What I learned teaching Islamic studies in Texas

d27oiqyirvfdvb72fmjlmjunda(RNS) — As far as I know, I was the first Sikh hired to teach Islamic studies at an American university. I loved every minute of it, especially because my employer, Trinity University, was located in my beloved hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

My first real job also shed new light for me on what it’s like to be an underrepresented minority in this country. Most Americans, in short, don’t know who Sikhs are. Typically they presume we are Muslims, mostly as a result of Islam being racialized in the past few decades: It’s not just a faith, it’s also a look, and the resulting stereotypes square with the appearance of many Sikh men — brown skin, turban, beard. That’s me.

Of course I had long since learned what “looking Muslim” meant in post-9/11 America. I knew firsthand the violence that came with misguided understandings of Islam, and as a Sikh especially, I felt compelled to do something about it. It’s precisely what sent me down the path of studying religious communities and addressing the racism they experience. I decided to make allyship with Muslims and those affected by anti-Muslim hate a centerpiece of my life.

Because my path seemed so obvious to me, I never considered my field of study to be odd. Only when I began interviewing for jobs did I realize that some might find it strange for a Sikh to teach Islam. “How can you teach a religion you don’t even practice?” people would ask, including the president of a university during a job interview.

I wanted to point out to the president that the scholars in his own religion department, like most of the religion scholars I knew, did not practice the faiths they taught. It’s considered normal for white scholars to be interested in traditions other than their own. I didn’t alert him to his bias — I wanted the job, after all. But ever since I’ve wished I could have asked why it was problematic for me to express the same interest — because I’m a person of color? Because I identify as a religious minority?

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

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Illuminating Islam’s Peaceful Origins

 

GOD IN THE QUR’AN

By Jack Miles
241 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.

MUHAMMAD
Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires
By Juan Cole
326 pp. Nation Books. $28.

Is Allah, the God of Muslims, a different deity from the one worshiped by Jews and Christians? Is he even perhaps a strange “moon god,” a relic from Arab paganism, as some anti-Islamic polemicists have argued?

What about Allah’s apostle, Muhammad? Was he a militant prophet who imposed his new religion by the sword, leaving a bellicose legacy that still drives today’s Muslim terrorists?

Two new books may help answer such questions, and also give a deeper understanding of Islam’s theology and history.

Jack Miles, a professor of religion at the University of California and the author of the Pulitzer-winning book “God: A Biography,” has written “God in the Qur’an.” It is a highly readable, unbiasedly comparative and elegantly insightful study of the Quran, in which he sets out to show that the three great monotheistic religions do indeed believe in the same deity — although they have “different emphases” when it comes to this God, which accounts for their divergent theologies.

To begin with, one should not doubt that Allah is Yahweh, the God of the Bible, because that is what he himself says. The Quran’s “divine speaker,” Miles writes, “does identify himself as the God whom Jews and Christians worship and the author of their Scriptures.” That is also why Allah reiterates, often with much less detail, many of the same stories we read in the Bible about Yahweh and his interventions in human history. The little nuances between these stories, however, are distinctions with major implications.

FULL REVIEW FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Retired soldier educating South about Islam

1FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — When Jason Criss Howk’s Army career came to an end in 2015, he thought he’d spend his days teaching and fishing.

But a wake-up call at a Pinehurst library changed those plans. And while Howk does teach, he’s found a new mission, too: Explaining the Middle East, Islam and Muslim culture to a population that has little experience, but strong opinions on those topics.

At times, it has been a combative undertaking.

Howk has spoken at small rural churches across the Southeast and has, on occasion, had to be escorted to his car by church leaders at the end of the night.

But that hasn’t stopped his one-man mission to better educate America and, in the process, help promote tolerance.

His efforts have expanded since he retired. In 2017, he published “The Quran: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation” through Old Stone Press. The book is intended for audiences that have little familiarity with Islam, the Quran or Muslim culture.

And earlier this year, he launched a podcast called “We’re Just Talking About It.”

Howk’s interest in Islam is tied to his experiences as a soldier.

He served as an enlisted paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1990s and returned as an officer a decade later.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARMY TIMES 

PATEL: Don’t use Islam as excuse to carry out horrors of female genital mutilation

fgm-e1543089779659Earlier this week, a federal judge in the United States dismissed charges against two doctors and six others involved in the genital mutilation of nine girls at a suburban Detroit clinic.

