In Gandhi’s lifetime, there were enough Muslim Gandhis. How can their message be reclaimed in these troubled times?
Historically, however, Islam, like all other religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism, has shown both tolerance and intolerance towards other religions and communities. History provides us with many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths. For more than a century during the Middle ages, for instance, Cordoba (in Spanish Andalusia) witnessed a great flowering of religious freedom, which, while not perfect, was tolerant enough to accommodate many Jewish and Christian intellectuals, who lived and wrote and flourished side-by-side with their Muslim counterparts in a strikingly pluralistic society.
The cultural legacy of Cordoba is impressive in its scale and splendour and remains a successful model of associative reconciliation and nonviolent cross-cultural learning that we see being put into action during the Moghul period in India and later by Muslims who collaborated with Mohandas Gandhi in the Indian Independence movement.
“Top 10” lists can often be helpful in displaying and illuminating data. For example, the two tables of countries with the largest Christian and Muslim populations featured here reveal differences in the concentration, diversity and projected changes in the world’s two largest religions.
The two lists show that the global Muslim population is more heavily concentrated in Islam’s main population centers than the global Christian population is for Christianity, which is more widely dispersed around the world. Indeed, about two-thirds (65%) of the world’s Muslims live in the countries with the 10 largest Muslim populations, while only 48% of the world’s Christians live in the countries with the 10 largest Christian populations.
To put it another way, more than half (52%) of the world’s Christians live in countries other than those with the 10 largest Christian populations, while this is true for just over a third (35%) of the world’s Muslims. In absolute terms, there are twice as many Christians (1.2 billion) as there are Muslims (609 million) living in countries that are not on their religion’s top 10 list.
Known affectionately as the ‘Muslim Mother Teresa’ for the noble cause she has dedicated her life towards, Montreal’s Sister Sabariah Hussein feeds up to 500 people a day.
“People who are really in dire need of company. And it’s a good thing. I saw the improvement. They’re becoming more cheerful in the company of people whose situation is almost like them, and then they enjoy the meal better,” Sabariah explains.
She adds: “I feel a little different because Mother Teresa doesn’t cook.”
However, the food that Sabariah prepares is as good as her caring nature.
“The food? I don’t know what word to explain the food. The food is delicious and it’s always good, and she always wants to make sure that you eat,” Sabariah’s colleague Angela Rashida Thomas says.
When Muslims make headlines, it’s invariably for the wrong reasons. The fuss over Boris Johnson’s burka joke is a case in point: he was making an argument in defence of Muslims, but was instead condemned for attacking us. Why the confusion? Because of how little our faith is understood.
Let’s start with the burka. Islam makes various demands of its followers, but — despite what you might think from the headlines — covering our faces isn’t one of them. Based on the media’s fascination with these strange and oppressive garments, you might wonder why any modern woman would ever choose Islam. So here’s my answer.
I’m a London-born doctor, raised in a Muslim family and now working in America. While Islam always played a role in my youth, it was never something which defined me: rather a list of ‘dos’, ‘don’ts’ and cultural traditions which governed various aspects of home life. It was during an assignment in Riyadh — where I was working as a doctor — that everything changed.
Of course when you’re living in Saudi Arabia, Islam is never far away — but at first its omnipresence only served to remind me of my failings as a Muslim. To the Saudis, I knew so little about my religion I was assumed to be a convert. Thanks to Saudi law (which mandates covering of the hair — something my parents never enforced), I might have looked more Muslim — but I certainly didn’t feel it. Take the Hajj, for example — the holy pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to undertake once in their lifetime, if their health and their means allow. Although many of my colleagues had jumped at the opportunity to do it, it wasn’t something I had considered.
The various groups that were drawn (or in some cases, dragged) to the United States have themselves been made up of a variety of smaller identity groups: Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics; Polish Jews and German Jews; Latinos from Guatemala and Latinos from Brazil. If, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, the poetical nature of the United States is determined by the dynamics of engagement between those identity communities, then there is also American poetry to be drawn from such dynamics within those communities.
No nation has a Muslim community that is more ethnically, racially, or theologically diverse than the United States. For many years, these various Muslim groups created separate spaces, such as mosques, schools, and community centers. Those who were less ritually observant often found no space at all. But the era of Islamophobia has forced them all together and raised fascinating questions about what it means to be American, what it means to be Muslim, and who gets to define the identity of American Muslims.
Ansari offered lessons in the science of prejudice through a set of humorous stories about Muslims. He reminded his audience that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews. If you just changed the music on Homeland, he joked, we wouldn’t look so scary.
In a New York Times op-ed published a few months earlier, Ansari wrote on several of the same themes, but this time through the poignant story of instructing his parents not to go to the mosque for prayer lest they wind up the victims of an Islamophobic attack.
International event aims to encourage mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.
An international event aiming to break fears and prejudices against Muslims and promote empathy has been launched in King’s Cross station in central London, the capital of Britain.
The event this week will see young Muslims promoting mutual understanding in public places in various countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, France and Austria.
‘Hello, I am a Muslim’
The Islamic Community Milli Gorus (ICMG) group said in a statement on Thursday that thousands of young Muslims living in Europe, Australia and Canada will take to the streets to deliver “their ‘Hello, I am a Muslim’ message to introduce themselves”.
“Contacting people individually is the most natural and the best way of promoting understanding and empathy,” the ICMG said.
“We have prepared the ‘Hello, I am a Muslim’ events to encourage mutual communication and cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Kemal Ergun, the group’s president.
More than 500 mosques across Europe will also take part in the initiative, according to the ICMG statement.