The forgotten Muslim soldiers who fought in First World War trenches for the Allies

gettyimages-83513318-e1541956064157They rarely get mentioned during Remembrance Day and Armistice Day tributes, but hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers fought for the Allied cause during the First World War — around 885,000, according to the British Royal Legion.

Some 400,000 of them hailed from the British Indian Army, whose 1.5 million troops comprised the largest volunteer force in history.

The idea is to give overdue appreciation for the Muslim contribution to the war effort and use the stories of Muslim soldiers to counter Islamophobic and anti-immigrant narratives in Europe and North America.



Thanksgiving provides opportunity to celebrate ‘collectively’

Screen-Shot-2018-11-14-at-11.26.28-AMInterfaith partnerships are emerging in nearly every community. The Treasure Coast isn’t behind in celebrating such religious pluralism.

Thanksgiving is one occasion to express this harmony. In the Community Church in Vero Beach, Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus unite annually for a joint service. This year, the Faith Congregational Church in Port St. Lucie will also host a similar gathering.

One year, Sana Shareef, a St. Edwards High senior, joined me. She played “Amazing Grace” on her clarinet. Imagine a young Muslim girl, her head covered, playing a Christian hymn. Senior Minister, Rev. Bob Baggott, to this day recalls that moment.

“That wrapped the gathering in a beauty only music can,” he said. “That shared moment lifted our souls, calming our minds, believing in peace.”

The following year, Sana joined Rabbi Bruce Benson at the Temple Beth El Israel in Port St. Lucie. He fondly remembers: “The joy of adding her musical skills to my song I had written added more than just words could.”

In July 2018, Pew Research reported: “The U.S. remains a robustly religious country and the most devout of all the Western democracies. In fact, Americans pray more often, are more likely to attend weekly religious services and ascribe higher importance to faith in their lives than adults in other wealthy nations. For instance, more than half of American adults (55 percent) say they pray daily, compared with 25 percent in Canada, 18 percent in Australia and 6 percent in Great Britain.”

Our inter-religious cooperation makes America stronger and our nation a beacon to the world. Religion remains a potent force for good — or for political conflict. Community by community, we must decide which path we take. A resilient community, overcoming the divisive and charged politics of the day, manifests itself in many of our synagogues, churches and mosques.


21 faith leaders for the 21st century – #Interfaith21

Dr_NAv7W4AAwbFm-1024x640Young Christians, Muslims and Jews at the forefront of interfaith cooperation in the UK are honoured today in a unique collaboration between media outlets from the three faiths.

British Muslim TVChurch Times and Jewish News, together with Coexist House, joined forces for the 21 for 21 project to identify inspiring individuals aged under 40 who are increasing dialogue and breaking down barriers – particularly as volunteers but also in their working lives.


It is believed this is the first time media outlets from different faiths have cooperated in such a way anywhere in the world. Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “At a time of concerns about antisemitism and Islamophobia, this initiative between media outlets of different faiths is more important than ever.

Despite the challenges, we have much to be proud of when it comes to the depth and breadth of interfaith cooperation in this country.  It is right we should celebrate those leading the way now and in the future.”


‘Anything but one culture, one thing, one place, one time’ — displaying the art of Islam

Dpx7k_6XoAABHkpAndrew Graham-Dixon explores the British Museum’s new Albukhary Foundation Gallery — opening on 18 October, and presenting a fresh look at the institution’s astonishing Islamic collection and the diversity of cultures behind it.

The British Museum is a treasure trove of Islamic art and artefacts. Its collections of Moghul, Mamluk and Safavid metalwork are unparalleled; and its many early manuscript pages from the Qur’an include some of the most wrenchingly vivid sheets of calligraphy to have survived the centuries that first witnessed the rise of a powerful new faith preached by the followers of a man called Prophet Mohammed.

One of these pages in particular has fascinated me ever since I first saw it some 30 or 40 years ago, even though I lack the language to read it. Inscribed in Kufic by a Syrian scribe in the ninth or 10th century, it vibrates with spiritual conviction: the characters are ranked in a phalanx of forms, each holy word resembling (to my eye at least) an inkblack chariot of war on a parchment field of battle.

