Is There a Christian Double Standard on Religious Violence? – The Daily Beast

Good long and nuanced read, covering a range of theological perspectives:

Shortly after September 11, 2001, then President George W. Bush spoke directly to Muslims. “We respect your faith,” he said, calling it “good and peaceful.” Terrorists, he added, “are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”

Recently, TODAY’s Matt Lauer reminded Bush of his words. “I understood right off the bat, Matt, that this was an ideological conflict—that people who murder the innocent are not religious people,” Bush explained.

Those words epitomize an important, but controversial question: is someone who acts violently in the name of a faith truly a member of that faith? According to recently highlighted data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)—which focuses primarily on Christian responses to that yes/no question—potential answers may result in a “double standard.” Christians are more likely to say that other Christians acting violently are not true Christians, while failing to provide the same latitude for Muslims.

But how closely does this represent the reality? When I asked Christian theologians the why behind that simple survey, the answers were—perhaps surprisingly—more complicated and diverse.

According to PRRI, 50 percent of Americans in general say that violence in the name of Islam does not represent Islam—75 percent say the same of Christianity. The numbers shift, however, the more specific the demographic gets, creating the alleged “double standard.” White mainline Protestants (77 percent) and Catholics (79 percent) reject the idea that true Christians act violently, with 41 percent and 58 percent respectively being willing to say the same of Muslims.

White evangelicals stand out the most, having what PRRI calls the “larger double-standard”—87 percent disown Christians who commit violent acts, with only 44 percent willing to say the same about Muslims.

Many, however, believe that Christians who commit acts of terror are overlooked in the West—that “terrorist” is a biased word used only of non-white violent acts done in the name of Islam.

Early in February, the White House issued a report of 78 terror attacks the Trump administration says were ignored by the media. The list was widely dissected by the press and pundits, with news outlets challenging the claims (listing their own coverage as proof), taking the metaphorical red pencil to the list’s many clear spelling errors, and noting the conspicuous absence of attacks by professed white Christians. Notably, the list did not include the recent attack on a mosque in Quebec, as CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out.

Understandably, most people are unlikely to associate willfully with anyone who acts horribly in the name of a faith they love. When terrorist attacks do occur, faith representatives frequently waste little time in denouncing them (PRRI’s “double standard”) but not all are sure that these open repudiations represent the reality.

“Christians who commit terrorists acts in the name of their religion are, of course, Christian terrorists,” she says. This does not mean that “Christianity is only a violent religion,” but “it has been complicit in horrific and systemic violence across history, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the Nazis, and today’s Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.”

She believes it is important that Christians face the issue honestly. “Christians don’t get a ‘hall pass’ to go innocently through the bloody history of what has been done by Christians in the name of Christianity over time. It is absolutely critical that Christians not turn away from the Christian theological elements in such religiously inspired terrorism.”

The same goes for Islam, she says.

“When Muslims commit horrific acts in the name of their religion, I do not think they cease to be Muslims.” She recognizes that Muslims who distance themselves from ISIS might say, “That’s not Islam,” but she believes it is more complicated than that.

“I know many thoughtful Muslims who know they need to dig deeply into their own faith in order to look at the temptations to violence, such as thinking you are doing the ‘will of God’ when what you are really doing is using Islam in order to gain political power.”

Daniel Kirk, pastoral director at Newbigin House of Studies, agrees that violence does not negate one’s Christian or Muslim status.

“Each religion and every religious text holds potential for harm as well as good. Acts of violence can be, and often are, religious expressions. It is critical that we recognize the human component involved when religious communities shape behavior. If we deny the religious component we misinterpret the action and lose our opportunity to respond to it appropriately.”

When shooters (or potential shooters) like Dylan RoofBenjamin McDowellRobert Doggart, and Robert Dear, identify themselves as Christians, many might hope to rescind their membership or say it was never valid, but others, like Kirk, believe that approach is problematic.

“Unless a person is being intentionally deceitful, someone who claims to be acting on the basis of religious fervor should be treated as an adherent to that religion. I do not get to judge whether or not a person is ‘really’ of their faith. As a Christian I can only try to persuade other Christians as to why certain behaviors are incompatible with the Christian faith.”

