Tag Archives: Religion

Why Ramadan is called Ramadan

The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, starts Friday, May 26, 2017. Professor Mohammad Hassan Khalil  answers six questions about the significance of this religious observance. The Conversation

 

Turkish Muslim women in the rural eastern Turkish village of Cumra. Photo by: GREG LOCKE © 2008

By Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Michigan State University
May 27, 2017

Why is Ramadan called Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and lasts either 29 or 30 days, depending on when the new crescent moon is (or should be) visible.

The Arabic term Ramadan connotes intense heat. It seems that in pre-Islamic Arabia, Ramadan was the name of a scorching hot summer month. In the Islamic calendar, however, the timing of Ramadan varies from year to year. This year Ramadan will begin around May 27; next year it will begin around May 16. (An Islamic year is roughly 11 days shorter than a Gregorian year.)

What is the significance of Ramadan?

Ramadan is a period of fasting and spiritual growth, and is one of the five “pillars of Islam” (the others being the declaration of faith, daily prayer, alms-giving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca). Able-bodied Muslims are expected to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn to sunset each day of the month. Many practicing Muslims also perform additional prayers, especially at night, and attempt to recite the entire Qur’an (Koran). The prevailing belief among Muslims is that it was in the final 10 nights of Ramadan that the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

What is the connection between soul and body that the observance of Ramadan seeks to explain?

The Qur’an states that fasting was prescribed for believers so that they may be conscious of God. By abstaining from things that people tend to take for granted (such as water), it is believed, one may be moved to reflect on the purpose of life and grow closer to the creator and sustainer of all existence. As such, engaging in wrongdoing effectively undermines the fast. Many Muslims also maintain that fasting allows them to get a feeling of poverty, and this may foster feelings of empathy.

Can Muslims skip fasting under certain conditions? If so, do they make up missed days?

All those who are physically limited (for example, because of an illness or old age) are exempt from the obligation to fast; the same is true for anyone who is traveling. Those who are able to do so are expected to make up the missed days at a later time. (One could potentially make up all of the missed days in the month immediately following Ramadan, the month of Shawwal.) Those unable to fast at all (if they are financially able) are expected to provide meals to the needy as an alternative course of action.

What is the significance of 29 or 30 days of fasting?

By fasting over an extended period of time, practicing Muslims aim to foster certain attitudes and values that they would be able to cultivate over the course of an entire year. Ramadan is often likened to a spiritual training camp.

Besides experiencing feelings of hunger and thirst, believers often have to deal with fatigue because of late-night prayers and predawn meals. This is especially true during the final 10 nights of the month. In addition to being the period in which the Qur’an was believed to have been first revealed, this is a time when divine rewards are believed to be multiplied. Many Muslims will offer additional prayers during this period.

Do Muslims celebrate the completion of Ramadan?

The end of Ramadan marks the beginning of one of two major Islamic holidays Eid al-Fitr, the “festival of the breaking of the fast.” On this day, many Muslims attend a religious service, visit relatives and friends, and exchange gifts.

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Mohammad Hassan Khalil is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Muslim Studies Program, at Michigan State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Losing my religion

Why Christian religious extremists are just as dangerous as Islamic ones

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TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
December, 2015

OK, so the title is a little misleading. I lost my religion a long time ago. I was raised a Catholic, went to Sunday School, served as an altar boy, even briefly considered becoming a Catholic priest. All gone. Forgotten. I’m 100 per cent pure atheist now.

What I’d like to talk about today is my experience of religion in the first 35 years of my life, in Canada, and what it’s like dealing with the topic of religion during the last 25 years in the United States.

They are fundamentally different.

There are many religious people in Canada: Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, you name it. You can probably find an organized religious group representing any faith somewhere in Canada. But here’s what you need to know about religion in Canada – it’s a private thing. People don’t tend to wear their religion on their sleeves.

As for religion and politics in Canada, it is interesting to note that of the 28 people sworn in to be members of the new Liberal government cabinet, roughly half did not take their oath of office on the Bible. And while this was remarked upon by some, it’s a non-issue, already forgotten.

There’s an old story my father (who worked in politics for many years) used to tell me: A candidate rises at a local constituency meeting and announces, “I’m an atheist.” There is a moment of silence. Then a voice from the back booms out, “Yeah, but what you gonna do about the roads?”

