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Blasphemy and Freedom

Image: Antoine Walker/ Flickr

The Charlie Hebdo incident: we cannot not sight it and refrain from all comment. It would be redundant to revisit here the obvious aspects of the incident.
Thus, obviously, the murderers at the office of the French satirical magazine were simply evil.

Obviously, the killers were motivated by their obsession with their version of Islam to do the evil act.

Obviously, haters of Islam could be counted on immediately to call for hateful counter-action. They did not disappoint.

Obviously, obsessive critics could be expected to trace all the evils to “their” holy book and to discount descriptions of and calls for holy wars in other people’s holy books. What was expected has occurred.

Obviously, anyone who spoke up for patience, tolerance, understanding, and positive responses to the evil had to be ready to be dismissed as vapid, naïve, and blind excusers of evil.

Five “obviouslys” should suffice. Some other voices revealed how difficult it is to go beyond the obvious, but they tried. The most interesting of these were those who addressed some rationales and motives of the killers and their spiritual kin. Thus Bill Donahue of the Catholic League issued a release captioned, “Muslims Are Right to Be Angry.”  To the point: “We,” he wrote, should not “tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked the violent reaction.” Donahue was predictable, but one can understand his emotional response.

“Charlie Hebdo” wanted to taunt and outrage believers in other faiths than Islam, notably Judaism and Catholicism, both of which have their own defense leagues. You don’t have to be a Catholic or to be offended by the paper’s cartoons picturing nuns masturbating or popes wearing condoms.

Rabbi David Lerner of Tikkun took a different tack: the incident should remind “us” in the West of other kinds of dehumanizing in our media. Alas, “we tolerate the kind of endless put-downs that the ‘humor’ magazines and even supposedly liberal comedians like Bill Maher perpetrate, not realizing how much damage all of this does to our souls.”

Becoming concerned with evils that do “damage to our souls” might be one positive response to come out of the crisis in which we measure “their” evils against ours. Anyone who reads “Comment-section” responses to internet coverage of this topic will encounter myriad vengeful, hateful, also-blasphemous verbal swings at reverent citizens minding their own business. Some who comment do express proper gratitude for the non-lethal or, at least, less lethal expressions, and credit Western democracy for providing us with forums which protect blasphemers.

The moment calls for new appreciation for those polities we enjoy which have encouraged inter-group civility, threatened though that may be in these days of hyper-polarization. But people in our citing and commenting vocations can also use the moment to recalibrate our measures of outrage.

In 1988 when we were chartered to begin a multi-volume, multi-year, multi-religious study of fundamentalisms, a historian of the domestic versions of such helpfully reminded us editors that, as we study militant and belligerent religious movements and forces, we should remember that “there are no guns or bombs stored in the basement of Moody Bible Institute.”

The MBI, a stronghold of latter-day American now-moderating fundamentalisms, is visible from my windows. I never feel threatened and do feel welcomed. “We” cannot solve all the problems at the core of the present tragedy, but those who ask us to begin at home to promote understanding do serve the cause. They may sound weak. They are strong.

Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at  www.memarty.com.

Resources:

Donohue, Bill. “Muslims Are Right To Be Angry.” Catholic League For Religious and Civil Rights, January 7, 2015, 2015 News Releases. http://www.catholicleague.org/muslims-right-angry/.

Ohlheiser, Abby. “#JeSuisCharlie: Cartoonists react to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.” Washington Post, January 7, 2015, Comic Riffs. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2015/01/07/cartoonists-react-to-charlie-hebdo-massacre-in-paris/?wpisrc=nl_pdmwk&wpmm=1.

Lerner, Michael. “Mourning the Parisian Journalists Yet Noticing the Hypocrisy.” Tikkun, January 9, 2015. http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/01/09/mourning-the-parisian-humorists-yet-challenging-the-hypocrisy-of-western-media/.

Cole, Teju. “Unmournable Bodies.” New Yorker, January 9, 2015, Culture. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/unmournable-bodies.

Saffa, Ozzie. “‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow.” Ozzie Saffa Blog, January 8, 2015. http://ozziesaffa.blogspot.com/2015/01/dangerous-moment-for-europe-as-fear-and.html.

Schuessler, Jennifer. “Charlie Hebdo Attack Chills Satirists and Prompts a Debate.” New York Times, January 9, 2015, Arts. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/10/arts/an-attack-chills-satirists-and-prompts-debate.html?_r=1.

