Last fall, 16 West Point cadets — none of them Muslim — signed up for an elective on counter-terrorism and created a Facebook page to appeal to young Muslims thinking about joining the so-called Islamic State group. The cadets aimed to convince those tempted by the terrorist cause to see jihad in Islam as a peaceful endeavor. For their project to succeed, the cadets knew, they would have to learn more about the faith, and build a social media platform that reserved judgment even on those who expressed admiration for committed terrorists.
A Muslim man who shielded Christians after a passenger bus was ambushed by suspected al-Shabab militants is being saluted as a symbol of unity. Salah Farah, a schoolteacher, died Jan.18 in Nairobi, where he was airlifted after being shot in the arm and hip when he resisted militant demands that he identify Christians on the bus during the December attack.
Pope Francis is studying an invitation to visit the Grand Mosque of Rome — extended to him several days after his first visit to the city’s Great Synagogue. If he accepts, Francis would be the first pope to visit the mosque. He received the invitation on Jan. 20 during a short audience he gave to Muslim community leaders at the Vatican.
What is revealed to the world at the Epiphany in the Incarnation is that God’s language to the world is embodied Love. Jesus, whom Muslims revere as a prophet, is the message of God’s love for those who were previously deemed beyond love’s boundaries. What Jesus reveals through his life, death, and resurrection is that it is we humans who cast out, and God who draws in. God’s love excludes no one. Jesus is God’s revelation that Love has no boundaries.
HARPERONE'S RECENTLY released The Study Quran (following The Study Bible and Commentary on the Torah) promises to be a needed resource in a time of religious turmoil: A new English translation, it is also the first to provide extensive, line-by-line commentary by scholars on meaning and context drawn from hundreds of years of Islamic tradition. Included are several essays on specific themes—including war and peace, science, and human rights.
The process used to shape this work was unique as well. The team of editors led by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., strove to include perspectives and interpretations from the broadest range of Muslim communities—Sunni, Shia, and others—without lifting one above the others. The team’s goal was to create an in-depth, accurate, and accessible translation for use by Muslims, scholars, students of religion, and anyone else wanting to rise above today’s media chatter and explore this sacred text.
From the introduction:
The Quran is the constant companion of Muslims in the journey of life. Its verses are the first sounds recited into the ear of the newborn child. It is recited during the marriage ceremony, and its verses are usually the last words that a Muslim hears upon the approach of death. In traditional Islamic society, the sound of the recitation of the Quran was ubiquitous, and it determined the space in which men and women lived their daily lives; this is still true to a large extent in many places even today. As for the Quran as a book, it is found in nearly every Muslim home and is carried or worn in various forms and sizes by men and women for protection as they go about their daily activities. ... The Quran is an ever present source of blessing or grace ( barakah) deeply experienced by Muslims as permeating all of life.
Since the Dec. 2 attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has received more than a dozen phone calls from Muslim Americans locally reporting a variety of workplace discrimination and harassment complaints. Of those calls, one has triggered a lawsuit, and two similar workplace suits are in the works, said Fatina Abdrabboh, executive director of the Michigan office, who hopes the litigation sends a message to employers.
“We’re watching. This stuff can’t go unchecked … and if you think of putting someone in the back room or letting them go because of the headscarf, you can’t do it,” said Abdrabboh, who urges the public and employers not to “feed into this rhetoric against us.”
Religion inspired countless other acts of forgiveness, mercy, and hope this year. But religion — or perversions of it, some would say — also inspired horrific violence: the “faith-based” cleansing of ancient lands, and bombings and shootings motivated by scriptural justifications. It was a year also of religious-inspired activism, seen perhaps most prominently in a pope who advocated for the poor and for a solution to climate change. Here is an overview of some of the most consequential religion stories of the past year, with thoughts on what to look forward to 2016.
Christian leaders have hailed as an act of bravery and selflessness the shielding of some Christians by Muslims after suspected al-Shabab gunmen in Mandera County ambushed a passenger bus.
Francis marked the start of the jubilee on Dec. 8, when he opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The yearlong celebration calls on Catholics to reflect on the theme of mercy and forgiveness and showcase a more inviting faith. That theme resonates in Africa, home to about 200 million Catholics. A sizable part of this population is tormented by war, violence from Muslim extremists, HIV/AIDS, and poverty.
Following a surge of attacks on mosques and Muslims — a backlash against recent extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino — Islamic leaders have been installing more security cameras and hiring more security guards. But as they worry about the physical safety of their flocks, they are also paying attention to the spiritual damage Islamophobia can inflict.
Hate crimes penetrate Muslims deeply and widely, said Kameelah Rashad, Muslim chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It erodes their sense of identity and their sense of their spiritual selves,” she said.