I moved to the United States 25 years ago. And everything changed.

Of many fundamental cultural differences between Canada and United States that I could dwell on, the one that has caused me the most consternation, the one I found hardest to deal with, is the difference in approach to religion in the public sphere.

In the United States religion is in your face all the time. That’s not to say all of it is necessarily bad, but the role it plays in the public life of the country is sometimes overwhelming and, well, off-putting.

Religion in the public sphere in America has been hijacked by a particular group – conservative Christian fundamentalists. It’s important to note that there are many, many good people of faith in the United States who are open-minded and ecumenical in their approach toward the world. Conservative Christian fundamentalists are none of the above. Just like their fundamentalist blood brothers within Islam, they believe that they have the one true path to God, that everyone else is an apostate or infidel, and their God not only wants them to rule the country, but the world.

And within this group of conservative Christian fundamentalists, who are for the most part peaceful – just like most conservative Muslims – there is a smaller group who absolutely qualify as violent extremists. We saw one member of this subset attack a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs recently, while another killed nine people in a black church in Charlottesville, North Carolina, a few months ago.

I’ve always believed that the genius of the founding fathers of the United States was that rather than having one official religion, they made all religions “official.” Conservative Christians fundamentalists hate this. They argue, despite all the proofs of history, that America is a solely Christian nation. They are doing their best to make it that way, regardless of anything in the U.S. Constitution.

Which brings us to the Dominionists.

“Dominion Theology is a theocratic ideology that seeks to implement a nation governed by conservative Christians ruling over the rest of society based on their understanding of biblical law,“ according to Wikipedia.

Through a form of this theology known as “Christian Reconstructionism,” many right-wing evangelical leaders have encouraged Christian fundamentalists to become more involved politically, in particular with the Republican Party. (It’s important to note that not all Dominionists follow the more hard-core Christian Reconstructionism, but they all share in the belief that conservative Christians should ultimately rule over all secular institutions in the United States.)

Let’s call it what it is: It’s an American form of a Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative sect of Islam followed primarily in Saudi Arabia.

Americans love conspiracy theories but most people don’t take them seriously, particularly ones that involve religion, so it’s hard for journalists and others who cover this particular element of conservative Christian fundamentalism to get any traction in the mainstream media. Among major new outlets there is a paralyzing fear of saying anything negative about religion. Let me rephrase that: saying anything negative about Christianity. The fear is of an avalanche of protests, negative emails and calls for sponsors to withdraw their support. Prominent members of the Republican Party who are Dominionists, like Ted Cruz, rely on this self-censorship among media to push their conservative religious agenda.

Investigative journalist Chris Hedges, who has written at length about this movement, described part of its ideology in this quote:

“The cult of masculinity, as in all fascist movements, pervades the ideology of the Christian right. The movement uses religion to sanctify military and heroic ‘’virtues,” glorify blind obedience and order over reason and conscience, and pander to the euphoria of collective emotions. Feminism and homosexuality, believers are told, have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus, for the Christian right, is a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Antichrist, attacking hypocrites and ultimately slaying nonbelievers.”

This is dangerous stuff. And there are people, including some important people, in the American political and media elites who want to make it happen.

The American experience with religion has been in many ways a tremendously positive thing for the country. But it’s an experience that needs to be constantly questioned, especially in light of the rise of far-right Christian religious groups who threaten both the culture and the politics of America. The vast majority of Americans are never going to “lose their religion,” but they need to open their eyes to the way some people use it to poison their country.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

References:

Wikipedia, Dominion Theology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion_Theology

5 facts about Dominionism, Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/01/5-facts-about-dominionism_n_945601.html

The rise of the American religious right in the Republican Party, Theocracy Watch:  http://theocracywatch.org/

Ted Cruz, Dominionism, and Jesus: http://jonathanturley.org/2013/10/12/ted-cruz-dominionism-and-jesus/

The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government, OpEd News: http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Radical-Christian-Righ-by-Chris-Hedges-Christian-Right_Government-Bullying_Government-Corruption_Right-Wing-Extremists-131007-879.html

Why We Fight – Christian Dominionists Are Dead Serious About Overthrowing Democracy (Updated), Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/6/2/1096273/-Why-We-Fight-Christian-Dominionists-Are-Dead-Serious-About-Overthrowing-Democracy

Christian Dominionists in the US Congress today, Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2013/10/06/christian-dominionists-in-the-us-congress-today-or-a-book-review-of-christian-nation-by-fredric-c-rich/

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

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As religions grow, so will world’s problems

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TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA  
August, 2015 

Many years ago, a friend liked to preach to me the ‘gospel’ of demographics.