Kristof, Nicholas. “Is Islam to Blame for the Shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Paris?” New York Times, January 7, 2015, Opinion Pages. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/opinion/nicholas-kristof-lessons-from-the-charlie-hebdo-shooting-in-paris.html.

Krule, Miriam. “Charlie Hebdo’s Most Controversial Religious Covers, Explained.” Slate. Accessed January 11, 2015.

Calamur, Krishnadev. “‘Charlie Hebdo,’ A Magazine of Satire, Mocks Politics, Religion.” NPR, January 7, 2015, International. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/07/375599183/charlie-hebdo-a-magazine-of-satire-mocks-politics-religion.

“Paris attacks: Millions rally for unity in France.” BBC News, January 11, 2015, Europe. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30765824.

Alderman, Liz. “Huge Show of Solidarity Against Terrorism in Paris.” New York Times, January 11, 2015, Europe. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/12/world/europe/paris-march-against-terror-charlie-hebdo.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=a-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news.

Martin, Marty E. and R. Scott Appleby, eds. The Fundamentalism Project. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994-2004. http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/series/FP.html.

Image: Antoine Walter / flickr creative commons.

To read previous issues of Sightings, visit http://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings-archive.

January 13th, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Avenging the Prophet Who Banned Revenges

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions

“We have avenged the Prophet Mohammad,” the gunmen shouted after killing 12 at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, yesterday. The publication is known for lampooning the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.

Well. The Prophet banned revenge as he built his peace sanctuary in seventh-century Madinah, establishing instead the rule of law.

He never killed anyone. Only, after God’s command to defend his peace sanctuary, under attack by the non-Muslims of Makkah, did he picked up arms. These defensive battles lasted a total of six days in his life and the number of dead from both sides was less than 300.

Peace was his goal, which he achieved by developing alliances between Madinah’s non-Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Violent extremists who accuse others of disrespect, then consider this a license to kill have nothing to do with the Islam taught by the Prophet they claim to be avenging. They have nothing to do with the message of forgiveness and mercy which Allah revealed to the Prophet; nothing to do with the law and order the Prophet established and upheld, which led to him being considered one of the world’s greatest lawgivers by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Muslim love for Prophet Muhammad is unquestionable. God’s peace and blessings be upon him. It does hurt us when people are abusive towards the Prophet.

It is, however, the ignorant, who do not know the loving path of mercy and forgiveness taught by the Prophet; they are turning into violent extremists and committing crimes in his name.

This is not love. This is hate.

The Prophet would be horrified at what is being done in his name to avenge disrespect to his honor.

The non-Muslims of Makkah tortured the Prophet and his followers. He did not retaliate. He preferred to move away, first encouraging migration to Abyssinia, which was ruled by what he described as a “just king”, who was a Christian, Najashi or Negus.

When some tribes agreed, he established the peace sanctuary in Madinah via constitution and consensus. He built a society that promoted inclusiveness, freedom, rule of law, and peace.

Respect for other faiths was a key element of Madinah society. Muslims, are by Scripture and Prophetic practice, ordered to accept God’s revealed books, as well as His Prophets and Messengers. We are also ordered to never insult the cherished beliefs of others, for humor or in retaliatory anger. This is why even today, throughout the Muslim world, you will not find newspapers being disrespectful of other religions. The terrorists are not the norm. They are the exception.

Muslims in France, America, and around the world are sick of terrorists perpetuating violence that is a violation of their faith in their name. We are against war and hate. We are also tired of the abuse of freedom of speech to spew hatred, mistrust, fear, and misunderstanding.

War, terrorism, and Islamophobia are a nexus, connected to each other and condemnable. They feed off of each other, perpetuating violence and fear. We Muslims condemn terrorism, war as well as hate. We must strive against them all.

——-

Being just in the love of the Prophet

We need to understand this abuse of the Prophet for what it is: a form of psychological violence intended to hurt and harm. Our response when we encounter such attacks must be to seek God’s forgiveness and respond with what is better: prayers on the Prophet and Duas for him.

The Prophet and the people who opposed him

Our Prophet was a mercy to all human beings, regardless of their religious, racial, cultural or ethnic background. We, as his followers, must live and spread this message today at a time when hatefulness and ugliness towards each other has become the norm.

Please stop abusing the Prophet

It is abusive to partially quote the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, thus distorting what he said.