Others believe that the difference between Christians and Muslims is more distinct—that the religion of Jesus rejects violence, but that Islam does not.

“The alleged double-standard claimed by the PRRI survey essentially dissolves when we consider the example and teachings of the respective founders, Jesus and Muhammad,” says evangelical professor Paul Copan, Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. “Jesus repudiated violence—that is, the unjust use of force—done in his name.”

“By contrast, Muhammad himself engaged in violent, ruthless actions during his career,” he adds. “He taught such ruthlessness as normative in the Quran.”

While agreeing with the larger results of the survey, Copan says the discussion has layers, noting particularly the role of Christians in the military who—assuming they have a just cause—may have to kill. They are in a different situation. It is also possible, he says, for “misguided” Christians to act violently (and therefore, “unjustly”), even if it is contrary to the faith.

When it comes to Islam, he adds that he’s known “plenty of gracious, hospitable Muslims” who “repudiate violence done in the name of Islam” by “screening off any violent texts of the Quran,” though he can’t say that violence in the name of Islam is inconsistent with the faith.

Evangelical J. Robert Douglass, associate professor of theological studies at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, takes a cautious approach to the question, recognizing that both faiths have sacred texts that could be understood violently.

“My understanding of the Christian faith does not permit violence in the name of Christ,” he says. “However, I am not prepared to say that a person who acts in a way contradictory to the teachings of Christ is excluded from being a Christian.” He recognizes that there are complications behind violence, like ignorance, manipulation, and mental illness.

“If behaving in opposition to the teachings of Christ kept one from being a Christian, I could not consider myself one.”

He admits that due to competing factions in Islam with varying interpretations vying for “authentic representation”—some advocating violence and others peace—the question is more difficult to answer “definitively.”

“Both the Bible and the Quran have passages that advocate violence, at least within particular historical contexts,” says Douglass. He says he doesn’t find “a sizable faction within Christianity that is still explicitly advocating the legitimacy of violence in a manner that we presently see in Islam,” but “since Christianity had a historical head start, perhaps in 500 or 600 years this will no longer be true for Islam either.”

Other theologians readily reject the face value of a faith label attached to an act of violence, agreeing with Christians or Muslims who say, “That’s not my faith.”

Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and an outspoken pacifist, finds himself taking a very different stance, saying that anyone—Christian or Muslim—who acts out in violence is not truly a part of those faiths.

“Jesus made one’s commitment to refrain from violence, and to instead love and bless one’s enemies, the precondition for being considered ‘a child of your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:39-45). Though followers of Jesus are never allowed to judge another person’s heart or ‘salvation,’ Jesus’ teaching rules out killing another human for any reason, let alone doing so as an act of terror in his name!”

“While the Quran allows Muslims to take the lives of others under certain conditions,” he adds, “these conditions rule out murdering innocent people to install terror in others (6:151). I therefore side with the majority of Muslims who do not consider Islamic terrorists to be true Muslims.”

The briefest dive into this conversation about religious identity quickly reveals an undeniable mosaic of views. And—perhaps to the surprise of some—it should be noted that the flipside of this conversation among Muslims may result in conclusions similar to these Christian perspectives.

“If someone claiming to be Christian commits an act of violence in the name of Christianity,” says Harris Zafar, National Spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, “it certainly cannot be my place as a Muslim to decide whether or not that person is a true Christian.” He sees that as “the burden” of his “Christian friends,” though he does believe violence contradicts the “teachings of Christianity.”

“And to be honest,” he adds, “the same holds true with regards to a Muslim. As a Muslim, if I were to look at those Muslims who commit horrible acts of violence and terrorism and say they are not real Muslims, I’m committing the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy.”

The goal of Islam is not to judge others, he says, noting that the Prophet Muhammad saw such actions as a “sin.”

Instead he “would focus on highlighting all of the teachings of Islam that this person is violating. And Muslims who commit acts of terror can certainly call themselves Muslims if they would like, but I can easily illustrate the fundamental teachings of Islam that they are starkly violating.”

