Muslims are fighting on both sides in Ukraine

The war, which has divided Muslim clerics, threatens to destabilize the Caucasus and Central Asia

As Russian troops pushed in the first days of the war toward Kyiv, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities, and Ukrainians resisted, families in the Russian North Caucasus began to bury sons killed in the fighting. At one funeral in the Kurchaloyevsky district of Chechnya, a Muslim cleric announced that the families of Abdulbek Taramov and Tamirlan Isaev would each receive 1 million rubles (about $6,400) and a cow. Just days before, on Feb. 27, an Islamic scholar based in the Chechen capital of Grozny, Salakh Mezhiev, had declared the Russian invasion a “jihad.” Chechen soldiers, he explained, were fighting “for the Koran, for God” and to save both Russia and Islam from “filth” spread by NATO.

Pro-Kremlin propagandists have cast the Russian invasion as a war for what Putin has called the “spiritual unity” of Orthodox Christian Russians and Ukrainians. Yet an overlooked aspect of this war is the fact that Muslims of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds аre playing a central role. Muslim clerics in Russia have backed Vladimir Putin’s offensive and tried to rally the support of Russia’s estimated 20 million or more Muslims (at least 14 percent of the country’s population). On the front lines, Russian Muslims find themselves pitted against fellow Muslims defending Ukraine. Chechens are fighting on both sides. More Islamic burials are anticipated in both countries in the days to come.

These deaths could have significant geopolitical implications. Ukrainians are obviously bearing the brunt of Putin’s fury, but the war threatens to ignite other kinds of conflict within Russia and, via its Muslim diaspora communities, throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Russian clerics’ support of Putin could also backfire: Their support of Putin’s venture could discredit them in the eyes of their followers, who may come to question the legitimacy of the war and its religious validation — a development that would unsettle Russian Islam.


Arctic Islam: the Midnight Sun, the ‘Isha Prayer, and Islamic Law and Practice

The Nord Kamal Mosque in Norilsk, Russia is the northernmost mosque in the world

“No major religion’s daily ritual observances are tied more closely to the movement of the Sun than Islam’s, so what do they do when the Sun never rises or sets?”1) This question provides an entry point for an analysis of the impact of the Arctic on Islamic law and practice. Universal religions, such as Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, frequently reach geographic areas far removed from their region of origin in their search for new converts.2) Islam, for example, is prominent throughout Asia and North Africa, having spread far beyond its beginnings on the Arabian Peninsula. An important consequence of this aspect of universal religions is the necessity of adapting to widely divergent cultures and climates. One of the most complicated such adaptations is that of Islam to the Arctic.

This article will use the term “the latitudinal problem” to describe the difficulty of reconciling Islamic practice with Arctic conditions. I will explore the latitudinal problem through three different time periods: medieval, the nineteenth century, and the modern day. In the medieval period, Muslim travelers to the northern regions remarked on the starkness of Arctic solar conditions, but rarely considered the practical implications for Islamic practice. In the nineteenth century, Islamic reformists clashed with religious authorities on the possibility for ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) concerning the ‘isha prayer. In the contemporary world, Muslims in the Arctic must navigate global problems including skepticism of migrants, ethnic division, religious extremism, and securitization. Still, Arctic Islam retains an important distinctiveness due to the unique challenges posed by the climate and solar conditions. This article will show that far from being a remote region with little importance for Islamic thought and practice, the Arctic instead raises profound questions of religious evolution and legal authority that resonate through the entirety of the Islamic world and beyond.

Introduction to Islamic practices affected by the Arctic

All Muslims are required to fulfill the five pillars of Islam. Two of these pillars are affected by the latitudinal location of the practitioner. The first is fasting during the month of Ramadan. According to the Qur’an, Muslims must fast from dawn to sunset during Ramadan. The second relevant pillar of Islam are the five daily prayers: FajrDhuhr‘AsrMaghrib, and ‘IshaMaghrib and ‘Isha are undertaken at sunset and twilight respectively.3) Both Ramadan fasting and the daily prayers were developed in the Islamic homeland of the Arabian Peninsula. As such, the timing of such activities is based on the solar behavior of that region. In the Arctic, however, the conditions are quite different. In exceptionally high latitudes, 24-hour day or nights occur, removing any solar context for fasting or daily prayers. In lower latitudes, the timing of prayers will be affected and the length of Ramadan fasting will be either far more or far less demanding than was originally intended.4) Muslims, both religious scholars and lay practitioners, have grappled with the effects of latitude on Islamic practice for several centuries. The first to do so were travelers to then remote and largely unknown regions.


Three books offer hope-filled views on Christian-Muslim relations

By Eugene J. Fisher • Catholic News Service • Posted September 24, 2021

“Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus” by Rachel Pieh Jones. Plough Publishing (Walden, New York, 2021). 264 pp., $ 17.99.

“Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and Do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination” by Jordan Denari Duffner. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2021). 243 pp., $22.

“A World of Inequalities: Christian and Muslim Perspectives,” edited by Lucinda Mosher. Georgetown University Press (Washington, 2021). 253 pp., $34.95.

I recommend all three of these timely books for anyone who wishes to understand the history and present reality of Christian-Muslim relations both within this country and around the world.

The title of Rachel Jones’ “Pillars” echoes the five basic pillars of Muslim faith: There is no god but God, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.

The book is a personal journal, organized in five sections reflecting the pillars, of the author’s life in the heart of Africa, Somalia, where she and her husband moved to take part in a humanitarian effort to help the local Muslim inhabitants to learn more and achieve a better lifestyle.

She and her family endured many difficulties, from being looked down upon and excluded to fears of the violence that killed three of her Christian friends. But Muslim women come to her aid, teaching her how to interact with Muslim women and men, and bringing her family into their homes so she could better understand.

Jones and her Muslim friends journey together through the Muslim year, learning about each other through dialogue, listening to each other and, hesitatingly, praying together to the one God whom Christians and Muslims both worship.

This very personal story will introduce readers to Muslim religious traditions and, more importantly, to people with whom readers can relate and learn from.

“Islamophobia” details the present-day reality of a negative and largely false set of ideas about Muslims and Islam that has been part of Christian culture since at least the Crusades.

Ignoring what the holy book, the Quran, which is largely based upon the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, actually states, Islam is portrayed as a religion that sees itself as having replaced Christianity and Judaism and is aimed at their destruction and creating a totalitarian structure to take over and rule the world.

Muslims are depicted as anti-women’s rights, as racists and evil slaveholders, as if Christians never “owned” slaves. While some Muslims might hold such views, and some Muslim societies have reflected them, this is not what the Quran teaches.

We Catholics, and Christians in general, have equally been guilty of such departures from the teachings of Jesus. So we must learn not to scapegoat Muslims by blaming them for the faults of our own history, and to a sad extent, the present.

The final third of the book, “Crafting a Christian Response,” provides the reader with a number of things Catholics and all Christians can do today to break the cycle of fear/hate of Muslims, both individually and communally.

Author Jordan Denari Duffner notes the good things that the Holy See has done but argues, correctly in my view, that more can and should be done.


Education: What Muslim students can teach Christians

REFLECTING on more than a decade’s sociological research into religion on university campuses, I am increasingly unsettled by the question of inclusivity. Who belongs on campus, and who does not? Who is made to feel marginal, strange, or “other”?

Despite their reputation as guardians of wokeness, universities are not always experienced as inclusive by their students. Recent academic studies have alerted us to some worrying patterns of discrimination and exclusion.

Racism and misogyny are no longer assumed to stop at the campus gates, and universities across the country have had to reflect on the extent to which they uphold rather than challenge embedded prejudices. On this matter, religion plays an ambiguous part.

On the one hand, there is a persistent assumption that higher education unsettles or even undermines faith, through dislocation from established communities, exposure to moral permissiveness, or the acquisition of knowledge that proves incompatible with religious beliefs.

There is some truth in this, and there are university employees who take religion to be not only incompatible with serious learning, but as having no legitimate place on the university campus. These “hard secularists” have their equivalents in the student body, and variations on the humanist/secular/atheist society have made impassioned, public attacks on religion on a range of campuses in recent years.

On the other hand, universities have maintained cultures of religious inclusivity to a degree that would be difficult to find elsewhere in British society. Pockets of anti-religious zealotry are the exception rather than the norm.

Most now seem to accept that matters of faith form part of the cultural diversity that enriches the university campus. This has certainly been reflected in the empirical research that I’ve conducted, alongside various colleagues, among university staff and students across the UK higher-education sector.


Trump is gone, but Muslim federal workers say reforms are still needed

Muslim Americans in Public Service has published a set of 12 recommendations to improve working conditions for Muslims in public service.

(RNS) — Muslim federal employees who say they felt discriminated against under President Trump are advocating for new federal policies to prevent workplace bias, with many backing a new initiative from Muslim Americans in Public Service aimed at getting the Biden administration to adopt measures that reflect the needs of Muslim Americans who work for government agencies.

Earlier this year, President Biden signed Executive Order 14035, launching a “government-wide initiative to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all parts of the Federal workforce,” according to a White House statement. The Biden administration has also announced policies to root out far-right extremists in the military, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies.

While Trump’s executive order preventing citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States attracted media attention, Muslim federal employees faced various forms of discrimination, harassment and unwarranted investigation from the Trump administration.

