Abducting Girls in the Name of God

by Michael Fleshman

Hudreds gather at Union Square in New York City on May 3 to demand the release of Nigerian schoolgirls, by Michael Fleshman

The brutal abduction of several hundred Nigerian schoolgirls has stunned and outraged the world. A violent organization called Boko Haram, and its leader Abubakar Shekau, took credit for the kidnapping more than 300 female students from their classrooms at gunpoint, from a government-run school in Chibok, on April 14. In his subsequent video, the smiling terrorist leader told the world they would sell the teenage girls “into the marketplace” or forced marriages; in his latest, he claims the girls have converted to Islam. Shekau has claimed that God told him to do all of this. That is a lie. It is an abomination. It is a blasphemy against God, and people of faith from all traditions should denounce his words.

Invoking the name of God to justify human barbarity is a painfully tragic and an ongoing occurrence. If hearing these lies about God breaks our hearts, we can only imagine they must also break the heart of God. As the Qur’an warns, “Who is more unjust than he who lies against God?” This kind of blasphemy often derives from extreme religious fanaticism that can be found in all of our faith traditions — those who pervert, abuse, and use the language of religion for fear, hate, and power. These self-proclaimed religious leaders must be utterly denounced as false and human abominations of religion and must be publically condemned and held accountable by faith communities around the world.

Sermon: In the Breaking — #bringbackourgirls

by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Demonstration demanding rescue of schoolgirls abducted by suspected Boko Haram. by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The first time I heard the news about the 270 Nigerian school girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram was last Sunday. I was sitting with the rest of the band at St. Augustine's Catholic Parish during worship. Fr. Gabriel, a priest from Nigeria, was preaching. In his sermon, he offered a litany of events, incredibly difficult events that had transpired in the preceding week as examples of how God does indeed respond when we are in our darkest moments. No matter how we may doubt, fear, or struggle, Jesus will walk through walls to get to us.

All the other events he listed I had heard of. There had been media coverage. People had been given the opportunity to respond to the needs of others.

The girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14. I had not heard the news until April 27. And it still wasn’t in the papers.

This week I heard the words of Cleopas, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there these days?”

So, like the stranger in our story, I asked, “what things?”

According to reports in The Guardian and Smithsonian Magazine 's website , the girls are being sold as brides across the border in Cameroon and Chad for the equivalent of $12 each. This means, of course, that the girls are being sexually assaulted.

Boko Haram is a loosely knit organization. There appears to be no specific hierarchy, only the desire to carve out of Nigerian territory a so-called "pure" Islamic state. Their vision is beyond radical. Violence against other Muslims is not uncommon. They target churches and mosques with the same viciousness. This time they targeted the last school left in the region. They targeted the girls. Translated, Boko Haram means "western education is sinful." To educate girls, then, is a form of Western education. To educate girls is a sin. To sell them across the border is not.

And they need women. They need brides. The girls are being sold. Sold.

Rival to Miss World Will Crown a Pious Muslim Woman

Nina Septiani of Indonesia was crowned Miss World Muslimah 2012. Via RNS/The World Muslimah Beauty/Facebook

After hardline Islamists voiced opposition to the Miss World contest now being staged in Muslim-majority Indonesia, a rival World Muslimah beauty contest exclusively for Muslim women will announce its winner on Wednesday in the capital of Jakarta, though the U.S. candidate suddenly dropped out.

“Muslimah World is a beauty pageant, but the requirements are very different from Miss World,” the pageant’s founder Eka Shanti told Agence France-Presse.

“You have to be pious, be a positive role model and show how you balance a life of spirituality in today’s modernized world,” she said.

Commentary: Don’t Surrender Islam to the Islamists

Gobierno de Chile, Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gobierno de Chile, Wikimedia Commons

“The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”  

This was the Islamist poem quoted by the mayor of Istanbul, Turkey, in December 1997. Charged with using inflammatory speech, he was ejected from office and sentenced to jail by the Ankara High Court.

Today, that mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is prime minister of Turkey. During a decade in office, he has slowly but inexorably pushed secular Turkey, a member of NATO, toward an unabashedly Islamist future.

As a Muslim, I refuse to give up Islam to the Islamists. So should others who believe in a deeply pluralistic Islam of the sort my Indian-born grandparents taught. It is the only path to peaceful resolution of inevitable religious differences, within Islam and with other faiths.

Yet today pluralist manifestations of Islam are contracting. Never before has there been a time when Islam has been more threatened from within. That threat today is twofold: ideological and sectarian.

Political Islam on the Defensive Across the Middle East

Map of the Middle East. Photo courtesy RNS/

Map of the Middle East. Photo courtesy RNS/

The backlash against Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt comes as secular forces across the Middle East are rising up in opposition to political Islam. Divisions reach from top leaders to the street.

Political leaders in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan have sided with the Egyptian military and secularists who backed the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

On the streets of Cairo over the weekend, mobs and snipers attacked Morsi supporters, forcing security forces accused of slaughtering the Islamists to stand between them and the mob. The violence in Egypt echoes similar, though less deadly, backlashes against Islamic ruling parties in Tunisia, and Turkey.