 

Prophet's Mosque in Madinah

Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

What Would Muhammad the Prophet Do?

by Omid Safi

Author, Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters

In the wake of the offensive “Innocence of Muslims” trailer that depicts Muhammad as a sex-offender, a womanizer, a child abuser, a violent fake prophet, and worse, we have heard from many different people.

We have of course heard from the con-artist and Islamophobic producers of the trailer. We have heard from Coptic authorities, and from President Obama and Secretary Clinton. We have heard from Muslims who have demonstrated peacefully; and we have heard from the far fewer Muslims who have reacted in a violent manner.

Virtually everyone has had an opinion about what this film says about Muhammad and how people should respond.

So . . . What would Muhammad have said about this trailer himself?

This question is not as far-fetched as it would seem at first glance.  Granted, Muhammad himself does not live in our age. However, for the majority of his twenty-three years as a prophet, he confronted almost constant assault, insult, persecution, exile, defamation, repeated attempts at his life, and even stoning. He was called a madman, demon-possessed, a threat to the social order, and many other hateful and offensive names. Those insults, and Muhammad’s responses to them, are a matter of readily available historical record. As such, it is not much of a stretch to ask:

How might Muhammad have responded to the “Innocence of Muslims”?

And what is the relevance of his response for Muslims who are so offended by this vitriol today?

Looking back over how Muhammad handled insults and persecution in his lifetime holds a particular relevance for us today.

I spent a few years of my life researching Muhammad’s life, teaching, and legacy.  I would like to share an excerpt from the resulting book, titled Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters that gives particular insight in this regard.

While reading the excerpt below, please keep in mind the following context:

Muhammad and his community had been a beleaguered, persecuted community for some 13 years in the city of his birth, Mecca. They had been exiled from their homeland. The weakest and most vulnerable of Muhammad’s community had been beaten and tortured—some even killed. After 10 years in another city (Yathrib, renamed Medina), Muhammad had the opportunity to return triumphantly to the city of his birth, Mecca. Mecca, where the temple devoted to the One God built by Abraham was located, was about to be redeemed. It was Muhammad’s choice whether to exact revenge on those who had persecuted him, or seek another path.

Muhammad chose mercy. Muhammad decided that the redemption of Mecca, and the citizens of Mecca, had to be one bathed in mercy.

What follows is a small sample from my book, Memories of Muhammad:

The mercy of the return home would be shown in ways large and small.   On the way toward Mecca, Muhammad saw a female dog that had given birth to a new litter of pups.   Concerned that the commotion of an army of ten thousand might disturb them, Muhammad bid one of his own followers to stand guard over them, sheltering them. After all, the Qur’an (21:107) states that Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all the cosmos, all the creatures, and all the universes. These creatures too followed God’s will, and Muhammad was sent as a mercy to them as well.

The mercy that Muhammad showed the dogs of the desert—typically the most despised of all animals in Arabia—he also showed the Meccans who had persecuted him and his followers for a generation. By both Arab and Biblical tradition he reserved the right to march into Mecca and slaughter all the men and take their women as slaves.   Yet Muhammad declared general amnesty for all, establishing a paradigm for forgiveness in the moment of his utmost political power. It is one thing to preach nonviolence and forgiveness when one is politically inferior, entirely another to mercifully forgive when one has the power to demolish. On the way to Mecca, one of Muhammad’s companions named Sa‘d, who had been chosen as a standard-bearer, began rejoicing that this was “a day of war, and sanctuary no more.” Muhammad ordered Ali to take the flag from Sa‘d to make a point about the merciful nature of this day. His old nemesis Abu Sufyan, who had risen up against Muhammad so many times in war, feared for his safety, and yet Muhammad specifically declared Abu Sufyan’s house a sanctuary. There is a time to win people over in war, and there is a time to win people over by the charm of one’s personality. This was a time for mercy.

The law of revenge and retribution was laid aside, for as Muhammad said: “This is the day of mercy, the day on which God has exalted Quraysh.” On this day, Muhammad even forgave an ex-follower who had apostatized and return to paganism.

…The rest of the conquest of Mecca, the Opening of Mecca was also a tale of forgiveness and amnesty. Muhammad recited to them this merciful passage in the Qur’an:

God forgives you, and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.