Islam, says Zafar, calls its adherents to “stop that injustice” and “unite people together through a bond of humanity and mutual respect—not to divide people with injustice or violence.”

Undeniably, this is a conversation and debate with years of life left in it. The diversity of opinion belies the reality: there is no such thing as a single or simple Christian perspective on how to understand violence and religiosity.

It was former president and self-professed Christian, Barack Obama, for example, who once offered a similar sentiment to that of Bush. When asked in a CNN town hall why he wouldn’t use the words “radical Islamic terrorist,” he said didn’t want to lump “these murderers” with the world’s billions of peaceful Muslims.

“There is no doubt that these folks think and claim that they are speaking for Islam,” he said, “but I don’t want to validate what they do. If you had an organization that was going around killing and blowing people up and said, ‘We’re on the vanguard of Christianity.’ As a Christian, I’m not going to let them claim my religion and say, ‘you’re killing for Christ.’ I would say, that’s ridiculous.”

Source: Is There a Christian Double Standard on Religious Violence? – The Daily Beast

Catholicism has done more harm to Australia than Islam. Where’s the outrage? | Kristina Keneally 

Some valid points in terms of not treating all religions equally or holding them to similar standards:

Abdel-Magied was trying to make a similar point about Islam, the prophet Muhammad and subsequent patriarchal interpretations of the Koran. Maybe she was naive to think the “reality show” that Q&A has descended into was the best place to use phrases like “Islam is the most feminist of all religions” and “There is a difference between religion and culture.” Sentences like that need to be placed in context, unpacked for nuance.

Unfortunately context and nuance are not big features of conversation inside the outrage machine, but double standards are rife.

It seems that every Australian Muslim who pokes their head up in public is expected to own, explain and condemn any terrorist act carried out by any extremist Muslim anywhere in the world. The outrage machine demands it, and then that same machine judges if the words are sufficient.

Why isn’t this same outrage applied to Australian Catholics? If we are going on a body count the Catholic clergy has done more harm to more Australians than extremist Muslims. More than 4,000 reports of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic church made to the royal commission. God knows how many more are unreported. Innocent Australian children and young people are the victims. Lives have been ruined: suicides and mental illness, broken families, grotesque physical injury.

Why isn’t the outrage machine demanding the Catholic prime minister condemn this horrendous and sustained attack on Australians every time the commission hears from another victim of Catholic abuse?

Why aren’t they regularly calling for the Catholic deputy prime minister to speak out and make clear he does not condone what some Catholic clergy have done?

Why aren’t they asking the Catholic-raised leader of the opposition about whether Cardinal George Pell should face questions in Australia? Oh, wait, the leader of the opposition said in parliament two weeks ago that Cardinal Pell should be sent back to Australia to face questions. Why didn’t the outrage machine join that bandwagon?

Why aren’t they demanding the government urgently implement a national redress scheme to make reparations to the Catholic church’s victims?

Or is taking on Australian Catholics hitting just a little too close to home?

It’s easier, isn’t it, to pick on the young woman with the scarf on her head, or get upset about two little girls in a hijab, all in the name of making Australia safe.

What brave defenders of freedom, of Australia, you are.

Source: Catholicism has done more harm to Australia than Islam. Where’s the outrage? | Kristina Keneally | Opinion | The Guardian

ICYMI: Trump’s dangerous delusions about Islam | Christopher de Bellaigue | The Guardian

Good long read by Christopher de Bellaigue, taken from his latest book, The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason (conclusion excerpt):

Even accounting for the new arrivals of recent years, Muslims amount to just 6% of Europe’s population, and 1% of that of the US. But proportionality of response is not considered a virtue among the new nationalists – and even if the Muslim immigration figures were to start to fall, and all fear of submergence under a Muslim tide was demonstrated to be empirically groundless, who’s to say the populists would allow the thrill of fear to abate?

What seems more likely is that today’s proponents of harsh anti-Muslim measures will find retroactive justification in any virulent reaction they excite, leading to even more and harsher measures against Muslims – much as the European powers whose interventions helped hasten the collapse of the Islamic Enlightenment at the start of the last century felt their actions were vindicated by the violence that followed.