“You had people at USAID who publicly hated Muslims. Can you imagine this being tolerated if this was a member of a different minority group?” asked Ahmad Maaty, an economist for the Department of Transportation and chair of Muslim Americans in Public Service, which was founded in response to their treatment. 

An internal State Department report released in 2019 found that the Trump administration had discriminated against a diplomat of Iranian heritage.


The Taliban’s Ideology Has Surprising Roots In British-Ruled India

DEOBAND, India — Hundreds of young men in crisp white tunics and skullcaps sit cross-legged in classrooms ringed with porticoes, poring over Islamic texts. From a marble minaret above them, a dozen voices wail Quranic verse in unison.

They start and stop in rounds, echoing like a canon across an otherwise scruffy landscape of rickshaws, tea stalls and open sewers.

This is where the Taliban’s ideology was founded. It’s not Afghanistan; nor is it the Middle East. It’s not even a Muslim-majority country. It’s a small town in India about 100 miles north of the capital, New Delhi.

More than 150 years ago, this is where Muslim scholars started a seminary that also became entwined in the politics of that era. The Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, founded in 1866, taught that by returning to the core principles of Islam, Indian Muslims could resist British colonial rule. Less than a decade earlier, the British crown had taken control of India from the East India Company. The previous Mughal — Muslim — rulers had been vanquished.

“The British have taken over. The Muslim glory has faded away. So there comes a kind of state of despondency within the Muslims,” says Luv Puri, a researcher, author and columnist. “Then they decide it’s time to get back the glory of Islam. And let’s start a movement.”Article continues after sponsor message

The movement they started became known as Deobandi Islam. Adherents later joined Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle. After the partition of India, they fanned out across South Asia and set up seminaries, or madrassas, teaching an austere version of Islam — particularly along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

And that is where they educated their most infamous students: the Taliban.


Muslim leaders and activists tackle opposition to COVID-19 vaccines

Outreach programs to dispel COVID-19 vaccine disinformation are having an impact on vaccination rates within some Muslim communities.

Shaikh Rahman, a business systems analyst in Chicago, was not a proponent of COVID-19 vaccines because he did not feel that credible information about them was being disseminated effectively and the distribution seemed rushed.

“Our faith says to investigate a matter before passing it off as truth,” he says.

But Rahman’s sentiment changed after his local imam, Shaykh Jamal Said of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, began to suggest that those who were not vaccinated may be prohibited entry to the mosque.

Rahman was concerned about this potential restriction for prayer services and he considered getting vaccinated. He had tested positive for the virus prior to this potential restriction. So he decided to get the shot to build up his immunity after the Mosque Foundation held a Pfizer vaccination drive.

“With the country reopening, I don’t want my family or my loved ones to be at risk of exposure through me,” Rahman says.

While vaccine hesitancy trends continue to evolve across the United States, a shift also is underway within some Muslim communities. Vaccine rates among Muslims had been among the lowest in the nation in the early months of the pandemic.  But outreach programs from mosques, community organizations, and cultural centers that work with immigrant communities are helping to dispel disinformation and promote vaccination.

As they hear from trusted figures, such as imams, some Muslims are now opting to get the shot.


Church criticizes Austrian government’s ‘Islam Map’

VIENNA: The Austrian Catholic church on Friday became the latest religious group to criticize a government-backed, online map of hundreds of Muslim organization which sparked violence against the Muslim minority.
The highly controversial map shows details of more than 600 Muslim associations — from youth groups to mosques — including details on their location and photos of members.

The map was first presented by a government-funded group monitoring Muslim extremism and by Austria’s Integration Minister Susanne Raab, a member of conservative, anti-migration Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), who called it a tool to “fight political Islam as a breeding ground for extremism.”

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Austrian Catholic church, wrote in an op-ed Friday that it was “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious community is under general suspicion,” and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out.

Umit Vural, head of the Islamic Religious Community of Austria, described the map as a “massive security threat” to Muslims, while the Muslim Youth Austria organization said several Muslims had already been attacked and a mosque has been defaced since that map went online in late May.


Muslims and Christians should learn from their shared history

For the last couple of years, billions of Muslims and Christians have been enjoying religious holidays that fall at roughly the same time of year. The end of Easter has coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, and this should not surprise us at all since both great religions emerged from the same historic region and share a common Abrahamic history and culture. However, a cursory glance at social media reveals that few Muslims and Christians realize they are celebrating their holy days concurrently. It is a shame that, instead of seeking commonalities, the relationship between Christians and Muslims has often been characterized by mistrust and misunderstanding.

As the month-long Ramadan festivities near their midpoint, we ask whether it is time for a new era of peaceful coexistence and understanding between all the Abrahamic faith communities. If the answer is “yes,” the path forward should begin by gaining a better appreciation of our shared Abrahamic history and culture. Our stories are intertwined and at crucial moments we are indebted to one another for existing as faith groups to this day.