Challenging the notion that religion fosters violence

file-20171024-30587-rfjuhcIs religion violent?

It’s a common question that arises when discussing religion, politics and world crises, particularly apparent terrorist attacks of the type that played out in New York City on Tuesday.

Islam in particular is branded as a violent faith, but others argue Christianity deserves the same assessment.

But behind the question is a whole host of problems, and so it isn’t surprising some scholars suggest that classifying any religion as violent is problematic and unreliable.

As a scholar of religion, I also question whether calling oneself “religious” really says anything meaningful about one’s identity. Given the diversity of religious groups, the term “religion” is not only extremely general, but it has a long history.

Learning about the origins of the word can help us understand better the myriad social groups that come together around shared histories, texts, traditions and experiences.

According to the scholarly work of theologian Daniel Boyarin and historian Carlin Barton, in ancient Rome the term “religion” was not at all separate from everyday experiences such as “eating, sleeping, defecating, having sexual intercourse, making revolts and wars, cursing, blessing, exalting, degrading, judging, punishing, buying, selling, raiding, revolting, building bridges, collecting rents and taxes.”

Religion alone does not explain violence

Today, the term “religion” gets separated from political, social, economic and cultural life. And so if we’re pondering whether religion is inherently violent, then we’re probably interested in why an individual or group acts violently. So is religion really something we can compartmentalize and blame for the violent actions of individuals or groups?

Not at all, argues William Cavanaugh in his 2009 book The Myth of Religious Violence. While society often makes clear distinctions between religion and secularity, Cavanaugh argues religion is a poor category to use when trying to understand why individuals or groups act violently.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CONVERSATION

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The Islamic World Doesn’t Need a Reformation

lead_960Various Western intellectuals, ranging from Thomas Friedman to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, have argued over the past decades that Muslims need their own Martin Luther to save themselves from intolerance and dogmatism. The Protestant Reformation that Luther triggered exactly 500 years ago, these intellectuals suggest, can serve as a model for a potential Muslim Reformation. But is there such a connection between the Reformation in Christendom and the “reform” that is arguably needed in Islam?

To start with, it’s worth recalling that Islam, in the form of the Ottoman Empire, helped Protestantism succeed and survive. In the 16th century, much of Europe was dominated by the Holy Roman Empire, which had ample means to crush the Protestant heretics. But the same Catholic empire was also constantly threatened and kept busy by “the Turks” whose own empire-building inadvertently helped the Protestants. “The Turk was the lightning rod that drew off the tempest,” noted J. A. Wylie in his classic, History of Protestantism. “Thus did Christ cover His little flock with the shield of the Moslem.”

More importantly, some early Protestants, desperately seeking religious freedom for themselves, found inspiration for that in the Ottoman Empire, which was then more tolerant to religious plurality than were most Catholic kingdoms. Jean Bodin, himself a Catholic but a critical one, openly admired this fact. “The great empereour of the Turks,” the political philosopher wrote in the 1580s, “detesteth not the straunge religion of others; but to the contrarie permitteth every man to live according to his conscience.” That is why Luther himself had written about Protestants who “want the Turk to come and rule because they think our German people are wild and uncivilized.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

Mantra at new mosque in Metro Detroit: ‘Islam for all’

DEARBORN

Dearborn Heights — Inside a former church on Ford Road is a room that soon will be filled with high-tech equipment to broadcast the message of Islam to the world.

The room will be stocked with computers, video cameras and other media equipment to produce online sermons, radio programs and a comprehensive website aimed at reaching Muslims here and around the English-speaking Islamic world.

The project is part of the Islamic Institute of America, a new mosque in Dearborn Heights led by Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini — one of Metro Detroit’s most prominent Muslim leaders. Hundreds of people attended the first Friday prayers at the mosque last week.

B99517316Z.1_20170411212322_000_G3A1EG0BI.1-0Al-Qazwini, 52, led the region’s most prominent mosque, the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, until resigning nearly two years ago amid controversy. Now he has ambitious plans for a new community.

Among them: monthly interfaith seminars for non-Muslims, a social work outreach to those suffering from problems such as drug addiction and domestic violence, a youth speakers bureau to fulfill growing community requests, a Middle Eastern gift shop and numerous educational programs for youth as well as an arcade in the basement for kids.

 Also envisioned by Al-Qazwini is the nation’s first seminary to train Shia imams — so American-born Muslims don’t have to leave the U.S. and spend years in the Middle East, like Al-Qazwini did and where his two sons are studying to be Islamic spiritual leaders.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DETROIT NEWS 

A God by Any Other Name: Evangelicals and Allah, Part II

islam-christianity

Profiles with Christian and Islamic symbols

Part II: Medieval &  Reformation Responses to Islam 

Early Christian Responses to the Advent of Islam

            When the armies fueled by Islamic expansionism swept out of the Arabian peninsula into the Eastern realms of the Christian Empire in the middle of the seventh century C.E. Christians in general (even the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox who in some cases welcomed the Arab armies as liberators from a century of deprivations visited on them by the Chalcedonians) reacted with what can best be described as incredulity.  Seventh century Christendom operated with a near monolithic mindset that assumed the triumph of the Christian faith. Islam came in this case as an invasion not only of armies, but ideology, offering an alternative religious vision that Christians found difficult to categorize, particularly those Christians in the western reaches of the Empire who were not in the path of the conquering armies. R.W. Southern labels this initial response of Western Christians to the rise of Islam an “ignorance of confined space.”

This is the kind of ignorance of a man in prison who hears rumors of outside events and attempts to give shape to what he hears, with the help of his preconceived ideas.  Western writers before 1100 were in this situation with regard to Islam.  They knew virtually nothing about Islam as a religion. For them, Islam was only one of a large number of enemies threatening Christendom from every direction, and they had no interest in distinguishing the primitive idolatries of Northmen, Slaves, and Magyars from the monotheism of Islam, or the Manichaean heresy from that of Mahomet.[1]

This remained the situation through much of the early part of the Middle Ages which gave Western Christians a creative license to indulge their fantasies about a religion and culture about which they knew next to nothing.  This was not the case in the East where Christians experienced Islam not only as the faith of an invading army, but within a relatively short span of time the dominant faith of an Empire that would subvert the Christendom paradigm and relegate its Christian residents to dhimmi status.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ECCLESIO.COM

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