“History,” he would say to me, “is really all about the movement of people, and what causes them to move.”

War, natural disasters, famine, technological innovation, fertility rates and poverty play a far greater role in the shape of the world than any kind of immigration or economic policy ever could.

I thought about my friend this week as I read the recent report on future religious trends published by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050.” It’s an amazing look at the future of the world’s religious and non-religious alike. (You can find a link to it below.)

And I have to tell you I’m a bit worried about what I read.

I’m an atheist, so on one hand, how religion fares in the future really doesn’t matter all that much to me. But on the other hand, I’ve long argued that atheists need to understand that religion isn’t going away any time soon and that we need to find a way to work with religiously opened minded people to make the world a better place.

I have no grudge against any particular religion. They’re all patriarchal baloney if you ask me. But religions have a lot of grudges against each other. Grudges that are often manipulated by unscrupulous religious and political leaders, who are interested in accumulating power and wealth, and see using religion as a cudgel as the way to achieve those goals.

And unless the world’s religious learn to get along a little better – which is not so much the case at the current moment – it’s only going to be worse 35 years from now.

So let me quickly review a few of the more important results from the study.

By 2050, if current trends continue, Christianity will remain the world’s largest religion, but not by much. Islam will be a close second, only a few percentage points behind. In fact all the world’s religions will grow, but some not as fast as others (fertility rates). For instance in 2050, although the number of Jews in the world will increase, their rate of growth is much slower that Muslims. The result is that by 2050, there will be more Muslims in the US than Jews – both small numbers (2.1% of the US population for Muslims and 1.4% for Jews), but important communities.

Think about how that might change many aspects of US foreign policy. Politicians pay attentions to votes. And Muslims vote in large numbers.

In Europe, Muslims will make up about 10% of the population in 2050, nowhere near a majority but certainly with a stronger political voice than they have now. And in India, while Hindus will grow at an increased rate, so will the Muslims population, leading to India having the largest Muslim population in the world, surpassing Indonesia, and dwarfing nearby Pakistan, a Muslim nation.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, the growth of the Muslim population is not an issue. It’s just plain arithmetic. Muslims have the highest fertility rate 3.1 – well above replacement level of 2.1. Christians are 2.7, Hindus 2.4. If current trends continue, as they say, by 2070 there will be more Muslims in the world than any other religion. Islam also has the largest number of young people in its group.

Most of this growth, for both Muslims and Christians, will happen in sub-Saharan Africa.

It’s not hard, however, to look at the world today and see the potential for problems. The friction between all three of the major religions, Christian, Muslim and Hindu is obvious, not to mention the frictions between the sub-groups of each faith. The need to find an ecumenical outlook will only grow with each passing year.

Which brings me to people like me – atheists, agnostics and the religiously ‘unaffiliated’. Although the number of people in this group will grow, overall it will represent a small percentage of the overall puzzle, dropping from 16% to 13%.

But this group will actually grow dramatically in several important places, most particularly the United States and Europe. By 2050, the unaffiliated will be over 26% of the US population. Most of this growth will come from Christians who will leave their faith behind them – as I did. Tired of the misogyny, bigotry, homophobia and racism of so much of Christianity in the US today, millions will ‘switch out,’ as the report says.

Think of how this will affect US politics. No politicians can afford to neglect a quarter of the population, and this group votes A LOT, and usually Democratic. In the last election, the ‘unaffiliated’ voted 70% for Obama – and that was actually a drop of 5% from 2008. Also, this group represented 9% of those who voted in 2000, and that was up to 12% by 2012. By 2050, it will be much higher.

