Wheaton College suspended Larycia Hawkins, professor of political science, on Dec. 15 after she said Christians and Muslims "worship the same God." Hawkins' primary purpose was to announce that she would wear hijab during Advent to show her solidarity with Muslims in the United States facing persecution.
Now, according to a statement released Jan. 5, Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones delivered to President Philip Ryken a "Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings regarding Dr. Hawkins."
According to a recent poll by The Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, 82 percent said religious liberty protections were important for Christians, compared with around 60 percent who said the same for Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated.
Yet, religious freedom is not merely an important issue — it is our “first freedom.” What Americans, especially Christian Americans, must understand is this: Religious freedom for some is not religious freedom for long.
Wheaton College in Illinois announced on Tuesday that they had put Hawkins on administrative leave for her “same God” comments. In an official statement, college administrators expressed concern over the “theological implications” of her statements and promising a full review.
Founded in 1860, Wheaton has long been considered a fairly open-minded institution within evangelicalism. Science professors can teach evolution, government professors need not support conservative political theories, and students don’t have to worry about strict dress codes or stringent curfews like students at more fundamentalist colleges. In 2003, it eased bans on alcohol consumption and dancing.
But a string of politically charged events, culminating in Hawkins’ suspension, place Wheaton at an important crossroads. The school must now decide what kind of evangelical college they wish to be.
Fr. Nabil Haddad is a passionate and energetic man. As a Melkite Catholic priest and dean of Old Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, he is especially passionate about fostering peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. This work keeps him very busy, as he travels often to bring his message of peace as far and wide as possible.
The day before we met, Fr. Nabil announced at a press conference a new initiative called Karama. Karama is the Arabic word for dignity. He stressed the importance of coexistence between the Abrahamic faiths and how this can be achieved through education focusing on human dignity and by talking about citizenship. Fr. Nabil said this approach is very successful in reaching the hearts and minds of the Muslim community.
“Do not make the religion of Islam the problem,” he said. “Instead use our vibrant witness – that is what is lacking in other societies.”
When Karen Hunt Ahmed and her Muslim husband divorced four years ago, many friends asked her, “Now you can stop this Islam stuff, right?”
Some friends, she thought.
“Like it was a hobby I took up when I got married and now I’m supposed to drop it,” said Hunt Ahmed, president of the Chicago Islamic Microfinance Project, which she founded with two colleagues in 2009.
Hunt Ahmed, 45, is part of a growing sorority of female American converts to Islam, especially those who are or were married to Muslim men, who must deal with the perception that they converted to Islam because of domineering boyfriends or husbands.
The stereotype was revived in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, when news emerged that the wife of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Katherine Russell, converted to Islam after meeting Tsarnaev in 2009 or 2010 when she was about 21.
American Muslim leaders said they stand against terrorism committed in the name of Islam, trying to distance themselves from the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings who were identified as Muslims with ties to Chechnya.
“We will never allow ourselves to be hijacked by this attempt, and we will not allow the perception to be that there is any religion in the world that condones the taking of innocent life,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
As the manhunt intensified in and around Boston, Muslim leaders convened a press conference Friday to denounce the attacks and to urge the media not to link their faith with violent extremism.
New Jersey lawyer Abed Awad has been involved with more than 100 cases that involved some component of Shariah, or Islamic law, and knows firsthand how complicated things can get.
In one of those cases, a woman claimed she was married to a man according to Islamic law in her native west Africa. The man asserted there was no valid marriage, leaving a judge to decide whether the two were ever legally married in the first place.
If the judge rules they were married, there will be a divorce, and she will receive alimony and a share of marital assets. If the judge rules that there is no marriage, then the woman will be left with nothing from her relationship.
To make a ruling, the judge will need to consider what Shariah, as understood in one corner of western Africa, says about what constitutes a legal marriage. He will likely have to consult Islamic law experts and apply what he learns to his decision.
But what if American judges were prohibited from considering Shariah and other foreign laws, as many state and national politicians want to see happen?