(Qur’an 12:92)

It is one thing to forgive a faceless enemy, another to have to reconcile with those who have persecuted us and our loved ones. Muhammad came face to face with Hind, who had devoured the liver of Muhammad’s uncle Hamza. When she declared her intention to embrace Islam, Muhammad simply said to her:  “Welcome.” When the son of his former nemesis Abu Jahl entered the area, Muhammad bid his companions to not speak ill of Abu Jahl, for “reviling of the dead gives offence to the living, and reaches not the dead.”

So where does that leave us today?

I wish to direct my remarks to people of good will, all of us who are committed to all of God’s children living together in peace and dignity.

No, I will not be one of those Muslims who will argue that Muslims should just “chill” or “stop being so sensitive.”

Far from it.

I get it. I get it that—as the Qur’an says—the Prophet is closer to us than our own selves.  I get it that for us as Muslims, our relationship to the Prophet is through a love, a devotion, a preciousness, and an honor that is worthy of the one that we acknowledge to be God’s Beloved and the last Messenger of God’s guidance for humanity. I get it that most of us are hurt, violated, upset, and even angry.

The moral and spiritual challenge before us is simply this:

How do we respond in the face of such anger?

How do we act godly, acknowledging that we are hurt, but refusing to allow pain and hurt to determine our actions instead of our highest spiritual aspirations?

My response is simple:

We turn back to the known example of Muhammad.

A handful of hateful zealots have produced a few minutes of rubbish insulting and mocking a person that they say to be our blessed Prophet. Yet we know our Prophet, and we know that what they mock is a figure of their own imagination. These producers and propagators of hate don’t know Muhammad like we know Muhammad.

These extremists want to lay a trap before Muslims, beginning another cycle of violence that will end with blood on all sides. Let us not fall into this trap.

The Prophet is beloved to us, as the Qur’an says, closer to the faithful than our own selves. According to the Qur’an 21:107, he is the very mercy sent to this world, and to all the worlds. Naturally, each and every Muslim in the world has the right to be outraged at this deliberate provocation.

Yet we, as Muslims, know that our Prophet himself was the target of repeated assaults and mockery, and even in his moment of triumph when he had the power to punish, he chose to forgive his enemies and set a higher moral example.

Let us live out the true meaning of our creed.  Let us be worthy followers of the Prophet, the real Muhammad, not the figment of the hateful zealots’ imagination.  And let us keep the possibility that by exemplifying the beautiful model of Muhammad, we can be participants in the redemption of a world gone mad on hate and vitriol.

If we are hurt that the world doesn’t know Muhammad and calls him every offensive insult imaginable, let us not forget that we know Muhammad.

Let us not forget Muhammad.

In this age where everyone has Muhammad on their lips and on their mind, let us be Muhammad-like.

Let us chose forgiveness not because it is easy, but because it is Divine.

God forgives humanity for our sins, and the Prophet forgave his enemies so that they can live in friendship and fellowship.

Let us offer forgiveness not because it is easy or cheap, but because the alternative is the carrying on of rancor and hatred.

Hate is too big a price to pay.

Anger is too poisonous of a substance to carry in our hearts.

Let us choose love and forgiveness.

Real forgiveness is not a one-way bestowal.

It is not simply granted.

But it has to start somewhere.

Let it start with us, for it leaves the door of redemption open to others.

Let us begin with offering forgiveness so that the wells of our own heart do not become poisoned with the bitterness of anger and hatred.

To be sure, those who insult the Prophet have serious work to do on their own hearts. There is real and genuine racism and xenophobia in this country and other countries, and that poison has to be vomited out of our system.  There are also real and genuine issues in many Muslim societies, and God-willing we will be participants in addressing these issues as well. As people of faith, we aim to be participants in restoring nobility to all of these societies as well, but let us begin with our own hearts.

Muslims from every country should be welcome to raise their voice and be heard, but let us do so in a way that honors the very example of the manners, the ethics, the path, and the being of the Prophet that we so adore.

To do this, we turn to the Prophet.

To do this, we turn to God to ennoble our behaviors through the Prophet.

May God ennoble our heart and souls through the Prophet.

May God make us worthy of being among the people of the Prophet.

A short supplication to this end:

Oh God, as our sights were not graced in this world
by the sight of Prophet,

grace our sights in the Hereafter
by the sight of Muhammad.

Oh God,

Bless Muhammad as you blessed Abraham.

Bless Muhammad as you blessed Moses.
Bless Muhammad as you blessed Christ.

Oh God, bless the community of Muhammad
by having us embody the manners of Muhammad.

Bless us by the manners of Muhammad in the times of ease

And bless us by the manners of Muhammad in the times of difficulty.

