Islam’s anti-racist message from the 7th century still resonates today

One day, in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad dropped a bombshell on his followers: He told them that all people are created equal.

“All humans are descended from Adam and Eve,” said Muhammad in his last known public speech. “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”

In this sermon, known as the Farewell Address, Muhammad outlined the basic religious and ethical ideals of Islam, the religion he began preaching in the early seventh century. Racial equality was one of them. Muhammad’s words jolted a society divided by notions of tribal and ethnic superiority.

Today, with racial tension and violence roiling contemporary America, his message is seen to create a special moral and ethical mandate for American Muslims to support the country’s anti-racism protest movement.

Challenging kinship

Apart from monotheism – worshipping just one God – belief in the equality of all human beings in the eyes of God set early Muslims apart from many of their fellow Arabs in Mecca.

Chapter 49, verse 13 of Islam’s sacred scripture, the Quran, declares: “O humankind! We have made you…into nations and tribes, so that you may get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is the one who is most righteous.”

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This verse challenged many of the values of pre-Islamic Arab society, where inequalities based on tribal membership, kinship and wealth were a fact of life. Kinship or lineal descent – “nasab” in Arabic – was the primary determinant of an individual’s social status. Members of larger, more prominent tribes like the aristocratic Quraysh were powerful. Those from less wealthy tribes like the Khazraj had lower standing.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CONVERSATION

From Islam to Buddhism, faiths have long encouraged stewardship of nature

In most major religions there is scripture encouraging the protection and care of nature.  From Buddhism to Christianity, Hinduism to Islam, faiths recognize the need for environmental stewardship and urge followers to be caretakers of the planet and its biodiversity.

Spiritual leaders play an important role in sharing religious practices and passages so that followers can live a more sustainable lifestyle respecting the 8 million species we share our planet with.

That message was echoed by World Environment Day 2020, which fell on 5 June. The celebration cast a spotlight on the services nature provides us—from food to medicine—and highlighted that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, life on earth would not be possible without nature’s bounty.

Here are how seven faiths remind us how we are connected to nature.

The Baha’i writings are replete with statements on the importance of the harmony between human life and the natural world. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings are imbued with a deep respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, seeing especially in nature a reflection of the divine:

Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity, there are signs for men of discernment.

Buddhism inspires ecological mindfulness to address the loss of biodiversity. It seeks wisdom through adherence to the Five Precepts, the pursuit of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the understanding of karma. Buddhists find themselves in harmony with nature by acknowledging the interdependence of all forms of life.

At the core of Brahma Kumaris’ work is the understanding of the connection between our consciousness, thoughts and actions, and their impact on the world. It is seen that long-lasting change in any social or environmental system starts with a profound shift in the minds and hearts of people. The current loss of biodiversity is therefore a clear call to transform our awareness and lifestyle, and start caring for all living forms on the planet.

“Our capacity to change ecosystems is proportional to our capacity to change our own consciousness” – Brahma Kumaris

For Christians, biodiversity conservation is a role that is at the heart of their daily lives. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, Christians are called to experience the world as a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise, as St. Francis does in the words of the Canticle of Creation:

“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM UNENVIRONMENT.ORG

Must Islam and the West Fight? Religion and Politics Class Tackles Sensitive Topics

Course pairs students with religious groups to expand their learning

The two things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company are religion and politics. And that’s what this class is about.”—Timothy Longman

The titular twin taboos in Timothy Longman’s Religion and Politics class certainly coaxed language heated enough to upend a genteel dinner party during a recent Zoomed session. Longman, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of political science, lectured about the Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, an influential article and 1996 book by the late Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington, who posited an irreconcilable cultural battle between supposedly rational Western democracies on one hand, and Islam, with its inherent “violent propensity,” on the other. 

Lillian Ilsley-Greene (CAS’20) succinctly sums up her peers’ reaction: “God, this is like bonkers racist.”

Huntington published his book 20 years before the election of a president who imposed a controversial travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations. Ilsley-Greene found it “terrifying,” she says, that Huntington’s thesis echoes today from advocates who don’t realize the effects of their words on the non-Western world. 

Steven Rubin (CAS’22) scoffs at Huntington’s division of the world into eight major civilizations as simplistic, lumping together what Rubin called a ginormous sprawl of Muslim nations with disparate cultures. “How many times will Westerners take a map of the world and try to draw lines all over it?” he asks.

FULL ARTICLE FROM BOSTON UNIVERSITY BLOG

Mahershala Ali and Ramy Youssef On Why Islam Is the Key to Acting

By Ramy Youssef

On the new season of Ramy, Mahershala Ali stars as the wise and charismatic Sheik Ali to a lost and confused Ramy Hassan, played by show creator Ramy Youssef. In an excerpt from A24’s quarterly zine, Youssef interviews his co-star about his relationship to Islam, refusing to do sex scenes, and how prayer factors into his acting.

