Islam

'Love Your Neighbor' Wasn't Just a Suggestion

The most recent discussions of U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East, once again say more about politics during an election year, than they do about the fundamental issues we must confront if we want to see substantial change.

So let’s look at the basic issues and fundamental choices we need to make.

Today the Middle East — where about 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25 — is a region dominated by humiliation and anger.

Failure + rage + the folly of youth = an incendiary mix.

The roots of anti-American hostilities in the Middle East run deep (literally and figuratively). We can start with the fact that our oil (and its economy) lies beneath their sands. Couple that with U.S. support of repressive and backward regimes, the continual presence of foreign troops on their land and in their holy places, and the endless wars waged there, ultimately fueled by the geopolitics of energy.

Add to that incindiary cocktail the unresolved Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which continues to drive the deepest emotions of mutual frustration, fear, and retaliation throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Injustices and violence caused by the oil economy have sparked a reaction from dangerous religious fundamentalists in the Islamic world. Fundamentalism — in all our faith traditions — is both volatile and hard to contain once it has been unleashed, and it becomes hard to reverse its essentially reactive and predictably downward cycle.

Survey: Syrian Rebels Seek Islamic Democracy

Members of the Syrian opposition generally want a democratic government that protects the rights of minorities, though many also want a constitution based on Islam, according to a recent survey.

Their aspirations are important because the Obama administration has said it is refraining from arming the opposition, which has been pummeled by Syrian security forces for 18 months, in part out of fear of igniting sectarian violence. There's also fear that weapons would reach Islamist radicals who would threaten allies in the region.

The survey by the International Republican Institute, which trains democracy activists around the world, found high support for a government that "respectfully acknowledges religion" and treats all religions equally. The second-most popular model of choice was for a constitution "based on Islam."

"Most of the opposition is Sunni Muslims and they are democratically minded, but they want a government based on some kind of Islamic law or that follows Islamic guidelines," says Elizabeth O'Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who helped the survey writers find contacts in the opposition movement.

Taming the Tongue

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” 

How many of us grew up with this old adage ringing in our ears? How many of us believe it’s true? 

I’ve gone back and forth over the years. I understand that the saying is an invitation to turn our backs on harsh, mean-spirited words thus robbing them of their power, but how many of us are really capable of simply doing that? The truth is words do hurt and sometimes they do more than hurt. Sometimes they are downright destructive and on a large scale.
 
I think this is what the writer of James is getting at in this morning’s text. Words, the works of our tongues, can be used for good and evil. It is not always easy for us to shape our words and move our tongues in a fashion that serves our faith, our calling as Christians, our work for the reign of God on earth.

One important spiritual discipline, one vital element to our faith formation, then, is learning to tame the tongue. That is, we are challenged to develop custody of our speech in such a way that good news is proclaimed and people are lifted up toward the fulfillment of their creation in the image and likeness of God.  Remember, James is especially concerned that we align our words and our work so we both “talk the walk” and “walk the talk.”

If we are offspring of the heavenly parent, if we are made in the likeness of God, how should that shape our speech and control the way we wag our tongues?

U.S. Muslims, Copts Appeal to Rioters: Stop the Violence

Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in the U.S. are pledging not to let a spate of violent protests in some 20 Islamic countries derail recent efforts to improve the sometimes troubled relations between the two communities.

On Sept. 18, the Egyptian government ordered the arrest of seven Egyptian-born Copts now living in the United States who were allegedly involved in an anti-Muslim film that portrayed Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.

“We cannot allow the actions of a few deceived fanatical individuals to define our communities,” said Bishop Serapion, head of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speaking during a press conference on Sep. 17 with Muslim leaders in Los Angeles.

“We call on members of both religions to lean on our faiths to counter the hate and the violence with good speech and positive work,” added the Egyptian-born bishop.

The show of solidarity comes almost a week after protesters in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 90 million Egyptians are Coptic, attacked the U.S. embassy, setting off protests in other Muslim countries, including neighboring Libya, where American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Middle East Riots Fueled by Competition Between Radicals, Moderates

Anti-American protesters in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir, India., on Sept. 14, 2012.

Anti-American riots that have spread to more than a dozen countries across the Middle East are a sign of fissures between radical and more moderate Islamists that are vying for power as their societies undergo change, Middle East experts say.