If we, as Muslims, can respond to this hatred with grace, with compassion, with forgiveness, with strength, then God-willing we will prove ourselves worthy followers of the Prophet.

It’s not just about what Muhammad would do.

It’s what he already did, over and over again.

Now the challenge before us is what we are going to do, and whether we can do it in a way that is Muhammad-like.

*******

Omid Safi is a leading Muslim public intellectual in America. He is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He is the former Chair for the Study of Islam at the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization devoted to the academic study of religion.

Omid is an award-winning teacher and speaker, and was nominated six times at Colgate University for the “Professor of the Year” award, and before that twice at Duke University for the Distinguished Lecturer award.  At the University of North Carolina, he received the award for mentoring minority students in 2009, and the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

He is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism. In this ground-breaking volume, he inaugurated a new understanding of Islam which is rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious/ethnic pluralism. His last book was published by HarperCollins, titled Memories of Muhammad, and deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

He has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing frequently in the New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, and international media. He has recently been designated as the lead Islam writer for the Huffington Post, and blogs at ReligionNews.com.

His website is www.omidsafi.com, and he can be reached at omid@email.unc.edu.

American Muslim Leaders Condemn Attacks

Photo from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA): ISNA Condemns Violence in Egypt and Libya and Mourns the Death of U.S. Ambassador Stevens and other Americans; Denounces the Creation of a Profane Video of the Prophet Muhammad (“peace be upon him,” as Muslims say after his name). Imam Mohamed Magid is pictured in the center of the image. Photo from ISNA website.

by Laurie Goodstein
from New York Times

American Muslim leaders and organizations rushed on Wednesday to condemn the attacks on American diplomatic outposts in Libya and Egypt, issuing news releases and giving interviews that seemed aimed as much at an American audience as at Muslims overseas.

Referring to the anti-Muslim video at the center of the attacks that is believed to be American-made, they said that no matter how offensive the film, violence was unjustified and even un-Islamic. They stressed repeatedly that the film did not represent Americans’ attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. And they said they were appalled that a film that they said was so clearly intended to incite hatred and anger toward the United States had succeeded in doing so.

Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group of American mosques, denounced the violence at a news conference in Washington, appearing alongside a rabbi, a Baptist minister and the Libyan ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali.

Mr. Magid said in a telephone interview that he and other American Muslim leaders had been contacting Muslim scholars in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania to tell them that those who made the film “do not represent the American people.”

He said, “Those who did this act of violence fall into the trap of the people who want them to act that way.”

Click here to read the full article

September 23rd, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Real Living is Encounter

Father Musa (rightmost) and others at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Photo submitted by author.

by Father Gerald Musa

Why should I engage with people who hold religious beliefs which are different from mine and what difference does interreligious dialogue make when religious intolerance is on the increase?

These are questions I have often reflected upon and I have met friends who ask similar questions. However, I notice that it is hardly possible to avoid interreligious relationships because I was born into a mixed family of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. My paternal relations are Muslims and my maternal relations are Christians and some of my best friends belong to other religious beliefs. My first name ‘Gerald’ is chosen from the Catholic ‘Saint Gerald Majella’ and my surname is ‘Musa’ which means Moses, an interreligious figure found in Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures. So all these factors put together have provided a basis and kindled my interest in interreligious relationships.

I think the most important reasons for which I have developed a passion for Christian-Muslim dialogue are my family and communal background. As a child growing up in a mixed community of Christians and Muslims, I have seen the best and the worst of interreligious relationships. In the communal farm work, no one asks if the other is a Christian or Muslim; in naming ceremonies and marriages everyone participates and contributes irrespective of religious beliefs. During the Muslim celebrations their Christian counterparts supported them with food ingredients and clothes with which to celebrate and the Muslim neighbours did the same for the Christians during Christian festivities. In the village what mattered most was everyone is somehow related to the other. On the other hand, I have personally witnessed riots between Christians and Muslims. The first was during my days in the minor Seminary when arsonists came in and set the school ablaze at a time when we were preparing for our final (high school) exams.

Through the years I have developed an inherent passion for interreligious dialogue and particularly, for dialogue with Muslims. From the various literature on dialogue and the attendance of conferences, my thoughts on dialogue are evolving and so I come to realize that disposition to dialogue is not a destination but a journey. One of the most remarkable pieces of literature on dialogue which I enjoy is Martin Buber’s “I and Thou.” For Buber, the I-Thou relationship is a dialogue and the I-It relationship is a monologue. The traits of the I-Thou relationship are mutual respect, equality and openness while the features of the I-It relationship are objectification and the manipulation of the other.