Ramy Youssef: We’ve talked before about the spiritual struggles you had early on in your career over doing certain things you didn’t think you should do onscreen. How’d you come to terms with that?
Mahershala Ali: If you look at Judaism, Islam, maybe some versions of Buddhism, the Sikhs — any time anyone is hard-core practicing those faiths correctly, it feels like anything outside the faith is haram. But as you move further along, as you embrace the faith, get more comfortable in it and understand how you identify as a Muslim, you’re always examining your relationship to anything secular, anything outside of your actual faith. If you grow up Muslim, you probably have more of a natural barometer for what “slacking off” means for you — that middle ground where you’re okay not following something to the tee. Embracing the tenets of Islam that say you will be held accountable for all your actions, that you will be credited for all your positive actions, and you will essentially be called out on all the things you knowingly did wrong and all that, you begin to examine your work — entertainment, storytelling — and anything outside of your faith. And you have to strive to bring that into alignment with not just your religion, but with how your religion informs the way you see the world and what is okay and what is not okay, so that you can have peace.

FULL ARTICLE FROM VULTURE.COM

A global look inside a Ramadan dampened by coronavirus

From Chicago to the West Bank, the coronavirus has closed mosques and altered traditions for Muslims during Islam’s holy month.

covid-ramadan_01.adapt.1900.1Every year during Ramadan, Tarik Haque, a Bangladeshi army veteran who lives in Chicago, looks forward to breaking his fast at the end of the day alongside hundreds of others. He cherishes the traditions: After sunset, people standing shoulder to shoulder behind the imam for the fourth prayer of the day, known as maghrib. The mosque filling with the smell of crispy piajus (fried lentils and cilantro), fruit chat (a South Asian fruit salad), and rooh afza (an herbal drink mixed with water or milk).

The ninth and holiest month on the Muslim calendar, Ramadan is believed to be when God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, the central figure of Islam, the world’s second largest religion. In the U.S., 80 percent of Muslims say they fast from before dawn to dusk for the month, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s nearly double the number who say they pray five times a day or attend mosque every week during the rest of the year.

FULL ARTICLE WITH STUNNING PICTURES FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC 

Muslims Around The World Face A Different Kind Of Ramadan

ramadan 2As the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims begin observing the holy month of Ramadan, traditionally a time of dawn-to-dusk fasting, festivities and communal prayer, an unprecedented global pandemic is changing the celebration this year in equally unprecedented ways.

Mosques usually brimming with the faithful during Ramadan are closed, including in Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam. The kingdom has some 14,000 confirmed cases, with more than 120 deaths from COVID-19, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Ramadan, the month that Muslims believe God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, officially begins at the first sighting of the waxing crescent after the new moon, leading to different countries declaring its start a day or two apart.

In Saudi Arabia, the start of the holy month began Friday. In Egypt, it began Thursday. And in Iran, Ramadan begins Saturday.

In a statement, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud lamented the necessity to maintain social distancing to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus and the damper it would place on this year’s celebrations.

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FULL ARTICLE FROM NPR 

The Apocalypse as an ‘Unveiling’: What Religion Teaches Us About the End Times

For people of many faiths, and even none at all, it can feel lately like the end of the world is near.

00VIRUS-APOCALYPSE-palehorse-superJumboShamain Webster, who lives in the suburbs outside of Dallas, has seen the signs of a coming apocalypse for a while now, just as the Bible foretold.

Kingdom would rise against kingdom, Jesus taught his disciples in the Book of Luke. Ms. Webster sees widespread political division in this country. There will be fearful events, and great signs from heaven, he said. She sees biblical values slipping away. A government not acting in the people’s best interest. And now this — a pandemic.

But Ms. Webster, 42 and an evangelical Christian, is unafraid. She has been listening online to one of her favorite preachers, who has called the coronavirus pandemic a “divine reset.”

“These kinds of moments really get you to re-evaluate everything,” she said. As everyone goes through a period of isolation, she added, God is using it for good, “to teach us and train us on how to live life better.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

 

How coronavirus challenges Muslims’ faith and changes their lives

5e5fc86cfee23d229f525014As the world faces the greatest disruption of our lifetimes, Muslims throughout the world are also grappling with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Islamic cultural, spiritual and theological dimensions offer Muslims myriad ways of coping.

Adapting to new social norms

Muslims have relatively large families and tend to maintain extended family relations. Prophet Muhammad encouraged Muslims to keep strong family ties. The Quran inspires Muslims to be generous to kin (16:90) and treat the elderly with compassion (17:23).