Muslim Americans condemned violence in Egypt and Libya that left four Americans dead, but remain concerned that the deaths could rekindle anti-Muslim sentiment just as post-9/11 resentment was starting to ebb.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three embassy workers were killed on Tuesday when fundamentalist protestors attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in response to a low-budget film that attacks Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, reportedly made by an Israeli real estate developer who lives in California.
Imam Talal Eid, the Islamic chaplain at Brandeis University near Boston and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, predicted the violence would lead to “more resentment” against Muslims, who he criticized for not doing enough against terrorism.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has spent most of his adult life trying to build interfaith and international bridges. But to many Americans, he is the public face of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque," one of the most controversial religious projects in recent U.S. history.
Rauf reflects on that turmoil in his new book, Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America. But as the book's subtitle suggests, the longtime imam spends most of his time facing forward — toward the development of a distinctly American brand of Islam. He spoke recently with Religion News Service. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: I wrote this book because the American public saw me and heard me, but really didn’t get to know me very well, or to understand what my work was all about. This book is my calling card to the American public.
This year during Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad — I was in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers throughout the world by reading the Quran. But here's the thing: I am a Roman Catholic.
My copy of the Quran, with more than 1,700 pages, has sat on the top shelf of my bedroom bookcase among other sacred texts for 14 years. Typically I would use it as a sporadic reference and resource to better understanding Islam, reading a few short passages at a time.
However, this Ramadan something at the core of my being was calling me to read the Quran in its entirety. And so my monthlong Ramadan journey began.
Each day and evening, the prayerful poetry in the Quran held me in a meditative mode of peace as I read without being aware of the passage of time.
When I finished reading a week before the end of the month, I felt as if the Quran was almost endless, reaching beyond the confines of my calendar days. I didn’t want to read the last page. I didn’t want to be finished.
The Quran inspired me, taught me and helped me to remember my essential holiness and how that holiness in the image of God should be reflected in the world.
It was the summer of 1994 and about 10 friends and I sat huddled around Bibles in my friend’s living room. It was a “scripture party.” The lights were dim and the air was full of anticipation and mystery. We did not know what God might reveal as we opened the book of Revelation and read it out loud, in community, in one night.
This bears resemblance to the way the early church would have read the scripture. They were an oral culture, not a written one. The Hebrew Bible was written on scrolls that were read aloud to congregations. Most of the New Testament was written as letters to the worshiping bodies of whole cities (i.e. the saints in Ephesus, the church in Philippi, the body in Corinth, etc.). When received, the letters would be read out loud to the whole church community and received as God’s instruction revealed through the apostles for the edification of their communities.
Imagine being one of the very first followers of the Jesus “Way” (Acts 9:2).
Imagine being a persecuted religious group. You have to use code — the sign of the ichthys — to identify yourself to other believers for fear of religious persecution. Only when you are gathered together in secret can you speak openly about your faith. Only then can you be fully known and appreciated for the whole image of God that lives inside of you.
Imagine huddling in a secret meeting place and reading the Apostle John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ for your nascent faith community in Ephesus or Smyrna, or Pergamum, or Thyatira, or Sardis, or Philadelphia, or Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). Imagine living in Ephesus and reading Paul’s prayer for your church to understand its hope and inheritance (Ephesians 1:17-2:22).
And imagine being rich in the early church and hearing James’ letter warning: “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your field, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
Imagine hearing it all for the first time. It all feels so real. The call to holiness feels so urgent because God feels so present.
The first violence happened on May 22, 2011 when a tornado killed 158 people, injured 1,000 more, and wiped out more than 25 percent of your town. That was nature's violence.
A human form of violence began 14 months later, with two attempts in 2012 to burn down the mosque of the Islamic Society of Joplin. The first attempt, which took place on America's 236th Birthday, July 4th, only burned part of the roof. The second attempt on Hiroshima Day, August 6th, was successful in totally destroying the mosque.
You are not alone. Around the country, other forms of violence have occurred this year — daily, weekly, monthly:
- Chicago's daily shootings have led to more than 300 gunshot homicides so far this year. (1/3 happened this summer.)
- The July mass shooting in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., killed or wounded 70 people.
- The August shooting in a Sikh Temple by a neo-Nazi in Oak Creek, Wis., killed or wounded 10 people.
What can I say to the good folks of Joplin?
I’m on day 14 of my Ramadan fast — almost the halfway point. My schedule has been so scattershot with travel that I haven’t been able to make it to a mosque yet. Nonetheless, lightheadedness brought on by lack of water and sleep has become my new normal.
I asked Daisy Khan, Imam Feisal’s wife and the Executive Director of the American Society of Muslim Advancement: “What about sleep? How do people do it?” She explained, during Ramadan we live like angels. Angels don’t need sleep. They don’t need food or water.
“But how do they do it, physically?” I pressed.
“Spiritual energy,” Daisy said.
A few weeks ago, we asked you to sign a petition asking the Department of Justice to investigate hate crimes against the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque. Federal officials are offering $15,000 for information leading to the man who set the mosque on fire July 4th.
Beau Underwood wrote for Sojourners two weeks ago: “The biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves requires Christians to speak out against these attacks. By protecting the rights of American Muslims to worship in the United States, we provide a powerful witness to those countries where Christian minorities face attack and persecution, such as Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya. If we expect others to take our advocacy for global religious freedom seriously, then our efforts must begin in our own backyard.”
More than 5,500 of you signed this petition, which is incredible! But we don’t have to stop there.
After two days of deep and unwavering pangs of hunger and thirst that had to wait for sundown to be filled, I had an epiphany: In the same way that I waited eagerly for the breaking of the Ramadan fast each night — counting it as something to celebrate — on the day Jesus comes again, we will celebrate. On that day there will be no injustice anymore. Imagine it! There will be no hunger anymore! There will be no one who is thirsty anymore! All will have their fill! All will taste the sweetness of life! All will be free of oppression! All will be able to laugh and play, and no one will be lonely any more.
Then it struck me: Ramadan offers an emphatic example of what is to come. Just as the community of creation suffers and groans waiting for all the relationships broken at the Fall to be made right again (Romans 8:18-23), so the communities that practice Ramadan suffer and grow together each day, waiting for their very bodies to be made right again each night through the intake of food and water.
An outspoken supporter of a planned mosque that has sparked opposition in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has switched sides and joined the anti-Islam movement.
Eric Allen Bell, a documentary filmmaker, was a fixture at court hearings and protests over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in 2010. Back then, he was making a movie called Not Welcome, which depicted mosque critics as Southern Christian bigots.
Now he says the mosque is part of a plot to destroy America. He claimed the mosque is "built on a foundation of lies" in a recent op-ed piece at the anti-Islam site Jihadwatch.com.
House lawmakers split along party lines at a hearing on June 20 meant to gauge Muslim responses to earlier hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims.
Testimony by four witnesses was overshadowed by Republicans who defended the four prior hearings and Democrats who questioned whether they were misguided or actually harmful to Muslim Americans.
Short on new data but long on rhetoric, lawmakers argued both sides of the same statistics and relied heavily on anecdotes.
“The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans, yet the reality is that the Islamist terror threat comes from the community,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security.
I have been discovering more each day how much I love Muslim people. They are beautiful, warm people, yet we are afraid of them because of misconceptions based on our stereotypes of their race.
I have friends who were living in the Middle East for four years and were sharing about how amazing they find Muslim people. Through my own encounters and my friend’s experiences, here’s what muslim people have taught me.
The compelling story of the Global Christian Forum, shared with the more than 300 forum attendees (many of them new), was told in moving testimonies from Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Catholic, and historic Protestant members of the forum's steering committee. ... It's remarkable to hear how an Egyptian surgeon became a Coptic Orthodox priest, or how a woman Anglican Bishop from New Zeland heard her calling to the priesthood as a teenager, long before her church ordained women. Story after story simply puts you in awe of God's grace.
The Global Christian Forum is the most exciting and promising ecumenical initiative I've participated in all my years of ministry. Its import can be summed up simply: This is the only place where the leadership of evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, historic Protestant and Orthodox churches -- which comprise all the major "families" of world Christianity -- are brought into sustained and intentional fellowship. In so doing, the Global Christian Forum is also responding to the dramatic shift of the center of Christianity from the North and West to the southern hemisphere.