US growth of Islam creates need for religious scholars

RTX3Z4ML-e1572281662504DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — “Brothers and sisters,” the seminary instructor tells his class, don’t believe in God because of your parents’ beliefs but because “you know why God exists.”

The challenge spurs a discussion about beliefs. But more than Imam Mohammad Qazwini’s interesting delivery, deep understanding of Islam and his formal training at a seminary in the holy city of Qom, Iran, have drawn them to this suburban Detroit classroom just off the large prayer room of a mosque.

He speaks their language — literally.

An increasing number of U.S. Muslims want guidance from religious instructors who they can understand linguistically and culturally. The Quran, Islam’s holy book, is written in classical Arabic, but many of the students aren’t well-versed in the language. Qazwini navigates the intricacies of Arabic effortlessly — in the everyday English they use, opening a door for many of the students and meeting an increasing need.

Traditional imams and scholars who once came from the Middle East or were educated in schools there are having more difficulty entering the United States. The Trump administration imposed a travel ban in January 2017 on people from several Muslim majority countries, and the government has made it harder to enter the U.S. entirely, with more rigorous interviews and background checks.

“In many other states there are mosques with no … functional imam, who can assume the responsibilities of the religious leader or even speak,” said Islamic Institute of America leader Imam Hassan Qazwini, who started the seminary with his son. “I thought maybe a long-term solution for facing this shortage is to have our own Shiite Islamic seminary in the U.S., instead of waiting for imams to come.”

Al-Hujjah is the newest of several seminaries focused on the Shiite branch of Islam in the United States and Canada working to address a shortage of leaders.

The seminary started in fall 2017 with about 35 registered students. Now it has nearly 400, with some attending in-person, others watching live and still more watching recorded videos online. In addition to the Qazwinis, there are four other instructors.

Although there are students in 25 countries the emphasis is on North America because of the desire to deepen the bench of U.S.-trained imams, scholars and speakers, according to the elder Qazwini, a native of Iraq.

In a class on a recent evening, the younger Qazwini led an intense session on faith, proposing case studies, playing devil’s advocate and prompting a philosophical back-and-forth with his students. His execution is informal but authoritative. The students understand him.

“I need to make sure he speaks the language, he’s knowledgeable, he’s respectful, he’s truly caring and he’s trying to adapt to the country we live in,” said Alia Bazzi, 32, a graphic designer and seminary student. “Why would my imam speak Arabic if we live in America and the main language we speak is English? … I want to know he’s up to date, he knows what’s going on.”

About an hour’s drive south, in Toledo, Ohio, the Ahlul Bayt Center mosque has been running for about four years without a full-time imam. Imam Mohammad Qazwini and other clerics travel there for services and special events.

Dr. Ali Nawras, a board member of the Toledo mosque, said the arrangement works for day-to-day needs because of its proximity to the Detroit area — a longtime hub for Islam in America. But the center seeks a permanent imam to meet its broader, long-term objectives: Having a strong understanding of challenges within their own community, particularly among youth, and forging stronger bonds between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations.

“On one hand, you can find an imam who is very knowledgeable, very strong background in theology, but that person might not speak English or might have lived most of his life outside the country,” Nawras said. “On the other hand, you might find someone who is born here and educated here, but they don’t have a good or strong theology background.”

“To have a combination of both, that is where the challenge comes,” he added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS 

THANKSGIVING PRAYERS 2019: PRAYERS FROM CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM, ISLAM AND OTHER RELIGIONS

Thanksgiving is one of the few major American holidays that cannot be traced back to a particular religious tradition. However, the values Thanksgiving celebrates—the importance of family and friends, the comfort of home and a spirit of gratitude—are shared across most of the world’s major faiths.

Here are prayers from several of the world’s largest religious traditions for the holiday.

Saying grace
A meal-time prayer.GETTY

Buddhism

The following prayer, whose author is unknown, comes from the Buddhist tradition, according to the Jesuit Resource’s multi-faith Prayer Index. While not explicitly connected to the secular holiday, the sentiments expressed make it an appropriate reflection for Thanksgiving.

Meal Time Prayer

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
Each morsel is a sacrifice of life,
May I be worthy to receive it.
May the energy in this food,
Give me the strength,
To transform my unwholesome qualities
into wholesome ones.
I am grateful for this food,
May I realize the Path of Awakening,
For the sake of all beings.

The joys and pains of all beings
are present in the gift of this food.
Let us receive it in love
and gratitude…

And in mindfulness of our sisters and brothers
among living beings of every kind
who are hungry or homeless,
sick or injured,
or suffering in any way.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWSWEEK

How a tolerant UAE is welcoming Jews into the country

The Jewish community will soon have a prominent place to pray in the heart of the Gulf.

