More on Religion and Violence: Jesus Guns?

Last Thursday, Trijicon, a Michigan based company announced that it would stop inscribing Biblical references on gun sights for the military. This came after many groups, including the Interfaith Alliance and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, condemned the practice. These inscriptions gained attention after ABC News aired a story about the weapons, referred to by some as “Jesus guns,” with references to New Testament passages.

The obvious discomfort with this practice stems from the military’s policy against proselytizing and also from the reaction by people in predominantly Muslim countries to the idea that a gun used against them had Biblical references. In addition, there is the fact that Muslims in the US military, as well as Iraqi and Afghan soldiers who are being trained by the US, may end up using these weapons. Continue reading

Violence in Nigeria

In last week’s post about Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt, I highlighted that I am troubled by the way that two connected faiths that call for tolerance are often manipulated for specific purposes. As a follow up to that post, I wanted to write about the violence last week between Christians and Muslims in Jos, which stands on the dividing line between predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria and predominantly Christian southern Nigeria. This is another unfortunate example in which religion is  manipulated and used to cover other longstanding problems between groups, rather than addressing those problems directly, problems which many times result from poverty, oppression by both groups, and unemployment.

The violence in Jos began on Sunday, January 17th, and has resulted in the deaths of hundreds. There are varying reports on what triggered the current wave of violence. The New York Times reports it began when Muslim youth attacked a church; The Christian Science Monitor says that it broke out after Christians protested the building of a mosque and Muslim protesters attacked a church; and Human Rights Watch indicates that some leaders say the violence resulted from a disagreement over the rebuilding of a Muslim home in a Christian neighborhood that was destroyed in 2008. Whatever the exact cause of this latest violence, it is important to note that unfortunately this is not the first time that this level of violence has occurred. There were violent riots in 2001 and 2008. Continue reading

Islam and Media: Qantara.de

This is part 5 of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera, Global Voices and CNN.

Having lived through the atrocities of the Nazi era, Germany is very sensitive to issues of tolerance. Perhaps that is why it has put more effort into integrating its four million Muslims, or 5% of the population, into society than many European countries. For instance, German public schools now teach Islam along with other religions. A recent study found that many German Muslims are more German than expected, doing quintessentially German things such as joining soccer clubs or senior citizens’ groups. For many non-Muslim Germans, as talk show host Michel Friedmann remarked, “most of those five percent are honest, bourgeois, boring and sweet — just like their German Christian neighbors.”

A great example of Germany’s effort to promote dialogue with the Muslims is Qantara.de, an Internet portal designed “to discuss controversial issues openly and to highlight common ground between cultures.Qantara means “bridge” in Arabic. Published in Arabic, English, German, Turkish, and Indonesian, the portal is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and is jointly run by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public broadcasting service, the Goethe Institute, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. Continue reading

Muslim-Christian Tensions in Egypt

A mosque and a church in Egypt

A mosque and a church in Egypt

While Egypt is a Muslim majority country, it has a significant Christian minority, about 10% of the population. Although relations between the groups have fluctuated over time, recent trends have unfortunately been towards increased tension. With the recent shootings on January 6th, the Coptic Christmas Eve, outside a church in southern Egypt, many are worried about an increase in violence. What is ironic and sad about the situation is that many Muslim and Christians have friends from both religions and share many common cultural traditions. Moreover, both faiths call on their believers to demonstrate tolerance and kindness towards others. Continue reading

Islam and Science Radio Show

al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham, father of the modern scientific method and the first to give an accurate account of optics

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the contributions of scientists during the Islamic empire and how they have often been glossed over. Next Thursday, January 28th, the next Inside Islam radio show will take up the topic of Islam and Science. Professor George Saliba from Columbia and Professor Jim Al-Khalili from the University of Surrey will  join host Jean Feraca to explore the contributions of scientists from that period, the reasons for the decline, and the role of science in the modern Muslim world.

Among the important questions for the discussion will be: What were the scientific contributions of the Islamic empire to modern science? Why are these contributions forgotten in narratives about the rise of modern science? Why was there a “decline” after such a glorious past? And what kind of scientific developments are occurring now in the Muslim world to regain the spirit of scientific inquiry that once defined the empire?

These are not the only questions for this discussion, and we welcome your input into the show. Please share your comments and questions below or on the air.

Media and Islam: CNN

This is the fourth part of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera and Global Voices.

cnn“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own fact,” said US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. News media’s job is to give the public both facts and opinions, but labeling each clearly so as not to confuse or mislead. Facts should carry more weight in media coverage and be the basis of opinions voiced in media.

Using this criterion to assess the coverage of Islam and the Muslim world by the three major US cable news networks, I find that CNN outperforms Fox News and MSNBC even though it lost 30% of its viewers in 2009 while Fox News gained 7% and MSNBC fell 12%.

First, CNN is more committed to news gathering. Unlike generating opinions, gathering facts requires having reporters on the ground knocking on doors, talking to locals, and sifting through documents. Statistics show that CNN has more correspondents in more Muslim countries than what Fox News and MSNBC have combined. The financial commitment by CNN is also the biggest among the three, with Fox News spending the least on newsgathering. Continue reading

Islam is about empathy not violence

Even though the prevailing image in mainstream media is often that it is a religion of violence, many forget that since its inception Islam called for a system of social justice and responsibility for others. From early on in his life, the Prophet Muhammad was concerned about the state of the less fortunate. In Muhammad’s time, Qurayshi society, which once took care of its members, not only neglected the less fortunate, but did not even provide basic protection in a world that depended on tribal protection. Among the central principles reiterated time and again in the Qur’an is the responsibility to help the other.

Muslims are never to become complacent or assume that hardship can never affect them. In fact, a great responsibility is placed on a Muslim to work for social justice and to be at the forefront of alleviating social ills like poverty. This is one of the core messages of Islam that are too often neglected by many, including Muslims.

I feel it is important to reiterate this point in light of the earthquake in Haiti. Continue reading

What’s in a Name?

Allah

An uproar is occurring in a perhaps unexpected place. This past week Malaysia witnessed rising tensions as several churches have been vandalized. These tensions are the result of a court ruling in which a government ban on the use of Allah by Christians was overturned. Proponents of the ban argue that the term Allah should be reserved only for Muslims because they believe that Christians are using the term to get converts and that its use by other faith communities will end up confusing Muslims. The violence that has resulted, in my view, is problematic and sad. Continue reading

Interview with Farha Tahir

The Fort Hood shooting in November and the arrest of five Virginia young men in Pakistan in December have shocked many Americans in a different way than 9/11 did. The terrorists in the 2001 attack were Islamic extremists from abroad, but the suspects in the two recent cases are American Muslims raised and educated here in the States. Even though it’s not clear whether the Fort Hood suspect was motivated mainly by his religious belief, the case with the five Virginia Muslims is definitely clear: despite their middle-class upbringing and higher education, they are still susceptible to twisted logic of extremism and the recruitment effort by terrorist organizations. Why?

To find out how American Muslims and their communities are wrestling with the question, I talked to Farha Tahir, a graduate student at the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has been actively involved in the national American Muslim community since high school. She was a recipient of the Gamaliel Chair in Peace and Justice in 2003 for her interfaith work. Continue reading