For those whose primary concern is the perpetuation of cultural homogeneity, the pressing question is a simple one: what is to be done with the Muslims? The clashist version of history makes their antipathy to modernity indisputable; integration and assimilation are therefore impossible. This would seem to be the position of the 60% of Germans, for example, who have been found in surveys to agree with Frauke Petry’s AfD that Islam does not belong in their country.

This is the kind of polling that converts easily into action by a decisive commander-in-chief. And it is surely legitimate to observe that Islamism of a strident and intermittently violent sort has made inroads in European societies, bringing a combative intolerance to parts of the continent where the socio-economic indicators are in any case low.

But the question for anyone concerned for the overall health of society is a more complicated one; the answer will have to address the actual threat of jihadism, calm the fears of those who believe an intangible and precious part of their culture is endangered, and revive the dimming faith in the possibility of inclusive, multi-ethnic liberal democracy.

We already know what Trump’s reaction to the next atrocity will be. “I told you so,” he will say, and give the screws a turn. Electronic tagging; deportations; orders to shoot illicit refugees (a suggestion of the AfD’s Petry) – the menu of vengeful retributions before the clash-mongers is long and mouthwatering.

For those grappling with the second of the two questions, the options are already limited. The European refugee crisis has hardened the continent’s heart, probably forever, and sectarian identity has been placed at the heart of western political debate. All of this happened before Trump entered the White House; under Obama, it was already hard enough for anyone hailing from a Muslim-majority country to gain entry to the US.

But as Trump and his allies are eager to demonstrate, there is a vast difference between the existing regimes of stringent border security – which effectively served as a moratorium on any mass Muslim migration – and the new environment of official vilification. The scapegoating of Muslim communities in Europe and America is the road to pogroms, and it is that road that we are starting down, even if we can still turn back.

Relish for the clash is in the air. Bannon is up for it. So are the jihadis; Trump is doing their work for them, proving that the west hates Islam for xenophobic reasons, which is what they said all along. The entrenchment of clashism – as an observation presented to a few academics in 1957 becomes the creed of a new ruling class – will only draw more and more people into believing its truth. 

Source: Trump’s dangerous delusions about Islam | Christopher de Bellaigue | News | The Guardian

Georgetown professor under fire by conservatives for lecture about slavery and Islam – The Washington Post

Challenge for academics in terms of how their nuances and subtleties get lost in public debate, and how the present can cloud our understanding of the past (understanding doesn’t equal acceptance):

Brown’s lecture was from the first of several papers he said he is writing on the question of Islam and slavery that are aimed at giving the Muslim community tools to bridge the gap between “elements of Islamic traditions and modern values” at a time when the Islamic State has “slammed the issue of slavery on the table in the 21st century.” In a phone interview, he said was trying to “help frame this problem by discussing the values of consent and autonomy that are prominent today, but they weren’t always.”

Brown denied that he had condoned slavery and non-consensual sex and said that his critics, some of them from the “alt-right,” are misquoting him. “I don’t know how they could say that I did,” he said. Scholars are at risk, he said, if “some de-contextualized quote of theirs is taken out and prompts a feeding frenzy that calls for them to be fired.”

A number of stories from conservative magazines and websites wrote scathing stories about the lecture, saying that he was condoning slavery and non-consensual sex. For example, the American Conservative wrote a piece with this headline: “Georgetown Prof Defends Islamic Slavery.” American Thinker had a story with this headline: “Georgetown professor defends Islamic slavery and ‘non-consensual’ sex.” The Daily Banter wrote: “Islamic Studies Professor On Whether Rape and Slavery Are Wrong: It Depends” and “An Islamic Studies professor at Georgetown has taken academic obscurantism and cultural relativism to new heights.”

Source: Georgetown professor under fire by conservatives for lecture about slavery and Islam – The Washington Post

Americans View Islam Less Negatively Than They Did A Year Ago | The Huffington Post

Not sure the extent to which this is positive (fewer negative views) or negative (greater political polarization) but ironic given the words of the Trump campaign and the words and actions of the Trump administration:

Americans’ view of Islam are, by and large, hostile. But negative opinions of the religion have dropped significantly during the past year, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, despite ― or perhaps in response to ― the anti-Islam rhetoric often espousedby President Donald Trump and his advisers.