Jewish-man_16e9d5df1e7_largeDubai: “The fact that, for the first time in centuries, a new Jewish community established in the heart of the Arab world is nothing short of historic. This represents, in a way, its own call to prayer and I speak on behalf of the Jewish community, it’s our responsibility to answer,” said the newly-announced Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of the UAE, Yehuda Sarna, during a speech on Tolerance Day on November 15.

UAE Embassy US

@UAEEmbassyUS

“The fact that there is for the first time in centuries a new Jewish community established in the heart of the Arab World is nothing short of historic.” – Newly announced Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of the Emirates (JCE) @RabbiSarna.

Embedded video

51 people are talking about this

For centuries, Jews and Arabs have peacefully co-existed. They’ve done business together, lived as neighbors and even married one another. Even the Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him, was married to a Jewish woman. Her name was Safiyyah Bint Huyayy.

From the time of the prophet until the early 20th century Jews and Arabs mixed together. From Baghdad to Beirut and Cairo as well.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GULF NEWS 

What ‘Hala’ gets right and wrong about growing up Muslim in America

c5709340-98b6-4391-ac0c-d04c21af442e-Hala_Unit_Photo_06Disclaimer: I don’t speak for all Muslim-Americans, but I can say that at least a good amount of us are tired of seeing the stereotypical Muslim girl portrayed over and over again.

And that’s exactly what “Hala” does.

Minhal Baig’s new film (in theaters Friday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Columbus, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky; streaming Dec. 6 on Apple TV+) focuses on a first-generation, 17-year-old Pakistani-American girl of the same name (played by Geraldine Viswanathan) whose conservative parents expect her to marry a nice Muslim boy. Her parents had an arranged marriage, don’t want her hanging out with boys because reputation, her mom practically forces her to pray, but Hala is a “rebel.” She falls for the white boy in her class, goes out at all hours of the night with him and eats non-halal meat (halal meat is prepared according to Islamic law, kind of like kosher).

Surprise.

FULL ARTICLE FROM USA TODAY 

Statistics show that Trump’s “travel ban” was always a Muslim ban

RTX3Z4ML-e1572281662504Did President Donald Trump’s travel ban—in place now for more than 22 months—become, in practice, a Muslim ban?

The third version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban went into full effect on Dec. 8, 2017.

The list of countries whose citizens are banned from entering the United States include Muslim-majority countries Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as North Korea and Venezuela.

Now that time has passed, policymakers, political scientists like myself, and all Americans can start to understand the ban’s effects.

Was it actually a Muslim ban, as it was called at the time it was introduced? Or was that just an anti-Trump label? What percentage of people from those banned countries did pass the “enhanced vetting” and get an actual visa to enter the United States?

Sharp decline

The US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs regularly provides data on the number of visas issued for all countries.

Based on the data the agency provides for the fiscal year, the number of immigrant visas issued for the country of Iran decreased by 78% between 2017 and 2018.

Chart showing decline in US visas issues to Iranian citizens

13th-century encounter points way to greater Christian-Muslim understanding

st fracisWASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi took a risk when he crossed the battlefield between Crusader and Muslim forces near Damietta, Egypt, desiring to meet Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith in Jesus Christ.

At the time – 1219 – Christian forces were in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, which was eventually repelled by the sultan’s superior army near the town that was a center of trade and commerce on the Nile River where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

The future saint readily put his life on the line so he could witness his faith to the famed Muslim sultan, and in doing so both men came away with a new respect for the faith of the other, Franciscan Father Michael Calabria told a conference on that encounter with “the other” Nov. 7 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

Why Lebanon Protesters Target Religion-Based Politics

LEBANONThe anti-government protesters filling Lebanon’s streets have been unappeased by proposals to cut politicians’ salaries, recover looted money and create a national anti-corruption commission. They’ve been unmoved by the ditching of a plan to tax phone calls over the internet and by the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. They demand, instead, a complete rout of the country’s ruling class. Some want a redrawing of the entire political system that would eliminate the religion-based framework they blame for empowering inept leaders who serve themselves and perhaps their coreligionists rather than the country.

1. What is Lebanon’s political system?

Lebanon officially recognizes 18 religious groups or “confessions” — 12 Christian sects, 4 Muslim sects, the Druze sect and Judaism. A combination of traditions and laws dating back to French rule after World War I divide political power among them. High-level government offices, legislative seats and public-service jobs are divided equally among Christians and Muslims. By convention, Lebanon has a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shiite Muslim speaker of parliament. The religious groups have autonomy over the personal matters of their members, such as family law, marriage and divorce.