These teachings have resulted in Muslims either living together as large families or keeping regular weekly visits and gatherings of extended family members. Many Muslims feel conflicted about the need to apply social distancing on one hand and the need to be close to family and relatives for comfort and support. Tighter restrictions on movement in some parts of Australia (NSW and Victoria) mean Muslims, like everyone else, are not allowed to visit extended family anymore.


Read more: What actually are ‘essential services’ and who decides?


One of the first changes brought about by social distancing has been to the Muslim custom of shaking hands followed by hugging (same gender) friends and acquaintances, especially in mosques and Muslim organisations. After a week or two of hesitation in March, the hugging completely stopped, making Muslims feel dismal.

Visiting the sick is considered a good deed in Islam. However, in the case of COVID-19, such visits are not possible. Checking up on those who are sick with phone calls, messages and social media is still possible and encouraged.

Cleanliness is half of faith

One aspect of coronavirus prevention that comes very naturally to Muslims is personal hygiene. Health organisations and experts promote personal hygiene to limit the spread of coronavirus, especially washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.

Islam has been encouraging personal hygiene for centuries. The Quran instructs Muslims to keep their clothes clean in one of the earliest revelations (74:4), remarking “God loves those who are clean” (2:222).

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CONVERSATION 

 

Islam Is Plural Those expecting Muslims to denounce China’s oppression of Uighurs presume that all Muslims believe the same things.

Guy Sorman
Winter 2020 
The Social Order

china muslims

Muslims are experiencing persecution and cultural genocide in China and being wiped out in Yemen; yet the Muslim world is largely silent. Why? Probably because, despite claims to the contrary, there is no single “Islam.”

Before 9/11, the term “Islam” was rarely used in the West. Instead, we spoke of Muslims in their diversity, or we designated Muslims by their culture of origin: Moroccan, Pakistani, Mauritanian, or Bengali. In the early 1950s, when I was growing up in a Paris suburb where half the population came from North Africa, we called these migrants “Arabs” because this is how they described themselves—by their language, ethnicity, and culture, not by their religion. The fact that all Muslims are now grouped together under a single term is, in fact, Osama bin Laden’s greatest victory. It is he who convinced Westerners—but not Muslims—that he was making war on the Christian and Zionist West in the name of Islam and that all his fighters and associates should be considered Islamists.

Al-Qaida’s accomplices and successors insist on the unity of Islam and have tried to create, as in the time of Muhammad and his followers, a caliphate that commands the temporal and spiritual allegiance of all adherents. So far, they have failed. As the Algerian sociologist Mohammed Arkoun explains, a unitary Islam does not exist; there are only Muslims. Each individual Muslim enters into direct relation with God by the intermediary of the Koran. Islam, says Arkoun, is thus what Muslims make of it.

Naturally, every Muslim practices his or her religion within the cultural context in which he or she lives. This explains the striking diversity of Islam observed when one travels in Muslim countries—say, from Morocco to Indonesia. Some venerate local saints, while others do not; some are organized into a community around a religious leader, while others are more individualist. The diversity of the Muslim world goes well beyond the distinction between the two main branches, Sunnis and Shias. This reality largely explains the absence of solidarity among Muslims from one region to another, despite the Koranic imperative that Muslims are supposed to belong to a single community—the Ummah, which is like a body or family.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CITY JOURNAL 

 

Muslim Literature: The Pros, The Progress, And The Pitfalls

kimberly-farmer-lUaaKCUANVI-unsplash-2048x1362The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction, in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work.

Once upon a time, it was extremely difficult for English-speaking Muslims to find good books – fiction and non-fiction alike – that was catered to their demographic. Fiction, in particular, was scarce, for both young children as well as teens. Much of it was poorly written, filled with atrocious spelling and grammar, and stilted from beginning to end.

It was not an enjoyable reading experience.

Alhamdulillah, the Muslim literary scene has evolved significantly since the early 90s. Today, we have award-winning Muslim authors such as Na’ima B. Robert, whose excellent YA novels have been published through mainstream publishers and numerous emerging writers whose debut novels are wonderful contributions to the existing body of modern Muslim literature.

Muslim publishers such as Kube PublishingDaybreak Press, and Ruqaya’s Bookshelf are taking the lead in producing and distributing stories by and for Muslims. In addition, the publishing company Simon and Schuster launched an entire division dedicated to books by Muslim writers. Hena KhanS. K. AliKaruna Riazi, and Mark Gonzales are just some of the authors whose Muslim-centered stories have been published through Salaam Reads and made accessible to schools, libraries, and the general public. The We Need Diverse Books movement has also played a significant role in promoting multicultural and marginalized voices within mainstream publishing, and the results are wonderful.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MUSLIM MATTERS