Last March, Americans were 42 points more likely to view the religion negatively than they were to view it positively. That gap dropped to 33 points by June, and to 20 points in the most recent survey, the lowest it’s been since HuffPost/YouGov surveys first asked the question nearly two years ago.

HUFFINGTON POST

At least one other pollster has noticed a similar shift. Shibley Telhami, the director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year about having seen attitudes toward “Muslim people” growing progressively more favorable between November 2015 and October 2016 ― even after Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida.

He attributed some of the change to polarization, noting that the biggest driver was evolving opinions among Democrats, and, to a lesser extent, independents.

“As on almost all issues, partisan divisions intensified during a highly divisive election year,” he wrote. “The more one side emphasized the issue — as happened with Trump on Islam and Muslims — the more the other side took the opposite position. … Trump the president should have more sway. But he is starting at place where partisanship is not diminishing, and where his presidential rhetoric mirrors his words as a partisan candidate.”

Breaking down the two most recent HuffPost/YouGov surveys along party lines yields similar results, suggesting that the Trump administration’s rhetoric has actually galvanized Democrats, and some independents, into greater support of Islam.

HUFFINGTON POST

In June 2016, Democrats, Republicans and independents all held net negative views of Islam, although the gap was most pronounced among Republicans. Since then, Democrats’ opinions of the religion have improved significantly ― favorable opinions have risen by 11 points, while unfavorable opinions have fallen by 13 points.

Defusing The Lure Of Militant Islam In France, Despite Death Threats : NPR

One approach:

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres(Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Source: Defusing The Lure Of Militant Islam In France, Despite Death Threats : Parallels : NPR

Why Islam Gets Second-Class Status in Germany – The New York Times

Interesting commentary by Alexander Gorlach:

Religion in Germany is not a private affair. Government at all levels recognizes religious communities as public institutions, and encourages participation in them — Germans who register with the state as Roman Catholics, Protestants or Jews pay a “religion tax,” which the government then sends to their respective institution. Religious groups are also allowed to give faith-based instruction in public schools: It’s not uncommon for a small-town pastor, priest or lay person to have a spot on the local high school faculty.

To enjoy this privileged status, religious communities must have a defined set of beliefs, their members must be recorded, and they must have historical and social significance. The Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious communities are organized as public institutions; in the state of Berlin, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon Church are as well.

It might seem as if Islam, with 4.3 million adherents in Germany, would have qualified easily. But so far, the German government has resisted including it.

The reason is both simple and complex: Muslim communities are separated along ethnic lines as well as along denominational lines among Sunnis, Shiites and Alawites. Often there is little unity among these groups, hence they fail the most important state criterion: a unified religious body with shared goals and doctrines.

These requirements for a religion to get a privileged status in Germany highlight the anachronistic state of the secular federal republic in its approach to faith. The idea that the state can cooperate with religious groups in the same way it cooperates with, say, labor unions presumes a certain unity and hierarchy on the part of those groups. But Islam doesn’t work that way. It simply doesn’t fit within criteria written for the structured Christian churches that have shaped Europe, with bishops and baptismal registers.

For quite some time, there have been demands that the law be renamed to the Religionsrecht (State and Religion Law), and for it to include a wider diversity of religions. Though nothing much has changed on the national level, there has been progress in the states, where most of the country’s religious laws are promulgated. Bavaria, a conservative Catholic state that polls very high in measurements of xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment, nevertheless has been running an Islamic-education pilot program in schools; it is also home to Germany’s oldest mosques. Perhaps the Bavarians, precisely because they protect their own religious and cultural traditions so ferociously, are also the most willing to recognize and support the traditions of others.

But it’s not only in Bavaria that reform is moving forward. In the Protestant-dominated north, Christian Wulff, a premier of Lower Saxony, set up training courses for future imams and Islamic religious teachers at the universities of Münster and Osnabrück. Later, when he was president of Germany, Mr. Wulff said, “Islam belongs to Germany.”