When you connect his group with the growing population of Hispanics in the US, which votes heavily Democratic, the GOP has a real reason to be worried about its electoral chances in the future – considering its utter failure to reach out to the unaffiliated and minorities and instead cling to its declining base of, well, mostly old white male religious conservatives.

But there are other reasons I worry about the growth of religion.

Religions are anti-women in their dogma and practices. (Seen a woman cardinal lately?) Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, all have Orthodox/fundamentalist communities that are severely misogynistic. (I think of the Orthodox Jewish newspapers that will not print pictures of women. What will they do if Hillary Clinton is elected president? I long to see.)

And if you combine the tensions that often exist between religions in regions with limited resources, with the threat of something like climate change, it’s a dangerous mix.

Think of the tensions that exist between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria or Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in India. Resources are scare as they are. Combine much larger populations with even more limited resources and it’s like waiting to light a fuse on a keg of dynamite. In fact, the US military has already named climate change as one of the main security concerns of the 21st century. It’s very easy to see religion as the spark that ignites that fuse.

There is a famous painting by the late Canadian artist Alex Colville that shows a horse running along a railroad track headlong towards an oncoming train. The train isn’t stopping. And neither, it seems, is the horse.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2015 

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

References

How the faithful voted in 2012

How the Faithful Voted: 2012 Preliminary Analysis

“The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/

Can there be an ‘atheist vote’? Nonreligious set sights on 2016: http://www.religionnews.com/2015/05/28/can-atheist-vote-nonreligious-set-sights-2016/

Related on F&O:

When religious liberty undermines freedom, July 2015

My atheist fan letter to Pope Francis, December, 2014

Time to end religious holidays in public schools, November, 2014

Clarification: This column was updated Aug. 22 to include references and expand several points.

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Support us with a subscription (click here for our subscribe page) or a donation:

 

 

 

“The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050.”

The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050

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Tackling radical Islam requires rethink and nuance

ANDREW MACLEOD, King’s College London 
January, 2015

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Balakot, Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan, October 8, 2005 — People search for 50 missing children in the rubble of a school where 200 teachers and children died in the 2005 earthquake. UN Photo

I learned a number of lessons about Islam in Peshawar, Pakistan. As a senior United Nations official, I arrived in the country within 24 hours of the massive earthquake that struck in October 2005. Pakistan accepted foreign assistance to the degree that many of us were treated as if we were nationals, with few restrictions placed on our movement.

During the relief and reconstruction effort I found myself seconded to the office of the Pakistan Army’s Vice Chief of General Staff (VCGS). I had full range of his office, including plugging my laptop into the local area network of their computer system. Can you imagine any other country giving that degree of access to a foreigner?

In October 2006, a year after the earthquake, the VCGS sent me to the office of the Provincial Relief Commissioner in Peshawar, asking him to report on the contingency planning for the second year after the earthquake.

It was here in Peshawar, site of the recent massacre of 152 people, including 133 schoolchildren, that the Provincial Relief Commissioner gave me a lesson in religious conservatism. He said:

You see, Andrew. God sent the earthquake because the people were bad, so God punished them. If the people have been good this year, this winter will be fine. If the people have been bad, God will punish them again and who am I to get in the way of the will of God?

Hence he planned for no contingency. The people’s fate was in the hands of God.

On return to Islamabad I said to the VCGS:

Sir, it’s like he believes God sent the earthquake.

The VCGS replied:

Andrew, he does. And I want you to think about it this way. You believe that tectonic plates caused the earthquake, because you read that in a book. He believes God sent the earthquake, because he read that in a book. Whose book is right?

This question “whose book is right” sums up the most important lesson. When dealing with people who hold strong religious beliefs, one does not discuss alternative opinions or beliefs, one discusses alternative views of fact.

Belief is negotiable, fact is not.

Pakistan, 22 October 2005 -- An injured woman rests in Mansehra District Hospital, later evacuated, after the earthquake. UN Photo

Pakistan, 22 October 2005 — An injured woman rests in Mansehra District Hospital, later evacuated, after the earthquake. UN Photo

The Provincial Relief Commissioner may have been a conservative cleric, but was not a “radical Muslim”. He had a fundamental belief in God, but he would not strap a suicide vest to a murderer and cause carnage.

The West, in a need to fit everything into Twitter feeds and soundbites, misses a number of nuances. In the West we talk of “moderate” Islam and “radical” Islam, thinking it is that simple. We miss the nuances, including the existence of atheists of Islamic culture, moderate Muslims, conservative Muslims and the small radical Islamic minority who have a huge impact.

While we cry “why isn’t moderate Islam doing something?”, we need to recognise that moderate Islam is fighting a war against the radicals. We need to recognise many more Muslims have died in this fight than Westerners. If we are to defeat the radicals, the West needs to be on the same side as the atheistic, moderate and even conservative in the battle against radical Islam.

If the West recognised that moderate Islam is fighting a war already, wouldn’t it be more sensible to ask: “How does the West support the moderates’ war on radical Islam?”.

Nuance here is important. Wouldn’t the rhetoric be better if it recognised that the West needs to be on the moderates’ side, instead of asking “them”, the moderates, to join “us” the West in “our” crusade for freedom?

So far the West is going backwards. Many more Americans died fighting the war in Afghanistan and Iraq than died on 9/11 – a main reason given for the invasions. For all their blood and treasure spilt and spent, the recently declassified US Senate inquiry found that Islamic fundamentalism is stronger now than on 9/11. Something has gone dreadfully wrong.

One of the reasons for the step backwards is that the West’s actions have provided great motivation and recruiting propaganda for the extremists. One doesn’t need to be a policy specialist to see this.

Remember the V2 bombs that rained down on London in the Second World War? Did these scare the British into submission or did they convince the British to “never surrender”, as Winston Churchill continually said?

What do you think happens in Pakistan when a drone strike hits a wedding, or school? You might kill a terrorist in the crowd, but how many more have you created as they watch a mother, sister or child being killed as “collateral damage”?

While we rightly condemn the French murders and may cry for free speech after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, do we equally reaffirm the responsibility that comes with free expression? Do we get the nuance between the right to free expression and the responsibility in knowing when to shut up?

If we want to unite moderate Muslims in a team against the radicals, are we doing this sensibly when we protest for a set of cartoons that offend, yet don’t protest for the many thousands more that die in their lands?

Doesn’t this lack of empathy push moderate Muslims into the arms of radical Islam – united in offence to their religion, even while the moderates also condemn the murders?

In the nearly 14 years since 9/11 we have seen massive changes in technology. We have seen the creation of Twitter and YouTube. These are incredible tools for global communication. They are great methods to motivate people to a cause – any cause.

So far the radicals have used these tools to great effect in recruiting from angry communities in Islamic countries and from small but significant populations in France, Australia, the UK and US who are disengaged, excluded and in search of a sense of belonging.

Technology has given a route for extremists to reach the excluded people who are sometimes attracted to charismatic, murdering narcissists who turn lonely sad people into murderers. The West makes that job so much easier by bombing schools or celebrating offensive cartoons.

Unless the West has a fundamental rethink and changes the game, the radicals will win. We, the moderates of all religions, must unite and find a new way to defeat terrorism because the current strategy is simply not working.

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Andrew MacLeod is Visiting Professor, Public Policy, at King's College London

Andrew MacLeod is Visiting Professor, Public Policy, at King’s College London

His website is here.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 

 

 

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The hidden complexity of simplicity

 

TOM REGAN 
January 16, 2015 

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’ve had a terrible flu. Lost my voice for days and generally felt crappy. Then my wife caught the same bug. Having one parent down is bad. Having both parents sick is a nightmare.

Maybe it was my illness that darkened my mood as I watched the events in Paris unfold over the past two weeks. Glued to France24’s TV channel for hours on end, my depression and anger grew with each passing moment. As a journalist, I was outraged at this assault on freedom of the press. As an atheist, I was outraged that, once again, a group of religious extremists who felt their religion has been offended killed the offending parties.

The answer to me was simple.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just do away with religion all together, I asked in several Facebook posts. No more extremism. No more weird beliefs that defy science. No one getting homicidally offended because their version of a mythical “ghosty in the sky,” as one of my daughters phrases it, got their divine nose out of joint. No more anti-women rules. No more hatred against those who were different than you. No more hatred because of a person’s sexual preferences. And on and on. Basically, Nirvana in my view.

And I wasn’t the only one saying the problem was simple. Far-right pundits, liberal atheist comedians, politicians of all stripes and nationalities, security ‘experts,’ journalists from all corners of the left-right divide, news channel’s talking heads, all offered ‘simple’ answers. “We must promote free speech above all.” “Radical Islam is the problem.” “Islam itself is the problem.” “There are too many Muslims in Europe.” “It us against them.” “Islam’s not the problem, it’s the French government’s war on religion and free speech that is the issue.” “What the terrorists did was wrong, but Charlie Hebdo offended millions of people with their work.” And on and on.

But there were a couple of people who did not go down that road. Hari Kunzru, in particular, wrote a piece in the Guardian that, in many ways, sent me down the rabbit hole. His view on the events of the past week challenged my simplistic view, and those of almost everyone else I had read or watched or heard.

There are no blacks and whites, he argued. There is only gray.

But we want black and white as a species, I thought. We demand it. We want our to know what to think based on 600 word opinion pieces, from 140 characters in a tweet, in a minute and a half news segment. We want online quizzes to tell us our personality type, what rock star we most resemble, what state we should be living in.

And we want these things to fit our comfort zones, our conventional biases. So we only watch the TV stations, read the newspapers, listen to talk show pundits who tell us what we want to hear. Who tell us our simplistic answers are the right ones.

But after the past week, I have come to realize that simplicity is much more complicated that we want it to be.

Yes, I wish there were no religions. But that is like wishing for flying horses. The world bulges with religious beliefs. And while most people live their religious beliefs peacefully, ALL belief systems – Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, you name it – contain elements that can be used by extremists and fundamentalists to justify their violent actions. I can rant and rave about the stupidity of it all, the destructiveness of so much of religion. Or I can try and find good people of faith who want to work with others to make the world a better place. It will not be easy. We will be constantly overcoming obstacles. It will be much more complex and hard than singing “Kumbaya” together. But we must try.

I want there to be absolute freedom of speech. I believe that freedom of speech means the freedom to offend everyone. But I can’t ignore that millions of good religious people, and not just Muslims, find the works of publications like Charlie Hebdo offensive, though they’re not going to kill anyone. Is there a way to protect freedom of speech and yet work to find a way not to needlessly offend? I don’t know. It’s complex. It will take hard work solution to find a solution. But try we must.


I wish everybody in the world thought like I did. But they don’t. We don’t live in a world anymore where we can just hang out with people who look the same, think the same, talk the same language, eat the same foods, worship the same gods. And people are scared at this complexity. They fear this grayness.

But we cannot go back. All our other choices lead only to hatred, death and destruction. This is the world we have, and we have to work through these complexities to make it better.

I find comfort in the words of two men. One a great religious leader. One a renown atheist.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

The other, from Carl Sagan: “The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning … If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”

Copyright Tom Regan 2014

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Tom Regan

Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe newspapers, and National Public Radio, in the United States. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate and need your support: please click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up using the form on the right side of our Frontlines blog to receive posts by email. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com.

 

 

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Islam, blasphemy and free speech: a surprisingly modern conflict

Tomb of 13 Century poet Rumi in Konya, Turkey. Photo by Georges Jansoone via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

“It might be shocking for many to look back at the words of 13th-century Muslim scholar Jalal ad-Din al-Rumi, who had a strong theological and jurisprudential background,” writes Ali Mamouri. “He said: “Go on! Drink the wine of the Beloved! In that faith, Muslims and pagans are one.” Above, Rumi’s tomb in Konya, Turkey. Photo by Georges Jansoone via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

ALI MAMOURI, Australian Catholic University 
January 10, 2015

From the fatwa on author Salman Rushdie to the attack on the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the phenomenon of anti-blasphemy actions continues to be prominent in the Muslim world.

At first glance, the problem appears to be quite simple. For many years, there has been much talk about the conflicts between blasphemy and free speech within Islam. Some go further and argue about the “intrinsic hostility between two civilisations: Islam and Europe”, as the philosopher Talal Asad puts it.

It is quite easy to say that Islam suffers from a lack of tolerance and that Muslims are anti-freedom, anti-democracy, pro-despotism and pro-fanaticism. However, this generalisation ignores not only the number of branches of Islam and diversity of views among Muslims, but also the sociopolitical foundation of the problem.

Asad highlighted the big difference between the notion of talking against the religion in Christianity and Islam. It is difficult to find a specific idea rooted in the Christian historical background of blasphemy in the history of Islam.

However, there are a variety of equivalents that each overlaps a part of blasphemy. The most commonly used phrase by Muslims today is “isā’ah”, which has a range of meanings, including “insult, harm and offence”. But this term is not associated with a certain jurisprudential punishment in a way that makes all Muslims feel obliged to attack the actors.

Therefore, many writers throughout different parts of Islamic history have criticised Islamic belief, including the prophet Muhammad and the Quran, without facing persecution. A quick look at the books about sects and creeds in Islam shows a great variety of discussions and debates between Muslims and non-Muslims about the essential parts of Islam. Many include sarcastic language.

For instance, when defending his non-belief in religions, renowned Arab philosopher Abul al-Ala al-Ma’arri said, “If you ask my religion I would say I am not dumb.”

Ibn al-Rawandi also dedicated sections of his books to countering the Quran in Baghdad. Furthermore, in the contemporary era, Iraqi writer and poet Maarouf al-Rasafi disputed the religious aspect of the prophet Muhammad’s life in his book The Muhamadiyan Personality.

The reality is that the persecution of blasphemers as it is done currently is a very recent phenomenon. Generally, one could say that the Rushdie fatwa was the beginning of this trend.

The founders of Political Islam are known as the innovators of this trend. That is why we can see many secular scholars, writers and poets at the start of the 20th century writing against Islam in many different dimensions, such as Zaki Naguib Mahmoud, who is known for advocating positivist philosophy in the Arab world, and Najib Mahfouz, who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The notion of religious actions is more problematic than is popularly supposed. It is not merely a divine spiritual matter which is separated from social political actors. Rather, it is nested within and shaped by other human dimensions.

As a result, the sociopolitical background can change any religion – to be more tolerant or more fanatical, for example. Sociologist Bryan S. Turner describes this situation in Christian society, “Given the growth of parliamentary institutions, welfare legislation and commitment to egalitarian ideology, it is small wonder that contemporary Christians cannot accept a description of God as an autocrat. Jesus, once our lord and master, has become Superstar.”

This process took a long time in western societies to become today’s accepted nature of great tolerance and co-existence. The west paid the price through centuries of religious, sectarian and political wars.

Meanwhile, the status of the Muslim world has declined continuously in the contemporary period. This is due to various reasons, including ongoing political instability, the failure to build a state of institutions and a real civil society and destructive imperialist interventions.

Western colonial powers handed the Middle East to a series of tyrannical governments. Failed attempts at building a nation-state have led to the rise of Chauvinism and military regimes which mostly have been supported by the great western powers.

The recent popular revolutions have resulted in the rise of criminal Salafi gangs. Many were supported by the west for different reasons, such as confronting the Soviet Union in al-Qaeda’s case, or anti-Israel regimes in Islamic State’s case.

It might be shocking for many to look back at the words of 13th-century Muslim scholar Jalal ad-Din al-Rumi, who had a strong theological and jurisprudential background. He said: “Go on! Drink the wine of the Beloved! In that faith, Muslims and pagans are one.”

One can see pluralistic thoughts, such as the aforementioned works of many Muslim scholars in the past, which have been influencing Muslim societies widely.

A long distance has passed to see Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in place of al-Rumi, but this underscores the argument that mainstream Muslims remain against the barbaric actions of fundamentalists. It must not be forgotten that many Muslims are suppressed in their countries for the same reasons that Charlie Hebdo was attacked.

Let’s help Muslims to represent “a more authentic image of Islam, as so many of them desire, reiterating that Islam is a religion of peace, compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful co-existence”, as Pope Francis said in a recent phone call with Iraqi Christians.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Ali Mamouri

Ali Mamouri

 Ali Mamouri is a PhD Candidate at the Institute for Social Justice at Australian Catholic University.   A researcher and writer in the Middle East religious and cultural crises, particularly Iraq and Iran, he raduated from PhD study in Islamic Philosophy & Theology in 2008 and Master in Islamic Philosophy in 2000. He is a columnist at Al-Monitor, writes for Iraq and Iran pulses, and focuses on religious and cultural issues.

