One

201341218343257734_20Thousands of Bahrainis have demonstrated near the capital, Manama, urging democratic reforms, part of a series of protests planned by the political opposition ahead of next week’s Formula One Grand Prix.

Under the banner “Democracy is our right,” the crowds marched in the Shia area of Aali south of the capital, waving Bahraini flags and chanting anti-monarchy slogans on Friday.

Police stayed away from Friday’s demonstration as protesters denounced king Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa and Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, his uncle.

“You have no legitimacy,” they chanted.

Bahrain’s mainly-Shia opposition bloc, Al-Wefaq, organised the protest as part of demonstrations due to take place from April 12-22 to coincide with the April 19-22 Grand Prix.

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Al-Wefaq who was at the protest, said the action was intended to support “demands for democratic transition”.

“We do not want to hold up the race, but we are trying to benefit from the increased media presence,” he said.

Salman called on his supporters to attend a demonstration planned for April 19, as the event kicks off on the Sakhir circuit south of the capital.

A second opposition group, the February 14 Movement, organised another protest on Thursday night in the village of Khamis that was broken up by police.

Thursday night’s demonstration came as a report by Human Rights Watch said that police have been rounding up pro-democracy activists in bid to head off protests.


Five Egyptians killed in clashes between Christians, Muslims

130406-khusus-hmed-10a.photoblog600By Ulf Laessing and Omar Fahmy, Reuters

Five Egyptians were killed and eight wounded in clashes between Christians and Muslims in a town near Cairo, security sources said on Saturday, in the latest sectarian violence in the most populous Arab state.

Christian-Muslim confrontations have increased in Muslim-majority Egypt since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 gave freer rein to hardline Islamists repressed under his rule.
Four Christians and one Muslim were killed when members of both communities started shooting at each other in Khusus outside the Egyptian capital, the sources said.

State news agency MENA put the death toll at four.

The violence broke out late on Friday when a group of Christian children were drawing on a wall of a Muslim religious institute, the security sources said. No more details were immediately available.


Anglican Clergyman Speaks Out Against Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain

from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

From the Blog of the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer:

Thomas Jefferson once asked:

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?”

In the 18th Century, on both sides of the Atlantic, there would likely have been a consensus that the answer was self-evident – civic responsibility was but the outworking of a higher responsibility to God.

Not so today. In a largely secularized West, while we value our democratic heritage which balances the role and responsibilities of politicians and citizens, many fail to appreciate these values are rooted in eternal truths and immutable laws.

Unless there are moral absolutes by which we judge society, society becomes absolute.

Every person is created equal in the image of God and therefore worthy or dignity and respect. The Christian scriptures insist we have clear responsibilities to both God and the state.