Though Mr. Wulff served just two years as president before resigning in 2012 over allegations of corruption (since dropped), his actions on behalf of Islam — and that quotation in particular — set off a debate that continues across the country. Critics of Islamic religious education in the schools, including many Muslims themselves, say that there is no group in the country that can speak for all Muslims. And indeed, it is estimated that the Central Council of Muslims and the Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany, the two groups that have the best claims to speak for Islam in Germany, represent no more than 20 percent of German Muslims.

Germany is a secular country, but the German legal framework approves of institutionalized religions in a biased way. The religions must organize themselves according to state standards, and those standards are tailored toward the structures of the Christian religion.

The result is a delegitimization of the state’s relationship to religious groups in the eyes of many non-Christians, particularly Muslims — a dangerous prospect at a time when rapid integration is essential to maintain social peace. In the context of a growing Muslim community and a rising number of citizens affiliated with no religion at all, Germany may not be able to maintain an order that arose many generations ago.

Playboy and the False Normalization of the Hijab: Maajid Nawaz

Nawaz provides historical perspective to wearing of the hijab, contrasting liberal and conservative perspectives, which will provoke discussion and debate:

As a reforming secular liberal Muslim, I do not endorse the gender-discriminatory body-shaming and moralizing of the hijab. I will fight fiercely to protect anyone’s right to wear this medieval flag of female “chastity,” but that doesn’t mean I think the wearer is right to do so. Let us not ban the hijab, but let us not glamorize it either. I prefer leaving that to religious conservatives who are fixated on nudity, “modesty,” and female “honor.” This is a conservative, not liberal, view of the human body. Such illiberal, regressive-left promotion of religious conservativism—only for Muslims mind you—is nothing short of exoticized Orientalism rehashed.

 The assumption made by some liberals is that the “authentic” Muslim woman is the hijab-wearing one, while non-hijabis are seen as Westernized, inauthentic Muslims. Likewise, the religious-conservative Muslim assumption equates concealing the female form to “modesty,” as if a woman who shows her hair or reveals her figure is somehow immodest.

This is a not-so-subtle form of bigotry against the female form, and it has real consequences, including rising social-conservative attitudes across Muslim communities around gender and sexual freedom. In too many instances across Muslim-majority societies, including those embedded in Europe, this “modesty theology” has led to slut-shaming of women who do not cover. Worse yet, it can lead to so-called honor killings.

Many non-Muslims simply assume there is only one—conservative—way of being Muslim. But we Muslims are no longer this distant and native “other” that liberals and conservatives can visit once a year to share a bit of falafel.

We are born and raised among you, and Islam is therefore now firmly native to our societies. So judge us by the same progressive standards you reserve for everyone else. We Muslim reformers have to be able to demand the same progressive rights within our communities that are enjoyed by everyone else. Your intervention and interaction with Muslims’ intra-religious debate around these issues is not neutral. A civil war is raging within our communities about the future of Islam for Muslims.

Liberal Muslim theologians such as Britain’s Shaykh Salah al-Ansari, Dr. Usama Hasan, and Pakistan’s Javaid Ghamidi, argue that the hijab is not a religious duty (fard) at all. And that is how it used to be.

Up until the 1980s, the female body was not shamed out of public view in Muslim-majority societies. But from the ’80s onward, theocratic Islamism began replacing Arab socialism as the ideology of resistance against “the West.” This struggle against the “other” necessitated defining what is “ours” and what is “theirs”—and women, of course, were deemed “ours.”

Suddenly, women’s bodies became the red line in a cultural war against the West started by theocratic Islamism. A Not Muslim Enough charade was used to identify “true” Muslims against “Western” stooges. Religious dress codes became a crucial marker in these cultural purity stakes. Any uncovered woman was now deemed loose, decadent, and attention seeking. In short, aligned to the “Western enemy.”

Back to the Playboy shoot: The admirably entrepreneurial Noor Taguri advises younger girls who look up to her to “stay fearless and remember that everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.”

