Evolution and Islam

From October 2-3, 2009, a conference was held at Hampshire College titled “Darwin and Evolution in the Muslim World.” Discussions at the conference addressed a number of aspects that included: authority of the Qur’anic text in the creation story, authority of religious scholars versus scientists, and how evolution is addressed in textbooks in Muslim countries. This topic has also received attention recently with a few articles appearing in The New York Times  and The Guardian, for example. Continue reading

Closure for the “Hijab Martyr”

This past July, in Dresden, Germany, Marwa al-Sherbini, a 32-year-old Egyptian pharmacist was murdered in a courtroom. I wrote about this story right after it happened and received many responses to the event. Many were troubled by the fact that this women was stabbed at least 16 times in full view of witnesses, including her husband and three year old son, and no one was able to save her.

The update to the story is that the murderer, Alexander Wiens, has now been convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. In a highly anticipated trial, especially for Egyptians, it seemed like justice was served. While many Egyptians and Muslims worldwide were troubled by the immediate silence of German media after the event, the fact that Wiens received the maximum sentence without the customary possibility for early release after 15 years quelled the frustration.

Although something like this should never have happened, the verdict gives some closure to this highly contentious case and perhaps offers lessons into the dangers of hate.

What is your reaction to the verdict? Will this help relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany and elsewhere? How severe should the consequences be for hate crimes? Please share your comments.

Music and Islam

SuttonThe complicated relationship between music and Islam has been something which has interested Inside Islam from the very beginning. Even though religious chanting is allowed–even encouraged–in Islam, there is an ongoing debate whether other music is permitted. Some Muslim communities ban non-chanting music all together, while others allow it as long as it doesn’t contain messages (e.g. sex, alcohol) that go against the teachings of Islam.

The Muslims in Indonesia adopt the latter attitude. As Prof. Anderson Sutton told Inside Islam, Islamic music is not only allowed but is also a huge part of the popular culture in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. You can listen to the whole interview  by clicking on the player below.

(11:20) [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/andySutton.mp3]

Continue reading

The Hajj

Masjid Al-Haram and the Kaba during Hajj

Masjid Al-Haram and the Kaba during Hajj

This Thursday, November, 19th, on the next Inside Islam radio broadcast, the topic will be the hajj. Between November 25-30, one of the longest-lived religious rites in the world will take place. Every year, for well over 1400 years, millions of Muslims from around the world have flocked to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to fulfill the pilgrimage. The hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, is a duty prescribed on every able and healthy Muslim to perform once in their life. This journey, while physically exerting, is described by many pilgrims as one they would like to repeat again in their lifetime. Continue reading

Sadness Leading to Fear

On Thursday, November 5th, Major Nidal Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood and killed 13 and injured 30. My initial reaction was like everyone else: extreme sadness over the loss of life, especially since it was not in a war zone and the victims were killed by another soldier. It is troubling. However, what I feared would happen as soon as I saw the name did happen. The focus now was on his level of religiosity and the role of Islam in this kind of violence. While I absolutely condemn these killings, I wish that for once the discussion focused on the human level–from all sides. Whenever a Muslim commits an act of violence, it is never read as an individual act or looked on as a human ill; rather, the person is always part of a larger problematic called Islam. Ironically, the next day, a shooting occurred in Orlando and the religion of the perpetrator was not mentioned at all. Continue reading

Art and Islam: Interview with Ken George

kenArt0Many of the world’s greatest art works are inspired by religion (for example, Leonarda da Vinci’s The Last Supper) and arouse an almost religious sense of awe (think of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings). This close relationship between art and religion is very much alive in contemporary Indonesia, home of the largest Muslim population in the world. Nobody understands this better than Kenneth George, UW-Madison professor of anthropology and author of an upcoming book, Picturing Islam: Art and Ethics in a Muslim Lifeworld. Prof. George sat down with Inside Islam recently to share his diverse experience with Muslim culture, from living in a small rural Muslim community to working with cosmopolitan Muslim artists and urban intellectuals. Continue reading

Depicting the Prophet

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jylland-Posten first published 12 offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. These cartoons triggered protests, some violent, around the Muslim world. For many Muslims, the cartoons were not a matter of free speech, but were perceived to be hate speech against Muslims. Moreover, the lack of respect in these depictions was troubling. Islamic law opposes any representation of the Prophet, even positive, out of fear of idolatry. The controversy over the cartoons has dissipated considerably, but the discussion around a new book from Yale University Press on the topic The Cartoons that Shook the World illustrates that the issue of representing the Prophet Muhammad, especially negatively, continues to have ramifications. Now there are new efforts to use visual media, specifically film, to portray a positive image of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam that respects the edicts of the faith and aims to build bridges. Continue reading

Updating Mosques?

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina

Among the most prominent symbols of Islam is the mosque. The dome and the minaret instantly come to mind when someone thinks of the Muslim place of worship. The designs that dominate the Islamic world tend to stem from Arabesque styles from the early periods of Islam. However, there have been calls to modernize mosque architecture to reflect the changes in the Muslim world. Those who make such calls argue that there is no such thing as “Islamic architecture” and that the only real requirement for a mosque is that it be clean and suitable for prayer. Others, though, contend that there must be something recognizably “Islamic” about the structure so that anyone who sees it associates it with Islam. Continue reading

Interview with Francis Bradley

bradleyThe first understanding of Islam beyond stereotypes for many non-Muslims starts with a Muslim friend. That’s the case with Francis Bradley, a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UW-Madison. The personal connection with a friend from Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, not only introduced him to Muslim culture, but also played a critical role in his research and career. He sat down with me earlier this month to talk about his experience with Islam. Continue reading

Islam: A Message of Tolerance

With all the recent news of bombings and violence in parts of the Muslim world — Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan — I felt compelled to write a response to the violence. Like anyone else, when I hear that someone has been killed, especially in a context of war and terrorism, I am deeply saddened and troubled. I know that I have grown up in a faith that strongly condemns the killing of innocent people and yet that is not the message that is communicated to the world. On the news, it seems easier to blame the perceived “violent” nature of Islam, rather than understanding the multiple factors involved and how (whichever) religion is manipulated to achieve certain ends. Though, I reiterate, this is not Islam as others have pointed out. It is too easy to lose sight of the majority of believers and focus on a few and their problematic use of faith. Continue reading