Shariah’s Winding Path Into Modernity

14akyol-inyt-master768-v2In June, Americans in about two dozen cities joined a “March Against Sharia.” For these protesters, the Arabic term is a code word for the oppression of women and men in the name of God — horrors like stoning and beheading. Since such brutalities do indeed happen in the name of Shariah, they may have had a point. But there were also points that they missed.

In Arabic, “Shariah” literally means “the way.” More specifically, it refers to the body of Islamic rules that Muslims see as God’s will — based either on the Quran or on the Prophet Muhammad’s reported words and deeds. It is conceptually impossible, therefore, for a Muslim who is serious about his faith to condemn Shariah. But the implementation of Shariah, which is called “fiqh,” or jurisprudence, is open to interpretation and discussion.

Much of Shariah is about personal observance: A good Muslim should pray five times a day while turned toward Mecca, for example, or should fast daily throughout Ramadan. Of course, there is no problem with these acts of personal piety — unless they are coerced. They should be welcome in any society with religious liberty.

However, a part of Shariah is about public law, including the penal code. And there are clear conflicts here with modern standards of human rights. First, Shariah lays out corporal punishments, such as chopping off hands, stoning, flogging and beheading. The Islamic legal code also proscribes crimes like apostasy, blasphemy and extramarital sex — none of which can be a crime at all in any liberal society.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

The Shoe Is On the Other Foot: Pluralism and the Qur’an

lead_960The raging fires of the immigration debates in the U.S. illuminate what Muslim immigrants have known for a long time — America is not and really never has been a melting pot. The ugly rhetoric surrounding the plan for a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, and recent assaults such as those on the Bridgeport, CT mosque in my neighborhood, illustrate well the difficulties Muslims face on a regular basis. Nonetheless, Muslims have actually managed to survive quite well in the West and have even succeeded in persuading many American citizens of the right of Islam to exist as a legitimate partner in the complex balance of religious life in this country.

For many Muslims the shoe is now slipping onto the other foot. The issue is becoming not only whether they and their religion are accepted by other Americans, but whether Islam itself can find a way to live out the pluralism that many are persuaded is at the heart of the Qur’an’s message. Studies now show that while early generations of Muslims tried to honor that pluralism in relation to other religious groups, more exclusivist views came to prevail and communities such as Christians and Jews found themselves increasingly discriminated against by Islam. Exegetes turned from verses of the Qur’an that insist that God willed different religious communities rather than a single one, and emphasized those verses that affirm that the only true religion in the eyes of God is Islam.

Why It’s Not Wrong to Wish Muslims Merry Christmas

jesus-prophet-of-islamISTANBUL — Billions of Christians around the world are excited to celebrate Christmas this weekend. Those in the world’s second-largest religious community, Muslims, don’t share quite the same excitement. In a few Muslim-majority countries, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Somalia, Christmas celebrations are banned. In Turkey, my country, they are not illegal, but some Islamist groups still organize annual protests against Christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes, which they consider Western impositions.

Meanwhile, many other Muslims around the world are rightly respectful to their Christian neighbors and even share in their holy day. They include the owners of a Turkish restaurant in London that decided to offer a free Christmas meal to the homeless and the elderly, and a Muslim businessman in Baghdad who erected a Christmas tree in solidarity with Christians persecuted by the self-declared Islamic State.

These Christmas-friendly Muslims are right, but not simply because respect for other religions is a virtue. They are also right because Christmas is the celebration of the miraculous birth of Jesus, which is a powerful theme not just in the New Testament, but also in the Quran.

Two chapters of the Muslim holy book give detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus, which partly resemble the account in the Gospel of Luke.

Both chapters — one is named Maryam, or Mary — feature this admirable Jewish woman whom God has “purified” and “chosen above all other women.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

Friday essay: The Qur’an, the Bible and homosexuality in Islam

8npwdsxz-1466037951Neither the Bible nor the Qur’an (Koran) has a lot to say about homosexuality, and what they do say relates only indirectly to contemporary discussions about gay rights and same-sex marriage. Like pre-modern scholars of law and ethics, these books assume heteronormativity.

As a concept, homosexuality is relatively recent, even if there is plenty of evidence for homoerotic pleasure in the past – albeit illicit in religious terms.

Scriptures and later writers usually referred only to particular sexual acts and did not raise the issue of personal sexual orientation. For religious conservatives, though, both Muslim and Christian, the occasional derogatory reference to same-sex acts is enough to prove their inherent sinfulness in all circumstances.

More liberal interpreters point to broader ethical considerations such as compassion and empathy. They argue that the condemnations of scripture do not apply to committed relationships founded on love.

Such a perspective, however, is inevitably more common among believers concerned with human rights, influenced by gender theory, and trained in contextual and holistic methods of interpretation.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CONVERSATION 

Live Webinar: Understanding Islam with Safi Kaskas

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Join author Safi Kaskas ( The Qur’an:  A Contemporary Understanding) this coming Saturday (December 3) at 10:00 am Eastern Time (US) for a live webinar on Understanding Islam.

Many people are asking questions about Islam. Is Islam inherently violent? What does the Qur’an actually say? Does ISIS represent true Islam? Should we be fearful of Muslims?

These are a few of the topics I’ll be discussing this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern with Muslim author and speaker Safi Kaskas. You can join the conversation with comments or questions by clicking our AnyMeeting link here.

Safi is an American Muslim strategic management executive with a wealth of knowledge about Islam. As a co-founder of East-West University in Chicago, he’s a big proponent of education. Safi travels the globe to deliver talks about Islam in the modern world. He has spoken multiple times at the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast and serves on the board of the peacemaking organization Bridges to Common Ground.

Safi has translated the Qur’an twice. His first translation is called The Qur’an: A Contemporary Understanding. His second translation, written with a Christian friend, is called The Qur’an – with References to the Bible: A Contemporary Understanding. This is the first translation of the Qur’an that has references to the Bible. Interestingly, Safi found 3,000 biblical references in the Qur’an.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS.COM

‘The Art of the Qur’an,’ a Rare Peek at Islam’s Holy Text

11quranart-master768WASHINGTON — “The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures From the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts,” at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery here, is the first major United States display of handwritten copies of Islam’s holy text. It’s a glorious show, utterly, and like nothing I’ve ever seen, with more than 60 burnished and gilded books and folios, some as small as smartphones, others the size of carpets.

Flying carpets, I should say. This is art of a beauty that takes us straight to heaven. And it reminds us of how much we don’t know — but, given a chance like this, will love to learn — about a religion and a culture lived by, and treasured by, a quarter of the world’s population.

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The manuscripts, most on first-time loan from a venerable museum in Istanbul, date from the seventh to 17th centuries, and come from various points: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey. Some volumes are intact; others survive as only single pages, though so great is the Quran’s spiritual charisma that, traditionally, every scrap is deemed worthy of preserving. And the Sackler curators, Massumeh Farhad and Simon Rettig, give the material all the glamour it deserves, with a duskily lighted installation in which everything seems to glow and float, gravity-free.

The word Quran (or Koran) is derived from an Arabic verb for speaking from memory or reading aloud. And the book originated with the sound of a voice heard by a man named Muhammad ibn Abdullah near Mecca, the city in what is now Saudi Arabia. A trader by profession, he was in the habit of spending periods of reflection in a cave outside of town. On one visit, in A.D. 610, when he was 40, he heard a command, seemingly coming from nowhere, in Arabic:

Recite! In the name of thy Lord,
Who taught by the pen,
Taught man what he knew not.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES