What I learned teaching Islamic studies in Texas

d27oiqyirvfdvb72fmjlmjunda(RNS) — As far as I know, I was the first Sikh hired to teach Islamic studies at an American university. I loved every minute of it, especially because my employer, Trinity University, was located in my beloved hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

My first real job also shed new light for me on what it’s like to be an underrepresented minority in this country. Most Americans, in short, don’t know who Sikhs are. Typically they presume we are Muslims, mostly as a result of Islam being racialized in the past few decades: It’s not just a faith, it’s also a look, and the resulting stereotypes square with the appearance of many Sikh men — brown skin, turban, beard. That’s me.

Of course I had long since learned what “looking Muslim” meant in post-9/11 America. I knew firsthand the violence that came with misguided understandings of Islam, and as a Sikh especially, I felt compelled to do something about it. It’s precisely what sent me down the path of studying religious communities and addressing the racism they experience. I decided to make allyship with Muslims and those affected by anti-Muslim hate a centerpiece of my life.

Because my path seemed so obvious to me, I never considered my field of study to be odd. Only when I began interviewing for jobs did I realize that some might find it strange for a Sikh to teach Islam. “How can you teach a religion you don’t even practice?” people would ask, including the president of a university during a job interview.

I wanted to point out to the president that the scholars in his own religion department, like most of the religion scholars I knew, did not practice the faiths they taught. It’s considered normal for white scholars to be interested in traditions other than their own. I didn’t alert him to his bias — I wanted the job, after all. But ever since I’ve wished I could have asked why it was problematic for me to express the same interest — because I’m a person of color? Because I identify as a religious minority?

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

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‘If you enter a camp, you never come out’: inside China’s war on Islam

In Hotan, documents show officials are expanding detention camps and increasing surveillance

The Luopu County No 1 Vocational Skills Training Centre is hard to miss. It emerges suddenly, a huge campus towering over hectares of farmland.

Outside the compound, surrounded by tall white concrete walls lined with barbed wire and surveillance cameras, a police car patrols while several guards carrying long batons stand watch. The centre, which straddles a highway, is bigger than most of the surrounding villages – about 170,000sq metres. A banner on one building says: “Safeguard ethnic unity.”

Half a dozen people stand on the roadside, staring at the buildings. No one is willing to say exactly what this prison-like facility is or why they are waiting on its perimeter.

Images of Xinjiang, China, taken in December as part of a Guardian investigation into the mass detention of Uighur Muslims across China.
 Images of Xinjiang, China, taken in December as part of a Guardian investigation into the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in China. Photograph: Lily Kuo for the Guardian

They are reluctant to talk because the building is not a formal prison or university, but an internment camp where Muslim minorities, mainly Uighurs, are sent against their will and without trial for months or even years.

Researchers and residents say southern Xinjiang, where the Luopu County No 1 Vocational Skills Training Centre is located, has borne the brunt of the government’s crackdown on Muslims because of its density of Uighurs and distance from major cities.

“We have a saying in Hotan: If you go into a concentration camp in Luopu, you never come out,” said Adil Awut*, from Hotan City, who is now living overseas.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN (UK)

Want to Cultivate a Liberal European Islam? Look to Bosnia.

Bosnian Muslim brides wait for a collective Sharia wedding ceremony for sixty couples in SarajevoThroughout the 20th century, Bosnian Muslim thinkers offered creative theological interpretations that squared with European life.

When French President Emmanuel Macron said last summer that he would create a new “framework and rules” for Islamic institutions in France, he was not alone. Other politicians and thinkers have also been involved in a broader effort to find an articulation of the religion that meshes with what they see as European values.

What is too little noticed, however, is that a tolerant European Islam has already existed for centuries—on the southeastern part of the continent, where Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Turks, and others see themselves as fully Muslim and fully European. A 2013 Pew Research Center study shows that they’re among the most liberal Muslims in the world. For example, only tiny minorities of surveyed Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, think adulterers must be stoned and apostates executed, in contrast with large majorities in favor of both stances among Pakistani and Egyptian Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

Illuminating Islam’s Peaceful Origins

 

GOD IN THE QUR’AN

By Jack Miles
241 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.

MUHAMMAD
Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires
By Juan Cole
326 pp. Nation Books. $28.

Is Allah, the God of Muslims, a different deity from the one worshiped by Jews and Christians? Is he even perhaps a strange “moon god,” a relic from Arab paganism, as some anti-Islamic polemicists have argued?

What about Allah’s apostle, Muhammad? Was he a militant prophet who imposed his new religion by the sword, leaving a bellicose legacy that still drives today’s Muslim terrorists?

Two new books may help answer such questions, and also give a deeper understanding of Islam’s theology and history.

Jack Miles, a professor of religion at the University of California and the author of the Pulitzer-winning book “God: A Biography,” has written “God in the Qur’an.” It is a highly readable, unbiasedly comparative and elegantly insightful study of the Quran, in which he sets out to show that the three great monotheistic religions do indeed believe in the same deity — although they have “different emphases” when it comes to this God, which accounts for their divergent theologies.

