Two Muslim Women, Heroes for Our Age

merlin_152022699_7e2af0e3-c8ce-4aed-b297-ddda9e57b419-superJumboThis is a dispiriting epoch of strongmen and bullies, yet side by side with the worst you find the best. So today let’s find inspiration in two heroes.

They are women who bravely challenged misogyny and dictatorship, one in Iran, the other in Saudi Arabia. Those two nations may be enemies, but they find common cause in their barbaric treatment of women — and since they are trying to squelch and smother these two women, we should shout their names from the mountaintops.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, 55, is a writer and human rights lawyer who for decades has been fighting for women and children in Iran. Her family reports that this week she was sentenced to another 33 years in prison, on top of a five-year sentence she is now serving, plus 148 lashes.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 29, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture, including floggings, sexual harassment, waterboarding and electric shocks.

 

Her sister Alia al-Hathloul told me that Loujain was finally presented with the charges against her, which included communicating with human rights organizations and criticizing the Saudi “guardianship” system for women.

Loujain al-Hathloul, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, in an undated handout photo. She went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture.CreditReuters
Loujain al-Hathloul, a leader of the Saudi women’s rights movement, in an undated handout photo. She went on trial Wednesday after months of imprisonment and torture.CreditReuters

I previously suggested that Hathloul should get the Nobel Peace Prize, and she has now been nominated for it. So let me revise my proposal: Hathloul and Sotoudeh should win the Nobel together for their courageous advocacy of women’s rights before rival dictators who share one thing: a cruel misogyny.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

New Signs of Religious Freedom in the Muslim Middle East – Could Saudi Arabia Be Next?

popeuaesaudi_hdvAn estimated 180,000 people attended mass with the Pope in Abu Dhabi in a never-before-seen display of public Christian worship in the United Arab Emirates. Crowds gathered in the UAE’s Zayed Sports City Stadium to hear him just a day after he called on Christians and Muslim leaders to work together.

He spoke about how Christians should live, pointing out that Jesus came to serve and not be served. He went on to say Jesus lived poor in respect to things, but wealthy in love, healed so many lives, but did not spare his own.

At a rare Mideast interfaith gathering on Monday, Pope Francis urged religious leaders to work together to reject war as he began the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

“God is with those who seek peace,” he told an audience consisting of Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince and hundreds of imams, muftis, ministers, and rabbis.

Francis’ visit comes as a group of evangelical leaders has been working over the last few years to improve relations with the Muslim world. And with the Pope holding the first Papal Mass ever on the Arabian Peninsula, the newspaper, The Arab News, was even speculating that he could also become the first Pope to visit Saudi Arabia.

As CBN News reported, several evangelical leaders say the UAE is a good starting point to promote religious freedom among Muslim countries.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CBN

Islam as statecraft: How governments use religion in foreign policy

The discussion of Islam in world politics recently has tended to focus on how religion is used by a wide range of social movements, political parties, and militant groups. However, less attention has been paid to the question of how governments—particularly those in the Middle East—have incorporated Islam into their broader foreign policy conduct.

On January 8, the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted the launch of a report titled “Islam as Statecraft: How governments use religion in foreign policy,” authored by two senior fellows, Shadi Hamid and Peter Mandaville. Geneive Abdo­—resident scholar at the Arabia Foundation and author of several books on Egypt, Iran, and the broader Middle East—joined Hamid and Mandaville on the panel. Executive editor at the Pulitzer Center and Boston Globe columnist Indira Lakshmanan moderated the discussion.

SAUDI ARABIA: HAVE THINGS REALLY CHANGED?

Following introductions by Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow and deputy director of Foreign Policy at Brookings, the event began with a discussion of Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism. Mandaville pointed out that while the Saudi government plays an active role in disseminating its ideology abroad, there are also a number of smaller actors, such as Islamic charities, that have been involved in the same sort of activity.

FULL ARTICLE FROM BROOKINGS 

The Saudi regime does not represent Islam

efaa3c4b81cf475fb1326562d52c9bc1_18The Khashoggi affair is yet another reason for the world to abandon the assumption that the kingdom represents Islam.

The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has the world’s fingers pointed in the direction of the Saudi government, specifically at its de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen living in exile in the United States because of his criticism of the Saudi regime, earned the esteem of audiences that read his political commentary in both Arabic and English. He was last seen alive entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, when he visited to procure documents he needed to wed his Turkish fiancee.