My advice to Noor is: I hope you do the same, sister. Do look up the late great Egyptian feminist Huda Sharawi who truly stepped out of her “comfort zone” when, in 1923, she shocked Muslims everywhere by removing her hijab publicly for the first time.

Within months Muslim women the world over were encouraged to shed this gender-discriminatory medieval throwback to “modesty.” Those were the days when genuine Western progressives supported genuine Muslim feminists.

ICYMI: In the Attic of Early Islam by Robert F. Worth | The New York Review of Books

A reminder of an era where Islamic interpretation was not drowned out by fundamentalists:

Sometime around the year 1314, a retired Egyptian bureaucrat named Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri began writing a compendium of all knowledge, under the appealingly reckless title The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition. It would eventually total more than 9,000 pages in thirty volumes, covering all of human history from Adam onward, all known plants and animals, geography, law, the arts of government and war, poetry, recipes, jokes, and of course, the revelations of Islam.

At one point, Nuwayri tackles a subject that may seem familiar to the modern audience: the Islamic punishments for adultery, sodomy, and fornication. He cites authorities who declare that such sinners must be stoned to death or severely flogged, in language that conjures up the gruesomely “medieval” execution videotapes posted seven hundred years later by ISIS: “Whosoever engages in the act of the people of Lot—both the active and passive participant—must be put to death.”

Yet this authentically medieval author then continues unblinkingly with a long, celebratory chapter about erotic poetry, much of it homosexual and wine-fueled. A sample:

That sly and brilliant one
Who grows girlish in his impudence
He appears manly at first
But after a drink is suddenly a woman
When you tell him: “Baby, say Moses,”
He lisps moistly: “Motheth”
He embraces me until morning
Trading stories with me in the dark.

The juxtaposition is one of many in this bizarre, fascinating book that illustrate the sprawlingly heterodox reality of the early centuries of Islam, so different from the crude puritanical myths purveyed by modern-day jihadis. The Ultimate Ambition, a canonical work for scholars in the Islamic world for centuries, has been translated into English for the first time and radically condensed (to about three hundred pages) by Elias Muhanna, a professor of comparative literature at Brown University. Reading it is like stumbling into a cavernous attic full of unimaginably strange artifacts, some of them unforgettable, some merely dross. From the alleged self-fellation of monkeys to the many lovely Bedouin words for the night sky (“the Encrusted, because of its abundance of stars, and the Forehead, because of its smoothness”) to the court rituals of Egypt’s then-overlords, the Mamluks, nothing seems to escape Nuwayri’s taxonomic ambitions.

Nuwayri draws heavily on earlier Islamic sources, and his respect for tradition usually prevents him from passing judgment, even when the claims he is citing are hilariously implausible. In one section, for instance, he passes on a story about a sexually voracious she-bear who captures a man so that she can slake her lust on him again and again, licking his feet raw to prevent him from leaving the cave. Yet at a few points Nuwayri permits himself a brief editorial comment, as in one section about happiness: “Imru’ al-Qays was asked, ‘What is happiness?’ and he replied: ‘A delicate maiden burning with fragrance, burdened by her ample curves.’ He was infatuated by women.” At another point Nuwayri relays a story from “a trustworthy person among the Abyssinians” about how to escape the charge of a wild rhino: “If the man urinates on the rhinoceros’s ear, it will run away and not return to him. That way, the man will escape from it. God knows best.” One has to wonder if the pious addendum is slightly tongue-in-cheek—a rhetorical shrug of the shoulders.

At times Nuwayri allows his sources to compete with each other, citing different juristic opinions on wine-drinking, music, and the punishments for illicit sex. At least once, he even dramatizes such a disagreement:

The caliph al-Ma’mūn asked (the judge) Yaḥyā ibn Aktham about the meaning of desire, and he replied: “It is the auspicious thoughts that a man’s heart falls in love with and his soul esteems.” Then (the theologian) Thumāma spoke up and said: “Shut up, Yaḥyā! You should stick to answering questions about divorce or whether a pilgrim violates his ritual purity by hunting a gazelle or killing an ant.”