President Obama supports the right of Muslim Americans to celebrate religious holidays, the White House said Dec. 11. He just can’t give them the day off.
Responding to a petition on the White House’s “We the People” site, the White House declined to declare federal holidays for the Muslim holy days of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.
That’s because Congress has only designated 10 federal holidays each year: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
“Proposals for new permanent federal holidays are typically the province of Congress,” the White House said.
A Syrian priest held hostage for months by the ISIS terrorist group is certain his life was saved due to his interfaith work, despite being threatened with beheading by jihadists if he did not renounce Christianity.
The Rev. Jacques Mourad, a Syriac Catholic priest, was taken hostage in May from the Mar Moussa monastery, situated between the capital Damascus and the city of Homs. He and a volunteer from the monastery were forced into a car and driven for four days, during which time Mourad said he thought he would be killed.
“We could only perceive the sense of the desert. In that moment … I thought it was over,” he told members of Rome’s Foreign Press Association on Dec. 10, the first time he has spoken in detail about his odyssey since he escaped.
Muhammad Ali aimed a powerful and impassioned message at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Dec. 9, saying that the recent global terrorism crisis has “perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”
Ali became a Muslim and changed his name from Cassius Clay during the height of his career as one of the greatest boxers in history. His message came in a statement following a week in which Trump cast doubt on President Barack Obama’s assertion that several American “sporting heroes” practiced Islam.
“I am a Muslim, and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said.
“We can’t just blame it on the brokenness of the world, pray for peace, and move on, worried that anything more will be seen as politicizing tragedy. What is tragic is that those who have the ability to DO something about this crisis refuse to offer more than simplistic sentiments on Twitter before getting caught in a circular argument about our rights as Americans. It’s time for people of faith to respond.”
Because: NRA. “Researchers from federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have largely been mum on the public health issue of gun violence — not by choice, but because of a 20-year-old congressional ban on federally funded gun violence research.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that the city would release dashcam footage of a Chicago police officer shooting 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III in the back. The shooting happened eight days before officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Actual tweet: "I just learned there is a Black version of 'The Wizard of Oz' called 'The Wiz.' How is this not racist?" Oy.
Tashfeen Malik, the female suspect in the San Bernardino shooting spree, had expressed support for the Islamic State terrorist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a social media post, according to two U.S. officials.
While there was no indication yet that the extremist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, directed the massacre in California that left 14 people dead, the posting represents the strongest link yet that the killings may have been rooted, at least partially, in terrorism.
French authorities announced Dec. 2 that they shut down three radicalized mosques.
After the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, the government proclaimed a state of emergency, which grants it wide latitude to conduct searches, make arrests, and ban public gatherings.
Pope Francis raised the specter of a World War III “in pieces,” Muslims issued statements of condemnation, while evangelical Christians in America debated whether to speak of a “war with Islam.”
These were some of the responses by religious leaders around the world on Nov. 14 to the series of attacks overnight in Paris which left more than 120 people dead.
“This is not human,” Francis said phone call to an Italian Catholic television station. Asked by the interviewer if it was part of a “Third World War in pieces,” he responded: “This is a piece. There is no justification for such things.”
Hamtramck, Mich. residents have elected a Muslim majority to its city council, symbolizing the demographic changes that have transformed the city once known for being a Polish-Catholic enclave.
In Tuesday’s election — with six candidates running for three seats — the top three vote-getters were Muslim, while the bottom three were non-Muslim. Two of the Muslim candidates, Anam Miah and Abu Musa, are incumbent city councilmen, while newcomer Saad Almasmari, the top vote-getter, was also elected. Incumbent City Councilman Robert Zwolak came in fifth place.
Some believe the city is the first in the U.S. with a Muslim majority on its city council.
The ban on niqabs, which were seen as a symbol of a spread of radical Islamism, has not stopped some Muslim women from wearing them as a badge of defiance toward a society they say does not accept them.
“This is my way of saying ‘no’ to a government that has robbed me of my freedom,” a veiled woman named Leila, who admitted to not being a regularly practicing Muslim before the law was passed, told the Paris daily Le Monde.
The ban was widely criticized in the Muslim world and there is anecdotal evidence that militant Muslims — both from abroad and French recruits to groups such as the Islamic State — see it as one reason to put France high on their hit list.
This weekend, demonstrators assembled outside several mosques across the country, some decrying “No Sharia law” and “Stop Islamic immigration” and others openly carrying weapons. Dubbed the “Global Rally for Humanity,” dozens of these anti-Muslim rallies were originally planned on social media, but fortunately, only a few materialized.
Hopefully, America won’t have to see another round of protests like the ones that were anticipated this weekend. But if anti-Muslim activities do pop up again, here’s what Christian communities should do.