After ordination as a priest I have been officially engaged at different levels in interreligious dialogue. The first organisation in which I was involved was the Christian-Muslim forum and subsequently in the Nigeria Interreligious Council. Martin Buber says “All real living is encounter.” Through interreligious meetings and conferences I have encountered people with different religious persuasions. The most important conference which I attended is the Parliament of the World’s Religions which took place in Melbourne, Australia in December 2009. During this event, I came across prominent interreligious bridge builders such Hans Kung; Katherine Marshall of the Berkley Center for Peace, Religion and World affairs and the World Faiths Development Dialogue; Wesley Ariaraja of the World Council of Churches; Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning; Fr. Lawrence Freeman of World Community for Christian Meditation; and Precious Rasheeda Muhammad of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions headquartered in the US. I also had the privilege of being on the same discussion panel with Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Bukhari, a leader of the Sufi faith in Jerusalem.

When I travelled from Brisbane to Melbourne for the conference, I was sure of where I was going – to the Presbytery of Beaumaris and Black Rock Catholic Parish. Fr. John Dupuche, the Parish Priest and a lecturer at the Australian Catholic University had offered me an accommodation, but I was surprised to see that he lived in the same house with a Buddhist monk, Venerable Lobsang Tendar, who is also an artist, and a Hindu Swami Samnyasanand, who is also a neurophysiologist. I could not work out how these three lived together under the same roof. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Venerable Lobsang Tendar says: “Every day we do meditation and sometimes in the morning and afternoon and this has really helped me.” This statement indicates that the three are united by the common ground of meditation.

I believe strongly that the path towards peace is in an authentic relationship with other cultures and faith traditions. This relationship begins when we are able to see the common humanity which we share, when we are open to encounter with others and when we make an effort to improve our knowledge on the meaning of dialogue. In 2001, when Pope John Paul II announced the International prayer meeting of world religious leaders which took place in Assisi, he said: “We wish to have Christians and Muslims come together to proclaim before the world that religion must never be a reason for conflict, hatred and violence.”  These words are still relevant for us today.

Fr. Gerald M. Musa was born in Gusau, Zamfara State, Nigeria and is a Catholic priest of Sokoto Diocese, Nigeria. Fr. Musa had studied philosophy at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Makurdi and theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Jos, Nigeria. He undertook postgraduate studies in Communication at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome. Fr. Musa worked as Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (Sokoto Chapter). He also worked as an executive member of the Muslim-Christian Forum and the Nigeria Interreligious Council, Sokoto, Nigeria.

He is currently at the stage of completing his doctoral thesis at the School of Journalism and Communication. He is writing on “Dialogue as Communication: Potentials and Challenges of Christian-Muslim dialogue in Nigeria.”

Fr. Musa has keen interest in intercultural communication and in communication for social change.

Muslims From Abroad Are Thriving in Catholic Colleges

From left, Hadil Issa and Nada and Marwa Alsaif at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic university. Photo by Ty William Wright for the NYT

by Richard Perez-Pena
from The New York Times

Arriving from Kuwait to attend college here, Mai Alhamad wondered how Americans would receive a Muslim, especially one whose head scarf broadcasts her religious identity.

At any of the countless secular universities she might have chosen, religion — at least in theory — would be beside the point.But she picked one that would seem to underline her status as a member of a religious minority. She enrolled at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic school, and she says it suits her well.

“Here, people are more religious, even if they’re not Muslim, and I am comfortable with that,” said Ms. Alhamad, an undergraduate in civil engineering, as several other Muslim women gathered in the student center nodded in agreement. “I’m more comfortable talking to a Christian than an atheist.”

Click here to read the full article

September 4th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Men and Women As Equal in Muslim Houses of God

Ms. Kadriye Avci Erdemli, Istanbul’s deputy mufti (the second most powerful official in charge of Islamic affairs). Photo from Religion News Service.

by Omid Safi
from Religion News Service

Many people who have set foot inside mosques have noticed with great dismay that the space allotted to women is rarely equal to that of men. This is true in many different countries, including the United States. The largest Muslim organization in the country, Islamic Society of North America, issued a document titled: “Woman Friendly Mosques and Community Centers.”

