Forbes reported this year that $500 billion in assets are managed according to Sharia, the laws that govern Muslims’ daily life, and the sector is growing. Trends like ethical banking, global Islamic bonds, and Muslim mortgages are attracting attention everywhere from Britain to Malaysia.
As discussed in my post yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI brought the tensions between Muslims and Catholics into the open and discussed them with religious leaders at a conference this month. The conference was held to address the open letter from Muslim leaders who were offended by a speech the Pope made in 2006. They demanded a dialogue to dispel the stereotype that Islam is inherently irrational and Muslims are prone to violence.
In 2006, Muslim leaders criticized Pope Benedict XVI for a quote he used in one of his speeches. It was attributed to a Byzantine emperor who once said that Islam brought only “evil and inhuman” things into the world. The Pope’s remarks were meant to resolve the inherent conflict in religious violence in a way that made sense to Catholics. Taken literally, his remarks were offensive and some Muslims demanded an apology.
The Vatican’s statement on the Pope’s offensive remarks about Prophet Muhammed attempted to answer critics of the speech. The Vatican upholds that all the great religious faiths have the same ethics and love for God, albeit in different traditions. Despite their efforts in Rome, heated criticism from Muslim leaders grew after the official statement.
The Pope finally decided to invite Muslim leaders to meet with him in Rome and ease the tension between the two faiths. President of the European Muslim Network Tariq Ramadan tells us he decided to meet with the Pope because the
debate between Catholicism and Islam must take place. Papal references to “jihad” and “Islamic violence” came as a shock to Muslims, even though they were drawn from a quotation attributed to Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. It is clear that the time has come to open debate on the common theological underpinnings and the shared foundations of the two religions.
All who attended the conference agreed that religious freedom was a good thing and stood united in opposition to terrorism, but the less political and more practical concerns were left unresolved. In The NY Times, Pope Benedict spoke out about the unresolved tension and questions interfaith dialogue.
Even if religion presents no practical answers as the Vatican and Muslims like Tariq Ramadan had wanted, it could help find the questions that we need to ask of our political representatives, even more than of our religious leaders. Interfaith dialogue is a timely way to start brainstorming alternatives, given current events like the Al-Queda video published online last week by the BBC. The video propaganda demonstrates the blurred lines between religion and politics by its use of loaded cultural symbols like Malcolm X and terms like “house-slave” for radical ends.
This radical tone is also reflected in the West. The “Clash of Civilizations” mentality declares there is no solution to intercultural conflicts but total war. If there is no possibility of negotiating a common ground, war seems like the only alternative. The Pope’s decision to have a conference with Muslim leaders might have actually raised one of the most critical questions of our time: can similar dialogues between political leaders resolve cultural conflict without using force?
Pope Benedict XVI concluded his 2006 speech today by saying in the New York Times that the world needs to discuss “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.” Interfaith dialogue may not lead us to any immediate or even certain answers, but it opens up the political possibility for alternatives to violence and shared common ground.
While reviewing this entry, I remembered a piece about the “Interfaith Generation.” Eboo Patel has written about a whole generation of young people opening up about religious difference. Interfaith dialogues is one of the areas Inside Islam will explore in-depth throughout the year. We’d like to hear your story and if you have a project to tell us about, please share it. Are you involved in an interfaith initiative? What do you think about the Pope’s conference? Will you tell us about your personal experience? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Related Here on Earth Radio Program:
To hear about related information on this topic, listen live on the radio as Here on Earth: Radio without Borders discusses the most recent Al-Queda video on Wednesday, November 26. Find out more information and how to listen to here. After it airs, check the Inside Islam Radio Series Archives for a mp3 file of the show.
Many advocates of Sharia cite Islam’s “fundamental respect for women” as one of their religion’s greatest benefits. The prophet Mohammad is known for ascribing women a right to own property, receive education, and hold a job. When asked by an adherent whom he should give his greatest respect to, Mohammad said, “your mother,” then “your mother,” then “your mother,” only then followed by “your father” (here in the Compendium of Muslim Texts).
The debate about Islamic dress such as hijab and head scarfs has fascinated political and fashion publications alike. Popular culture and political magazine Slate published a piece called “Hijab Chic” by Asra Nomani.* Nomani writes about American interpretations of hijab fashion (as does videoblogger Baba Ali and Tariq Ramadan). Her experience at a retail store for so-called “conservative religious women” reveals retailers as reinterpreting the veil to mean an important commercial opportunity. In presenting the view from a non-religious setting (at a fashion show) Nomani points out that in understanding the veil, what is revealed is insight into the people doing the interpreting.
“Families of Abraham”
Photos are part of “Families of Abraham: A photographic, narrative exhibit celebrating life and faith traditions of Jewish, Christian and Muslim families.” Families of Abraham was originally exhibited at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was held over three months during 2007. The Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions at University of Wisconsin-Madison is presenting this exhibit from October 22 through November 28, 2008 at DeRicci Hall, Edgewood College.
Women and the Veil Discussion
Portraits of women and the veil are posted here as a continuation of a discussion on women and the veil on Inside Islam. Both written word and visual images tell us that there is no one Muslim woman who can represent the face of Islam. The following photos from a series entitled “Families of Abraham” illustrate the faith in the lives Muslim women of different ages.
The Muslim West Facts Project is an initiative between the Coexist Foundation and the Gallup Organization. Through statistical surveys and reports, the effort aims to measure and spread evidence of the diversity of Muslim voices from around the world. The project is part of the Gallup World Poll, a collection of indicators of the well-being of all 6 billion world citizens.
This past weekend the New York Times featured blogger reactions from the Arab world to Barack Obama’s campaign victory in the US presidential elections. Most reactions are similar to those of many Americans and include apprehensions over whether the president-elect can fulfill the enormous expectations heaped onto him by the previous administration’s reputation around the world. The Damascene Blog in Syria asked:
Dare we hope that the eight-year nightmare is over?