Mostly, the heterodoxy creeps in sideways, in the book’s unapologetic references to supposedly illicit pleasures. The section on the human body includes the sub-heading “On Poetic Descriptions of the Down on the Young Male Cheek.” The section titled “On the Buttocks” includes this poetic snippet:

The eyes of his onlookers gathered around
His haunches, like a second belt  

But Nuwayri is not deliberately sabotaging Muslim orthodoxy. He is merely reflecting a world in which moral prescriptions existed alongside a much messier reality, and some degree of dissonance between the two was accepted and forgiven. This loose fit between life and text applied throughout the pre-modern Middle East, but perhaps especially in the turbulent, plague-ridden years of the fourteenth century. Egypt’s rulers, the Mamluks, were a caste of military slave-soldiers who had seized power from their owners in 1250, three decades before Nuwayri’s birth, and remained in power until the Ottomans conquered them in 1517. They were mostly Turkic people from the Eurasian steppe whose forefathers had been kidnapped and trained (too well) in the arts of war. Culturally, it was a time when Sufi mysticism was gaining adherents, and rowdy religious festivals packed Cairo’s streets, encouraging promiscuous minglings of sect and ritual.

This kind of dissonance is still visible in much of the Middle East, despite the dramatic encroachment in recent decades of more literalistic and intolerant strains of religion. I was always struck, while living in Iraq and Lebanon, by the way Muslims could claim they accepted brutally categorical edicts on hellfire, Jews, and unbelief while living in a far more elastic and accepting way. This, I think, is what the late scholar Shahab Ahmed meant when he wrote in his posthumous book What Is Islam? that a true understanding of Islam must “come to terms with—indeed, be coherent with—the capaciousness, complexity, and, often, outright contradiction that obtains within” the religion’s lived history.

Religion aside, the book is full of strange myths and nostrums that hint at what mattered to people in the fourteenth century: sex, money, power, perfume. Nuwayri retails directions for incense and fragrance that are so elaborate it is hard to believe anyone really followed them. (One begins, “Take one hundred mithqāls of rare Tibetan musk and pound it after cleaning it of organ matter and hair.”) Then again, people and cities must have smelled awful, and olfactory relief made a difference. There are also many formulae for enlarging the penis, tightening the vagina, enemas, suppositories, contraceptives, and other sexual aids, with titles like “A Recipe for Another Medicine that Produces Indescribable Pleasure.”

Source: In the Attic of Early Islam by Robert F. Worth | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

To the music-banning Muslim father: Rejecting compromise is extremism: Zarqa Nawaz

Nawaz gets it right:

The school did its best to accommodate the father’s requests by offering alternatives to his children such as not playing instruments and writing a paper on Islam’s long history of religious-inspired music. But those compromises were rejected. Accommodation has to be a two-way street for it to work. To continually reject a reasonable compromise is also a form of extremism.

If a parent feels this strongly about an issue, they have two options: find a religious private school or home school. But to ask a public institution to create an environment that is micro-managed to appeal to every minute religious request is unreasonable. If you take the anti-music logic to the extreme, how can that parent buy groceries in stores where music is playing, eat in a restaurant or even go up an elevator in which many non-Muslims could get behind a music ban for the sake of some peace and quiet?

Muslims believe that Islam takes the middle road when it comes to dealing with issues. We are to be neither extreme in overindulgence or rejection.

The school board offered reasonable solutions and a middle way, which was very Muslim of them, but they were rejected. So if you’re going to be extreme in your response, then typically what happens is that people find enclaves to live their lives separately with their own set of rules. The most infamous example of this is the community of Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., where a sect of Christians believe that polygamy and child marriage is part of its belief system. Because these practices contravene the Canadian Criminal Code, the community has opted to separate itself from the larger majority to minimize their dealings with law enforcement. Muslims have chosen to not live in separate enclaves.

We have chosen to integrate and be part of the majority culture where we contribute and enrich the communities we belong to.

We have Muslim women and men creating art in the form of song, poetry, dance and music. Faith and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have your cake and eat it while a Muslim screeches in a microphone near you.

Source: To the music-banning Muslim father: Rejecting compromise is extremism – The Globe and Mail