While many are disappointed the case had to be dropped because of state-federal complications, what outraged me the most was that the accused in this case claimed female genital mutilation (FGM) was a ‘religious’ act and that it should, therefore, be above the law.

As a young Muslim woman, I am tired of hearing about medieval and regressive social behaviour that supposedly has some kind of religious justification; especially when it concerns my faith of Islam.

Muslim women like me are caught between Islamophobes who condemn Islam and every Muslim for anything that moves – and our own medieval zealots who use Islam to justify practices like FGM, forced marriages and domestic violence.

It should be clear to all that FGM has absolutely no basis in any of the Abrahamic religions – and there is no mention of it in the Quran. In fact, we find quite the opposite: That the Quran strongly condemns ‘mutilating the fair creation of God’ as being something inspired by the Devil himself.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE TORONTO SUN 

True Islam Does Not Kill Blasphemers

21AKYOL-2-superJumboThe agony of Asia Bibi, a 54-year-old Roman Catholic and mother of five, shows there is something rotten in her country, Pakistan — and in the broader world of Islam.

She was arrested for blasphemy in 2009 after Muslim co-workers on a destitute farm denounced her for merely drinking from the same cup and, during the subsequent quarrel, for “insulting Prophet Muhammad” — a charge Ms. Bibi always denied. Yet she was convicted in 2010 and spent the next eight years in solitary confinement, on death row.

Luckily, Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month saved her from execution, clearing her of the charges and also setting her free. But Pakistan’s militant Islamists, especially those in the notorious Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party, which is obsessed with punishing blasphemers, were enraged. They forced the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to accept a court petition to reverse the case and bar Ms. Bibi from leaving the country. She and her family, fearing vigilante violence, went into hiding.

I am hoping that the traumatized family will be able to leave Pakistan safely, to find asylum in some free nation. As a Muslim, I feel ashamed of the cruelty they have suffered at the hands of people who act in the name of my faith.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Islam is religion of holistic vision, not cherry-picking to suit political agenda — Jordanian King

‘Greater jihad’ is personal, internal struggle to defeat ego, share a world of peace, harmony, love — King

AMMAN — His Majesty King Abdullah said that Islam is a religion of holistic vision, “not news_HM-king-Templeton-Prize-(8)the cherry-picking of verses to suit a political agenda”, stressing that all 1.8 billion Muslims around the world are working to defend Islam against the “malignant sub-minority who abuse our religion”.

In his speech at a ceremony in Washington, DC, as he accepted the 2018 Templeton Prize on Wednesday, His Majesty underlined Jordan’s historic privilege as the land of prophets and its role in maintaining and defending their message of peace and goodness, according to a Royal Court statement.

His Majesty said that he accepts the award on behalf of all Jordanians, because all he is being honoured for “simply carries onward what Jordanians have always done”, and that is to live in mutual kindness, harmony and brotherhood.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE JORDAN TIMES 

Conservative Christians: Think Twice Before Claiming ‘Islam Is Not a Religion’

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The assertion that “Islam isn’t a religion” should be a cause for concern among conservative Christians as it can so easily and destructively be turned on Christian minorities in other parts of the world.

In her recent New York Times opinion piece, Asma T. Uddin rightly criticizes the “disturbing trend … [of] state lawmakers, lawyers, and influential social commentators,” like Oklahoma Republican state Rep. John Bennett, who claim that Muslims in the United States don’t deserve religious freedoms granted to adherents of other religions because “Islam is not even a religion; it is a political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest.”

The claim has been floating around for several years, but it’s nonsensical for a host of reasons. No reasonable observer would contend that Muslims are the only religious people who try to advance their interests through concerted and coordinated political action, as should be clear from the Moral Majority, the Christian pro-life movement, and the opposition of many conservative Christians to the Johnson Amendment. The fact that the most obvious examples in the United States derive from conservative Christianity is only because conservative Christians have been more intentional, vocal, strategic, and successful in their religious politicking. However, it’s clear enough that liberal forms of Christianity also espouse their own brands of politics.

The obvious national and international political aspirations of Western Christians make their criticisms of the entanglement of Islam and politics particularly bewildering. Such criticisms, therefore, could only emanate either from a stunning lack of self-consciousness or a quite conscious, knowing, and cynically self-serving denial of the nature of things.

FULL ARTICLE FROM REWIRE NEWS