Now, one country is taking the lead in addressing this important—and embarrassing—shortcoming. It is not the United States, nor one in Europe. It is the same country that is increasingly been seen as a global leader among Muslims: Turkey.

Turkish mosques are among the most beautiful in the world, especially the ones in the grand Ottoman tradition. Now, Turkey is leading an official campaign to create equal prayer spaces for men and women. According to the Atlantic, Ms. Kadriye Avci Erdemli, Istanbul’s deputy mufti (the second most powerful official in charge of Islamic affairs) has stated:

“This is about mosques being a space for women. When a woman enters a mosque, she is entering the house of God and she should experience the same sacred treatment. In front of God, men and women are equal; they have the same rights to practice their religion.”

Erdemli sent 30 teams to all the mosques in Istanbul (reportedly housing more than 3,000 mosques), and they prepared a mandate called “”Beautification of Mosques for Women.”

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Eid ul-Fitr 2012 Muslims Celebrate Around The World

Children pose at Obalende praying ground in Lagos on August 19, 2012 as muslims pray on the first day of Eid al-Fitr. Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, the Muslim calendar’s ninth and holiest month during which followers are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

from the Huffington Post

To mark the beginning of Eid and in accordance with the Sunnah, or practices of the Prophet Muhammad, many Muslims wake up early in the morning and pray Salat ul-Fajr, or the pre-dawn prayer. After brushing their teeth, taking a bath and wearing perfume, they have breakfast before heading off to perform special congregational prayers known as Salaat al-Eid. Many Muslims recite the takbir, a declaration of faith, on the way to the prayer ground and give special charitable contributions known as Zakat al-Fitr.

Eid al-Fitr is a day of great merriment and thanksgiving. Muslims celebrate by gathering with friends and family, preparing sweet delicacies, wearing new clothes, giving each other gifts and putting up lights and other decorations in their homes. A common greeting during this holiday is Eid Mubarak, which means, “Have a blessed Eid!”

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August 22nd, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Spirituality in Mental Health Care: It’s Past Time to Make Room

by Christopher Gordon, M.D. and Ben Herzig

from The Huffington Post

National surveys have consistently found that the vast majority of Americans identify as religious and/or spiritual in one way or another. But is there any room for spirituality or religious practice in psychiatric treatment? Is there a place at all for faith in an era that so privileges the brain over the mind and posits neurochemical explanations — and pharmaceutical treatments — for most ailments?

Nowadays, slick television commercials and glossy magazine ads market antidepressants directly to sufferers and their treatment providers, promising extraordinary relief and happiness. In the real world, life is not so simple. It is actually a rare case when a person’s problems are satisfactorily resolved by a prescription alone. Much more commonly, anxiety or depression or other symptoms are part of a larger picture, requiring a more complex solution. So how do we figure out what is the matter, and what might be helpful, beyond a symptom-targeted medication?

It is useful to think about human problems from four perspectives, and then to bring these perspectives together to get a sense of the whole person. The first useful perspective is a social one, which looks at what is going on in someone’s life, particularly their important relationships, to assess whether something important is occurring there. Examples might include domestic violence, or, less drastically, marital unhappiness, or being bullied in school, or some other important life circumstance. Clearly, we don’t want to offer medication when the problem requires addressing some real problem in living — for which counseling can be very helpful. The second perspective, however, is a biological one. In fact, many times depression and other mood disorders and anxiety disorders do reflect “chemical imbalances,” which have a biological component and are amenable to medical treatment if that is what the person prefers.

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Bussy-Saint-Georges, the Town with Built-in Religious Harmony

Photography Credit to Philippe Wojazer/Reuters from the Guardian.

Workmen prepare the European Regional Temple in Bussy-Saint Georges.

by Stephanie Le Bars
from The Guardian Weekly

Hugues Rondeau is the Radical party mayor of Bussy-Saint-Georges, a new town in the Paris suburbs. His taste for “ordered urban space” has led to an innovation: the multi-faith district. On a plot of land just beyond the built-up area, he has authorised the construction of several places of worship.

“Here there will be two Buddhist temples, a mosque, a synagogue, a Chinese evangelical church and an Armenian cultural centre,” said the mayor, a practising Catholic who is convinced that in a secular state the government should not turn a blind eye to religious fact. “Our 30,000 inhabitants are mostly of foreign origin with 45% from Asia,” he said. “We couldn’t deprive them of their religious practice.”

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