Page from the Quran, 9th-10th century. Photo The Trustees of the British Museum
Page from the Qur’an, 9th-10th century. Photo: The Trustees of the British Museum

The museum also houses a number of astonishingly intricate examples of Iznik ceramic ware, including a mosque lamp from the mid-16th century refurbishment of the Dome of the Rock, bequeathed by former trustee Charles Drury Edward Fortnum (1820-99). That object is itself a fine complement to the matchless group of some 600 pieces of Islamic pottery that once formed part of the collection of Frederick Du Cane Godman (1834-1919), a connoisseur and ornithologist persuaded onto the board of the British Museum by the tireless Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826-97).


Modesty in Islam

muslim man and womanIn Islam, men and women share responsibility in upholding modesty and controlling their desires in society. Whether someone dresses or behaves modestly or not, the obligation to guard one’s own chastity rests with each gender. While many people think that there is excessive emphasis on modesty for women, God’s command for men to maintain modesty precedes the one for women in the Quran: “Tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them. God is well aware of everything they do” (24:30).

READ: Linden teacher fasting for Ramadan in support of Muslim fourth-grader 

While many people think that Muslim women are enjoined to wear the hijab primarily to restrain men’s illicit desires, this is not true. Indeed, it is not women’s duty to regulate the behavior of men. Men are accountable for their own conduct; they are equally required to be modest and to handle themselves responsibly in every sphere of their lives. Further, Islam’s code of modesty extends to all aspects of one’s life, including attire. Hijab, the head-covering worn by Muslim women, is an outer manifestation of an inner commitment to worship God.


Reforming the Faith: Indonesia’s battle for the soul of Islam

Nahdlatul-UlamaNahdlatul Ulama, with 94 million members the world’s largest Sunni Muslim movement, is bent on reforming Islam.

The powerful Indonesian conservative and nationalist group that operates madrassahs or religious seminaries across the archipelago has taken on the ambitious task of reintroducing ijtihad or legal interpretation to Islam as it stands to enhance its political clout with its spiritual leader, Ma’ruf Amin, slated to become vice president as the running mate of incumbent President Joko Widodo in elections scheduled for next April.

In a 40-page document, argued in terms of Islamic law and jurisprudence and scheduled for publication in the coming days, Nahdlatul Ulama’s powerful young adults wing, Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, spells out a framework for what it sees as a humanitarian interpretation of Islam that is tolerant and pluralistic in nature.

The initiative is designed to counter what many in Nahdlatul Ulama, founded in 1926 in opposition to Wahhabism, see as Islam’s foremost challenge; the rise of radical Islam. The group that boasts a two million-strong private militia defines as radical not only militants and jihadists but any expression of political Islam and asserts that it is struggling against the weaponization of the faith.

While it stands a good chance of impacting Islamic discourse in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, it is likely to face an uphill battle in making substantial headway beyond Indonesia despite its links to major Muslim organizations in India, the United States and elsewhere. It also could encounter opposition from the group’s more conservative factions.



dbf1a13c-32f6-11e8-9019-a420e6317de0_4000x1584_175635Before he was Phra Visuddho, he was Pisut Aungsupalee. In Thai “Pisut” means “purity”. When his master, Phra Upaseno ordained him as a monk, he took the Pali equivalent, “Visuddho”. Pali is the language of Buddhist texts.

Born in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown district, Pisut – who is Chinese-Thai – grew up helping his parents run their fruit shop on weekends. “If I needed to open the shop, then I would wake up at six in the morning.”

The long hours tending his parents’ shop fed Pisut’s young mind. Observing people come and go, he wondered what made them smile or frown.

Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts: will there ever be united colours of Thailand?

“When I was nine I already thought about what it means to be happy. This is why I eventually wanted to become a monk, to understand happiness – not physical but eternal.”

At the age of twelve, he and his family moved to Nonthaburi Province in the countryside.

“Bangkok was dense and polluted, whereas Nonthaburi had forests. The air was fresh and it was not crowded.”

Even then, Pisut would drive back to Bangkok on weekends with his father to tend to the family business.

“I would wake up really early in the morning. This helped me prepare for life as a monk. As a monk I wake up before six for bintabaht.”

Monks usually start their day with bintabaht, the collection of food alms – Phra Visuddho doesn’t go a day without it. Photo: Hezril Azmin

Bintabaht is the collection of alms that make up a monk’s meal. “Before noon, I can eat. Afterwards, I can only drink water or juice.” Bintabaht isn’t a daily obligation for monks, but Phra Visuddho does not go a day without it.

In his last year of secondary school, Pisut made up his mind to study sociology.

“I wanted to study ourselves – as human beings – and about life.”

He ended up at Kasetsart University in Bangkok.