To begin with, one should not doubt that Allah is Yahweh, the God of the Bible, because that is what he himself says. The Quran’s “divine speaker,” Miles writes, “does identify himself as the God whom Jews and Christians worship and the author of their Scriptures.” That is also why Allah reiterates, often with much less detail, many of the same stories we read in the Bible about Yahweh and his interventions in human history. The little nuances between these stories, however, are distinctions with major implications.

FULL REVIEW FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Retired soldier educating South about Islam

1FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — When Jason Criss Howk’s Army career came to an end in 2015, he thought he’d spend his days teaching and fishing.

But a wake-up call at a Pinehurst library changed those plans. And while Howk does teach, he’s found a new mission, too: Explaining the Middle East, Islam and Muslim culture to a population that has little experience, but strong opinions on those topics.

At times, it has been a combative undertaking.

Howk has spoken at small rural churches across the Southeast and has, on occasion, had to be escorted to his car by church leaders at the end of the night.

But that hasn’t stopped his one-man mission to better educate America and, in the process, help promote tolerance.

His efforts have expanded since he retired. In 2017, he published “The Quran: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation” through Old Stone Press. The book is intended for audiences that have little familiarity with Islam, the Quran or Muslim culture.

And earlier this year, he launched a podcast called “We’re Just Talking About It.”

Howk’s interest in Islam is tied to his experiences as a soldier.

He served as an enlisted paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1990s and returned as an officer a decade later.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARMY TIMES 

PATEL: Don’t use Islam as excuse to carry out horrors of female genital mutilation

fgm-e1543089779659Earlier this week, a federal judge in the United States dismissed charges against two doctors and six others involved in the genital mutilation of nine girls at a suburban Detroit clinic.

While many are disappointed the case had to be dropped because of state-federal complications, what outraged me the most was that the accused in this case claimed female genital mutilation (FGM) was a ‘religious’ act and that it should, therefore, be above the law.

As a young Muslim woman, I am tired of hearing about medieval and regressive social behaviour that supposedly has some kind of religious justification; especially when it concerns my faith of Islam.

Muslim women like me are caught between Islamophobes who condemn Islam and every Muslim for anything that moves – and our own medieval zealots who use Islam to justify practices like FGM, forced marriages and domestic violence.

It should be clear to all that FGM has absolutely no basis in any of the Abrahamic religions – and there is no mention of it in the Quran. In fact, we find quite the opposite: That the Quran strongly condemns ‘mutilating the fair creation of God’ as being something inspired by the Devil himself.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE TORONTO SUN 

Thanksgiving Prayers For Dinner 2018: Christian, Jewish, Muslims Words To Offer Thanks

35277-cc_tgiving_5_2016.1100w.tnEvery year on the fourth Thursday of November, millions of Americans nationwide gather for a Thanksgiving Day filled with feasting and celebrations. An important part of the day is gathering around the tables for dinner with loved ones.

Several people choose to say their prayers and share what they are thankful for. While some prayers are improvised, most major religions have standard or suggested words and phrases for blessing a meal. Here are suggested Catholics, Protestant, Jews and Muslims prayers gathered from faith-based organizations.

Catholic prayer:

Today we give thanks for our many blessings as we pray for those in need. We give thanks for our family and friends as we pray for those who are lonely. We give thanks for our freedoms as we pray for those who are oppressed. We give thanks for our good health as we pray for those who are ill. We give thanks for our comfort and prosperity as we share our blessings with others. On this day of Thanksgiving, May the love of God enfold us, the peace of God dwell within us, and the joy of God uplift us. Amen.

Protestant prayer:

Heavenly Father, on Thanksgiving Day, we bow our hearts to you and pray. We give you thanks for all you’ve done, especially for the gift of Jesus, Your Son. For beauty in nature, your glory we see, for joy and health, friends and family. For daily provision, your mercy and care, these are the blessings you graciously share. So today we offer this response of praise, with a promise to follow you all of our days. Amen.

Jewish prayer:  

For the laughter of the children, for my own life breath, for the abundance of food on this table, for the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast, for the roof over our heads, the clothes on our backs, for our health, and our wealth of blessings, for this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends, for the freedom to pray these words, without fear, in any language, on any faith, in this great country, whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants. Thank You, God, for giving us all these.  Amen.

thanksgivingCentral American immigrants and their families pray before Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 24, 2016 in Stamford, Connecticut. Photo: Getty Images/John Moore

Muslim prayer:

Thank You, Allah T’aala is all that I can say. For who knows whether we’ll make it, with grit, come what may, and without Allah’s Mercy we may try all night and day forgetting what we’re worth, a clot of blood, just clay. However, with His Mercy a mountain can we move with ease and no great effort, just hope in Him, just love. So, Thank You Allah T’aala is all that I can say. Just help me share this blessing with all who come my way. Bless Muhammad and his sacred Household inconsequential me.

Arabic: “Allahomma barik lana fima razaqtana waqina athaban-nar. Bismillah.”

English: “Oh Allah! Bless the food You have provided us and save us from the punishment of the hellfire. In the name of Allah.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES