This year’s Christmas celebrations in Iraq were subdued. Many of Iraq’s Christian citizens have fled after the massacre in the Syriac Cathedral of Baghdad where gunmen from a group linked to Al-Qaeda took over 100 hostages. In the end, 44 were killed. The fact that Christian citizens in Iraq fear for their life and have become the targets of violence by people claiming to act in the name of Islam troubles me. It is another example of a group of Muslims taking Islam hostage to put forward their own political agendas.
Last Monday afternoon in Balad Ruz, a small Diyala town near the border of Iran, a young Sunni police officer name Bilal Ali Muhammad made the ultimate sacrifice and died to save the lives of dozens around him. While public displays of grief and sorrow are commonplace among Ashura observers, this year’s Muharram was especially painful for Muslims in Iraq’s Diyala province.
The role of gender in Islam is a topic that has been debated since the time of the Prophet Muhammad by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I recently posted pieces about mixed-gender prayer and female religious leadership in Islam, looking at various aspects of the complex question of what sorts of interactions between men and women are appropriate. Is the separation between men and women encouraged more in a mosque than in other public settings? Where in the mosque should women pray?
Among the many stereotypes about Islam is the idea that Muslim women are oppressed and cannot make change and that Muslims never stand up to violence. Dr. Hawa Abdi contradicts both stereotypes. She challenged an extremist group within her own country and, along with her daughters, was named Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year. I decided to write about her because of her courage to challenge those in her community who are not acting within the true spirit of Islam.
Only a short time ago, green was just another color in the crayon box. These days, saying “green” sparks images that go well beyond Christmas trees and the Green Bay Packers. Greenhouse gases, green technology, or simply “going green” are phrases that we now hear peppered in daily conversation. But “green-friendly” ideas are anything but new for the people of the Indonesian island of Java.
This fall, author Lesley Hazleton gave a TED talk in Seattle, offering her own interpretation of the Qur’an as an agnostic Jew. Hazleton’s nine-minute presentation, attended by a predominately white, middle-aged, non-Muslim American audience, stemmed from extensive research on the Qur’an and her experiences with Middle Eastern Bedouins. Her raspy, light British accented voice seemed to perfectly complement her academic vocabulary and witty sense of humor, and the audience quickly warmed to her style and intent in countering common negative stereotypes of the Qur’an.
On the next Inside Islam radio show, this Wednesday, December 15th, Jean will be talking with G. Willow Wilson, the author of The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam. In her memoir, Wilson tells the story of how she came to Islam and how she met her husband Omar.
In 2003, after converting to Islam, Wilson journeys to Egypt. There she meets her husband. In Egypt and through her relationship, she learns how to bridge cultural divides and to reconcile the images of Muslims in the media with the real people (including her husband) that she meets. Continue reading
This past November in Pakistan, Aasia Bibi, a Christian, was sentenced to death by hanging. Bibi is accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with co-workers. According to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, the punishment for defiling the Qur’an is life imprisonment, but for insulting the Prophet the penalty is death.
Manhattan’s Lincoln Center recently housed The Manganiyar Seduction, a musical performance with multiple interfaith elements. Last week, 36 Sufi Muslim Musicians from the Indian state of Rajistan offered New York the traditional sounds of their Manganiyar culture. A formerly nomadic group that lives in both India and Pakistan, the Manganiyar’s folk music praises God. Performances often begin with the seeking of a blessing from the Hindu God Krishna. Many Manganiyar also celebrate aspects of Holi, a Hindu holiday observed by a number of faith traditions in India, including other Muslim groups.
On November 30th, Jean spoke with Robert Wright about the parallels between homophobia and Islamophobia. Underlying Wright’s argument is the concept of bridges, which means that people harbor prejudice towards groups because they have not met someone who belongs to them. Presumably, if they meet a real person their prejudice would dissipate.
According to Wright, Americans were able to overcome their prejudice towards homosexuals because they knew them before they knew they were gay. So by the time someone would find out they were gay, their opinion of them was formed and assumedly positive. Muslims do not have that luxury because, as Wright states, they are few and concentrated in certain areas, so it is hard to meet a Muslim to alter a prejudice.