Whether U.S. foreign policy has helped create a political environment where radicals are struggling to remain relevant, or emboldened extremists to act out, is a matter of disagreement.
 
President Obama's approach to the Arab Spring, to engage with the Islamists and not the secularists, "is seen by our foes as disengagement, while the radicals are not backing off," said Walid Phares, an adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and author of the 2010 book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.

"When we withdraw, they advance."
 
Tamara Wittes, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs until a few months ago, sees it differently.
 
The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq removed "a massive source" of grievance for ultra-conservative Muslims, called Salafis, who have been leading the charge in the recent protests and who are ideologically close to Islamic terrorists who have warred with the U.S., Wittes said. "Now they're left trying to gin up anti-American feelings over this campy movie. If Salafi groups are left having to troll the Internet for a pretext, I think we're in pretty good shape."

Can Dog Owners Still Be Good Muslims?

Cane Corso and French Bulldog

Cane Corso and French Bulldog

Worshippers at Toronto's Salahuddin mosque were bracing for protests Friday as part of "Walk Your Dog in Front of a Mosque Day."

The event is being organized by supporters of a man who claims Muslim protestors kicked his English mastiff, Cupcake, during an anti-Israel rally last month.    

While claiming that they wanted to draw attention to Muslim attitudes toward dogs, the organizers' Facebook page is replete with hostilities. One man wrote that he would throw protestors into a "lake of fire" and shoot their dogs, and the event has been promoted on a white supremacist website, StormFront.org.    

Some Muslims responded with their own "Good Muslims Love Dogs" Facebook page, including at least one photo of a veiled woman with a veiled dog.    

Muslims' alleged canine-phobia is often cited by critics of Islam as an example of how the faith is incompatible with Western values. Some Muslims have perpetuated that narrative, such as when a Somali cab driver in Minneapolis made national headlines in 2007 when he refused to let a blind man bring his seeing-eye dog into his car. 

Yet many Muslims all over the world have dogs, and dogs figure prominently is some Islamic countries, such as Turkey, famous for its Kangal and Akbash breeds.  

Members of Destroyed Joplin Mosque Face Uncertain Future

 RNS photo by Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FAVS

Tattered prayer rugs are among the remains of what was once a mosque in Joplin, Mo. RNS photo by Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FAVS

When the mosque in Joplin, Mo., on the outskirts of town burned to the ground on Aug. 6, the imam’s 4-year-old son knew what to do.

He wanted to build another.

After all, that’s what his family had done with their home after it was destroyed by the tornado that tore through the town a little more than a year earlier.

The imam's family has a new home, but the wait for a new mosque is going to take a while.

A little more than a month after the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque was destroyed by fire, the local Muslim community is moving forward with support from the interfaith community.

But progress is slow.

The ‘Maverick’ Egyptian-American Copt Behind the Anti-Muslim Film

RNS file photo by David Gard/The Star-Ledger

Terry Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as s sexual pervert. RNS file photo

When inflamed mobs stormed the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, the media quickly looked to a likely spark.

Florida Pastor Terry Jones ignited deadly riots by threatening to burn Qurans in 2010, and by torching the Islamic holy text last year. Recently, Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a foolish sexual pervert.

But in the days before the protests, Jones made no public mention of the film called Innocence of Muslims — even as he prepared to stage an “International Judge Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.

Instead, the man who translated the film into Arabic, sent it to Egyptian journalists, promoted it on his website and posted it on social media was an obscure Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who lives near Washington and proudly touts his ties to Jones.

'Innocence of Muslims' Video Suggests a Fetish for Armageddon

Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa.  Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.

That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.

Concerts and Controversial Opera Bring Faiths Together in St. Louis

RNS photo by Sid Hastings/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Members of the Islamic Foundation of St. Louis perform in honor of Sept 11. RNS photo by Sid Hastings/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Timothy O'Leary sat in an audience of 2,000 New Yorkers listening to the Brooklyn Philharmonic perform a concert about terrorism — the 1985 murder of an American tourist by members of the Palestine Liberation Front on a Mediterranean cruise ship. It was one of the most powerful moments he'd ever had in a theater.

Terrorism stories are rarely happy stories, and yet the path O'Leary has taken — from bringing the controversial opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" to St. Louis last year to a Sept. 11 memorial concert on Sept. 9 — ends with a hopeful, permanent pairing of faith and the arts in St. Louis.

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