Muslim Inmate Takes His Case for a Beard to the Supreme Court

Should Gregory Holt be allowed to grow a beard? Photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, via Arkansas Corrections/RNS.

It’s not every day that a coalition of legal minds is rooting for a violent inmate convicted of stabbing his girlfriend in the neck.

When Gregory Holt’s case arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 7, lawyers won’t be arguing about what landed him a life sentence in an Arkansas state prison, but rather what he wanted to do once he got there: grow a beard in observance of his Muslim religious beliefs.

The state of Arkansas says he can’t. Holt — a convert to Islam who now calls himself Abdul Maalik Muhammad — says he would keep his beard no longer than half an inch. But prison officials, backed by the state’s attorney general, argue that even such a short beard poses security risks.

“When it comes to making prison policies, the stakes are high; lives can be lost if the wrong decision is made,” according to the state’s legal brief, which describes Holt as a violent self-declared fundamentalist. “The ADC takes religious freedom seriously, but it takes seriously its paramount interests in safety and security, too.”

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ray Hobbs, the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction. But it’s hard to find too many others who think that the prison’s case for security trumps Holt’s right to exercise his religion.

Muslim Scholars Tell Islamic State: You Don’t Understand Islam

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, endorses the letter. Photo via Lauren Markoe/RNS.

More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world joined an open letter to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic by using the most Islamic of terms.

Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Sept. 24 picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Draws Criticism from Fellow Atheists at Yale

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, photographed at the Neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute. Photo courtesy of AEI/RNS.

A campus appearance by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Muslim-turned-atheist activist, is being challenged again, this time at Yale University where she is scheduled to speak Sept. 15.

While her previous campus critics have included members of religious groups, especially Muslims, this time the critics include Ali’s fellow ex-Muslims and atheists.

“We do not believe Ayaan Hirsi Ali represents the totality of the ex-Muslim experience,” members of Yale Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics posted on Facebook Sept. 12. “Although we acknowledge the value of her story, we do not endorse her blanket statements on all Muslims and Islam.”

Those statements include calling Islam “the new fascism” and “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” She has called for the closing of Muslim schools in the West, where she settled after immigrating from her native Somalia, and is a vocal advocate for the rights of women and girls in Islam.

Regensburg Redux: Was Pope Benedict XVI Right About Islam?

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Photo via Paul Haring/Catholic News Service.

Eight years ago this Sept. 12, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria in which he seemed to diagnose Islam as a religion inherently flawed by fanaticism.

It was an undiplomatic assertion, to say the least — especially coming a day after the 9/11 anniversary — and it sparked an enormous outcry among Muslims and came to be seen as one of a series of missteps that would plague Benedict’s papacy until he resigned last year.

Now, with the Islamic State on the march in the Middle East, leaving a trail of horrifying brutality and bloodshed that has shocked the world, some of Benedict’s allies on the Catholic right are saying, in effect, “He told you so.”

“Regensburg was not so much the work of a professor or even a pope,” wrote the Rev. Raymond de Souza in a column for the National Catholic Register, a conservative publication. “It was the work of a prophet.”

In Ferguson, Nation of Islam Members Push for Peace

Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread

People gather to march in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 15, 2014. Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread

FERGUSON, Mo. — Ever since Michael Brown, a young, unarmed African-American, was shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, various crews have played a part in achieving the tentative peace that has taken hold of the St. Louis suburb once rocked by protests.

Some wear black T-shirts with large white letters that spell out “Peacekeepers.” Others dress in bright orange shirts and call themselves “Clergy United.” All acknowledge that the Nation of Islam has been a key player since the very beginning.

Last week, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who took over the police security patrol in Ferguson, acknowledged on national television that the Nation of Islam and other groups — such as Black Lawyers for Justice — helped control the crowds on West Florissant Avenue. Others on social media pointed out that the Nation of Islam protected businesses from looters.


World War I at 100: New Books Examine the Battle of Beliefs Behind the 'Great War'

Communion services on the battlefront is the Nov. 12, 1914 cover of "Christian Herald." RNS photo courtesy Julie Maria Peace.

Some called it “The Great War.” Others called it “The War to End All Wars.” History proves it was neither.

As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I — a conflict that left 37 million dead or wounded and reshaped the global map — a number of scholars and authors are examining a facet of the war they say has been overlooked — the religious framework they say led to the conflict, affected its outcome and continues to impact global events today.

More than that, they argue, today’s religious and political realities — ongoing wars, disputed borders and hostile relationships — have their roots in the global conflict that began when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.

Muslim and Anti-Muslim Bus Ads Battle Heads to Round 3

Image courtesy of Ibrahim Hooper via the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew turn up together on a Washington, D.C., bus.

It’s no joke. They’re the faces of a new ad campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group. And the ad is the latest volley between Muslim and anti-Muslim groups that has played out most recently on the sides of buses in the nation’s capital.

First, the American Muslims for Palestine ran ads during peak D.C. tourism season, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, condemning U.S. aid to Israel.

A month later, blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative responded with bus ads featuring photos of Hitler meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a text equating opposition to Israel’s territorial policies with Nazism.

Muslim and Anti-Muslim Groups Go to War in Bus, Print Ads

A public opinion war on Middle East politics is playing out this spring in new advertising campaigns on public buses and in newspapers.

It began when the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) launched bus ads during the April Cherry Blossom Festival condemning U.S. aid to Israel because of that country’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.

Then on Monday, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative countered by deploying 15-foot-long ads on 20 buses in the Washington, D.C., system that equate opposition to Israel’s policies with Nazism. One ad shows the grand mufti of Jerusalem meeting Hitler during World War II.

“The bus system is considered public space, so speech has First Amendment protections,” said Caroline Laurin, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We have no grounds to refuse ads due to their content.”

Who is Allah? #BringBackOurGirls

Michael Fleshman/Flickr

Hudreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York May 3 to demand the release of schoolgirls. Michael Fleshman/Flickr

On April 15, terrorists from Boko Haram abducted more than 200 Nigerian girls sleeping in their high school dormitory. The girls awoke to a nightmare of violent gunfire as the terrorists forced them into their vehicles and vanished.

Recently the leader of Boko Haram has garnered media attention with his video arrogantly taking credit for the kidnapping. He added a religious element to his repulsive actions:

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women.”

Omid Safi, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote an impassioned response to Boko Haram’s leader that speaks for me: “Human beings are not for sale…This is the bastardization of Islam, of decency, of liberation, of all that is good and beautiful.”