Speculation about bin Salman ordering his kidnapping, or state-sponsored murder, rose to the fore, dominating mainstream and social media discussions about the missing journalist’s likely fate. On October 19, Saudi authorities finally admitted Khashoggi was killed inside the country’s Istanbul consulate. This admission merely confirmed a conclusion most had already drawn given the regime’s dismal human rights record and fierce intolerance to any criticism: The Saudi government was directly responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance and death.

And where Saudi Arabia is the subject of wrongdoing, Islam stands alongside it. Collaterally implicated and indicted as the source of the vile actions taken by a government that, since its inception as a sovereign state, has been popularly anointed as the living embodiment of the religion.

READ MORE

Khashoggi case: A timeline

This, again, was the case with the Khashoggi affair. The unknown whereabouts of the journalist, widely regarded to be among the most courageous indigenous critics of the Saudi regime, implicated Islam in the minds of many. The “redeployment of Orientalist tropes,” as articulated by law scholar Leti Volpp, surged to the surface and steered the popular discourse, driving immediate conclusions that Islam itself is “intolerant to criticism,” “resistant to independent media voices,” and “suppressive of dissidence.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

Jamal Khashoggi and the Competing Visions of Islam

24devji-superJumboJamal Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents in Istanbul doesn’t just cast a harsh light on the authoritarian and reckless behavior of Prince Mohamad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia; it also highlights the rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which represent competing forms of Islam.

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy that allows Islam to define all social relations as long as it makes no political claims. Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, is a republic whose government was brought to power by the votes of many conservative Muslims.

Despite being an influential Saudi voice, Mr. Khashoggi had over the years embraced these competing visions of governance and the place of Islam in politics. He had been a loyal adviser to Saudi rulers, but he also, like Mr. Erdogan and his party, is widely believed to have subscribed to the Islamist ideal of power democratically achieved — an ideal represented by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamism is seen as an existential threat by the region’s monarchies, which apart from Qatar and to a lesser degree Oman and Kuwait were frightened by the Muslim Brotherhood’s coming to power in Egypt after the Arab Spring protests. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bankrolled and backed the Egyptian military’s crackdown and coupagainst the Brotherhood government; Turkey and Mr. Erdogan backed the Brotherhood and provided refuge to the group’s leaders and members after the crackdown.

Still No Churches in Saudi Arabia, But Small Steps Toward Religious Freedom

83737Saudi Arabia has made unprecedented strides toward religious tolerance just a year after its young new ruler pledged to bring more moderate Islam to the Sunni kingdom

 

“I was surprised by the pace of change in the country. It reminded me of the verse at the end of Book of Job which says, ‘My ears had heard … but now my eyes have seen,’” said US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioner Johnnie Moore, who has also served as an unofficial liaison between evangelical leaders and the Trump White House.

“It was the first time I have ever thought to myself, Wow, we could actually see religious freedom in Saudi. This is possible.”

Moore represents the highest-profile evangelical leader to meet with the Saudi government since 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans last October to return the restrictive Muslim country to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” The USCIRF official formerly worked with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s campaign to aid persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Scouts: A colonial-age movement formed by Christians, cherished by millions of Muslims worldwide

  • 1325731-1311725638It is 57 years since the first 100 volunteers from the Saudi Arabian Scouts Association took up their posts at Makkah
  • There are more than 50 million Scouts in the world and 28 million of them are Muslim

LONDON: Among the thousands of helpers assisting pilgrims at Hajj this year, it was hard to miss one particular group.

In their distinctive neckerchiefs, shirts and caps, they were always on hand, guiding pilgrims back to their tents, reuniting lost children with their parents, giving first aid when people felt ill and generally providing a reassuring presence.
There were 4,500 Scouts on duty in Makkah this year, and another 1,500 in Madinah, all of them volunteers. In fact, the boys and girls of the Saudi Arabian Scouts Association have been a welcome fixture during Hajj since 1961.

Though that was the year the Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts Association was officially founded, Scouts had already been active in the country for many years. But the history of scouting in the Arab world goes back more than a century to the formation of Scout groups in Syria and Lebanon in 1912 — only five years after the birth of scouting in Britain.

In 1914, the Scout Movement came to Egypt, at the behest of Prince Omar Toussoun. Known as a scholar and philanthropist, the prince became set on introducing scouting to his native country after taking part in activities with Scouts during a visit to London. Iraq also joined in 1914.
Much of the Middle East was still under colonial rule in the early part of the 20th century, which undoubtedly was a factor in the rapid spread of the Scout Movement. But it does not explain why the popularity of scouting has not only endured but continues to grow.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARAB NEWS