The Monk Who Saves Manuscripts From ISIS

lead_960Rescuing the world’s most precious antiquities from destruction is a painstaking project—and a Benedictine monk may seem like an unlikely person to lead the charge. But Father Columba Stewart is determined. Soft-spoken, dressed in flowing black robes, this 59-year-old American has spent the past 13 years roaming from the Balkans to the Middle East in an effort to save Christian and Islamic manuscripts threatened by wars, theft, weather—and, lately, the Islamic State.

“Given what’s happened in the last years since the rise of ISIS, it’s very clear that things are really endangered,” Stewart said. “It’s imperative to make sure that these manuscripts are safe, because we don’t know what will happen to them.”

As ISIS militants have destroyed countless artifacts, Stewart has attempted to counter them by working with Christian and Muslim communities in hotspots such as Iraq and Syria. He has trained local teams to photograph centuries-old books with the help of the non-profit organization he directs, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML). Based out of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, HMML is dedicated to preserving endangered manuscripts on microfilm and in digital format. So far, it has managed to photograph more than 140,000 complete manuscripts, for a total of more than 50,000,000 handwritten pages, according to the organization’s website.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

All of Islam Isn’t the Enemy

09thu2web-master675.jpgIs President Trump trying to make enemies of the entire Muslim world? That could well happen if he follows up his primitive ban on refugees and visa holders from seven Muslim nations with an order designating the Muslim Brotherhood — perhaps the most influential Islamist group in the Middle East — as a terrorist organization.

Such an order, now under consideration, would be seen by many Muslims as another attempt to vilify adherents of Islam. It appears to be part of a mission by the president and his closest advisers to heighten fears by promoting a dangerously exaggerated vision of an America under siege by what they call radical Islam.

The struggle against extremism is complex, and solutions must be tailored both to the facts and to an understanding of the likely consequences. Since 1997, the secretary of state has had the power to designate groups as foreign terrorist organizations, thus subjecting them, as well as people and businesses who deal with them, to sanctions, like freezing their assets. President Barack Obama resisted adding the Brotherhood to that list.

There are good reasons that the Brotherhood, with millions of members, doesn’t merit the terrorist designation. Rather than a single organization, it is a collection of groups and movements that can vary widely from country to country. While the Brotherhood calls for a society governed by Islamic law, it renounced violence decades ago, has supported elections and has become a political and social organization. Its branches often have tenuous connections to the original movement founded in Egypt in 1928.

Under State Department guidelines, the “terrorist” designation is intended to punish groups that carry out terrorist attacks. There’s no question that some such groups have grown out of the Muslim Brotherhood, like Hamas, the adversary of Israel, which the United States named a terrorist organization in 1997. Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has worked to crush the Brotherhood in his country since he overthrew his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, a former Brotherhood leader, in 2013. But there is no evidence that senior Brotherhood leaders ordered any violence or carried out any of the recent major terrorist attacks in Egypt, according to the analysts Michele Dunne and Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

What Trump team has said about Islam

_93930248_gettyimages-633723940Does Donald Trump believe Islam is a religion?

It was a straightforward question, asked of Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president, during a radio interview last week. His answer was anything but straightforward, however.

“It’s not a discussion about Islam as a religion or not a religion,” he replied. “It’s about radical Islamic terrorism. We are prepared to be honest about the threat. We’re not going to white it out, delete it as the Obama administration did.”

But is it a religion?

“I think you should ask him that question,” Gorka continued. “But I would say that’s really a misreading of everything he’s said over the last 18 months.”

A closer look at Mr Trump’s comments over the last year and a half only complicates the matter, however – as do the views of the advisers closest to the new president.

Mr Trump has repeatedly warned of the dangers of “radical Islamic terrorism” – a line viewed as a direct rebuke of Barack Obama, who while president had pointedly refused to use the term.

He slammed Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton for being “founders” of the so-called Islamic State. He publicly feuded with the parents of a Muslim US soldier killed in Iraq. He has, at times, advocated a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US and instituted a “watch list” for those already in the US.

These policies and actions, critics say, reveal an anti-Islamic animus that lies at the heart of Mr Trump’s politics.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BBC NEWS SERVICE 

Preaching hatred of Islam does not help Christians

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Last week, a coalition of mostly far-right Christian organisations hosted a conference in Washington that claimed to be defending persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Given the very real threat facing vulnerable ancient religious communities at the hands of barbarous groups such as ISIL, one might be inclined to commend the organisers. However, an examination of the groups involved and the list of invited speakers shows that the conference’s purposes appear to be dangerously provocative.

Among the featured speakers are a handful of notorious Islamophobes and a strange collection of individuals who claim to have been “radical Muslims” of one stripe or another, all of whom say they have now converted to Christianity and have come forward to tell their conversion stories.

One of the listed headliners was Frank Gaffney who heads an organisation that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identifies as an “anti-Muslim hate group”. Mr Gaffney is one of the main propagators of the notion that president Barack Obama “may be a Muslim” and that a Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, is a secret operative of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Another speaker representing an SPLC-listed hate group is retired general William Boykin, a Bush-era Pentagon official who gained notoriety when it was revealed that he had repeatedly compared the Iraq war to the Crusades, boasting that the US/Christian side was bound to win because “our God is bigger than theirs”. Gen Boykin has also said that “Islam is evil” and should not be protected by the First Amendment.

Among the others scheduled to address the event were a number of evangelical preachers, Donald Trump supporters, and Christian missionaries devoted to converting Muslims.

The organisers invited some converts to share their stories. One of them, Tass Saada, claims to have been a PLO sniper until he saw the light and converted to Christianity. He founded the Hope for Ishmael group to encourage other Muslims to convert. Another speaker, Daniel Shayesteh, is an Iranian American who claims to have been an Islamic extremist at the age of 9. He became a Christian and founded the group Exodus from Darkness.

It was especially troubling that a number of conservative Republican Members of Congress and State Department officials were scheduled.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL 

Whose extremism? Using the phrase ‘Islamic extremism’ — or not.

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Donald Trump is very clear on the subject: If President Barack Obama doesn’t use the words “radical Islamic terrorism” to discuss the brutal killings in Orlando, “he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

Most Republicans seem to agree that it’s essential to link Islam to the tactics and goals of extremists and terrorists. Nebraska’s Republican Sen. Benjamin Sasse (no fan of Trump) to Obama: “You’re wrong. Telling the truth about violent Islam is a prerequisite to a strategy.” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted that Obama “shows a total disconnect from the problems we face in confronting/defeating radical Islam.” GOP strategist Ed Rogers wrote that the president’s refusal to refer to “radical Islam” was “a remarkable display of arrogance and tone-deaf rhetoric.”

Hillary Clinton has decided to do an end run around the issue. “Radical jihadist, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point.” For her, the challenge is to go after the perpetrators of hateful crimes without tarring an entire religion — or being distracted by a rhetorical sideshow.

Let’s say Trump and his allies are right — that it’s important to label the religious underpinnings of those who seek to kill innocents; that when a killer calls on religion to justify his actions, let’s identify that religion for all to see.

But can we really stop with Islam?

Take Robert Dear, the deranged man who in November took a semiautomatic rifle into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. He killed three and wounded nine. His motivation? To be “a warrior for the babies.”

Dear is not just an extremist: He is a “Christian extremist.” He called his anti-abortion activism “God’s work.” He dreamed that “(w)hen he died and went to heaven, he would be met by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him …” He sprinkled his confession to the police with Bible phrases.

To understand Dear, don’t we have to understand the Christian teachings this Christian extremist believed he was upholding?

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

Who is the ‘we’ in ‘the God we serve’? Yale scholar takes up Christian-Muslim question

275168-Miroslav-VolfMiroslav Volf, founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, is visiting Oklahoma City as guest lecturer for the McGaw Lectures at Oklahoma  Christian University.

OC leaders said the Yale scholar’s presentation tonight, April 12, is free but people were required to request tickets for admittance and all of the tickets have been distributed.

Obviously, there’s widespread interest in Volf’s lecture, likely because his presentation is to be based on his 2011 book “Allah: A Christian Response.” In it, Volf, Yale’s Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology, addresses the question “Do Christians and Muslims believe in the same God?”

Volf took some time today to answer a few questions on this thought-provoking topic:

Q: Why did you decide to write your book “Allah: A Christian Response”?

A: The occasion for writing the book was a conference we had organized around the question of what binds Muslims and Christians together, if anything binds them together. That conference itself was the result of a very famous letter that 138 Muslim scholars had written addressed primarily to Pope Benedict XVI, but to all the Christians, called “A Common Word.” In this text, they claimed that what binds Muslims and Christians together is a command to love God and to love one’s neighbor. That was kind of a revolutionary document. I was an author of a Christian response with an equal number or even greater number of signatories from the Christian side. A result of that was that I started asking myself, OK, so let’s assume that that’s true, that what binds Muslims and Christians together, and Jews too, is love  of God, love of neighbor –- do we mean the same thing by “love”? Do we mean the same thing by “neighbor”? Who is my neighbor is the famous question from the New Testament. Then finally, do we mean the same thing by “God”? So when I have examined these three questions that I asked myself, I thought … where are some ways the One whom we worship can be said to be the same? That then became the question that I sought to explore — in a sense, to help first clarify what is the truth of the matter from a Christian standpoint and then help in mutual understanding among Muslims and Christians.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWSOK

Why Everyone Should Study Islam – A Christian College Student’s Advice for all Americans

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Editor’s NoteSimran Jeet Singh is an Assisant Professor in the Department of Religion at Trinity University.  This essay was written by his student as a part of a class assignment on why people should study Islam.  

My name is Bethany, and I am a collegiate athlete, sorority girl, and dog lover hailing from a Christian family in Bethesda, Maryland. This summer while driving to a morning swim practice I made the mistake we all make once in our driving career. While searching for a power bar in my bag, I let off the brake without noticing and rolled into the bumper of the jeep Cherokee in front of me.

I pulled over to the shoulder, grabbed my water bottle and went out to give my sincere apologies to the other driver for the unexpected “love tap.” What greeted me on the other side of my door however, was the opposite of love. I walked straight into a torrent of Arabic and Muslim phrases being thrown at me faster than I could even react. I was confused and speechless.

I was not a part of the Islamic faith in any sense, and who was this person antagonizing me for it? I could not look this driver in the face, and my eyes wandered to the water bottle in my hand with my name gracefully stretching across its width in large Arabic letters.

My big sister in my sorority had made it for me after finishing her Arabic class last semester. It was then that I put two and two together.

It was a big misunderstanding. The driver had seen the Arabic and automatically jumped to conclusions. Confusion quickly turned to anger, and I turned my back, got in my car and pulled back into traffic. I cried the rest of the drive to practice, not out of sadness or anger, but out of disappointment.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS BLOG