He  does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

You can read his bio on his page at The Conversation.

 

 

 

 

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An atheist praises Pope Francis

Pope Francis in South Korea in August, 2014. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

Pope Francis in South Korea in August, 2014. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

Facts and Opinions’ Seeking Orenda  columnist Tom Regan is a fan of Pope Francis. Regan is an atheist. He explains in his column, My atheist fan letter to Pope Francis. An excerpt:

When you’re an atheist you don’t spend much time thinking about “important” religious figures. Most of them are just too silly to care about. Pat Robertson is an example.

He’s a former Baptist preacher, and Republican presidential hopeful, and a media mogul who hosts the Christian conservative show The 700 Club where he makes pronouncements like gays were responsible for the damage in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.

I’m not one of those atheists who tend to hate all forms of  religion. I’d like to think my approach is more nuanced.

Basically, I don’t care what you believe as long as you don’t try to make me believe it and as long as what you believe does not make the world a worse place.

So while I have lots of good Muslim friends, I consider the twisted hyper-fundamentalist form of Islam practiced by a group like ISIS as sort of being a modern-day version of the Spanish Inquisition on steroids.

In fact when you come right down to it I’m pretty down on almost all forms of fundamentalism: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, pick your poison. … continue reading My atheist fan letter to Pope Francis.

Tom Regan’s columnist page is here

*If you value our journalism, please support us by buying a day pass or subscription, and share the links to our stories, not our entire works.  Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate your support:  click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up in the form to the right, on our blog, to receive a free email subscription to blog posts and notices of new work. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com.

 

 
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My atheist fan letter to Pope Francis

TOM REGAN  
December, 2014

When you’re an atheist you don’t spend much time thinking about “important” religious figures. Most of them are just too silly to care about. Pat Robertson is an example.

He’s a former Baptist preacher, and Republican presidential hopeful, and a media mogul who hosts the Christian conservative show The 700 Club where he makes pronouncements like gays were responsible for the damage in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.

Pope Francis in South Korea in August, 2014. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

Pope Francis in South Korea in August, 2014. Photo by Jeon Han, Korean Culture and Information Service. Creative Commons

 

I’m not one of those atheists who tend to hate all forms of  religion. I’d like to think my approach is more nuanced.

Basically, I don’t care what you believe as long as you don’t try to make me believe it and as long as what you believe does not make the world a worse place.

So while I have lots of good Muslim friends, I consider the twisted hyper-fundamentalist form of Islam practiced by a group like ISIS as sort of being a modern-day version of the Spanish Inquisition on steroids.

In fact when you come right down to it I’m pretty down on almost all forms of fundamentalism: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, pick your poison. All fundamentalists share several common traits: they think they have the only correct interpretation of who or what God is; they have no interest in reaching out to people who believe something different than what they do; they are often ready to use violence to  force others to adopt their beliefs, and they treat women like crap. I could go on but I am limited by space.

But the reality is that most people are not fundamentalists. They are just good folks who are trying to get along in the world and who may find that the idea of a divine creator helps them through their day. While I don’t agree with that and I think it’s kind of silly, I don’t really care. All of us do things that others might consider silly to help us hang in there against the vicissitudes of life

Which brings me to Pope Francis.

I don’t think Francis is silly at all. In fact I think he’s rather a revolutionary figure. With his messages of help for the poor and about the destructive nature of unbridled capitalism; with his openness to Islam; with his remarks about how fundamentalists spoil it for everybody in every religion; with his sacking of extreme conservatives both in the Church and the Vatican hierarchy, and with his decision to do away with the “Imperial” trappings of the papacy, Francis is the truest Christian to be Pope since John XXIII more than 50 years ago. 

And the reason why I, as an atheist, call myself a “fan” of Pope Francis is very simple. As much as I or any other atheist might wish it, religion is not going away. At least not for a long, long time. I know the growing numbers of non-believers and those who consider themselves “none of the above” that one sees reflected in recent polls about religious preferences might suggest this will happen sooner rather than later. I’m putting my money on later. And so we as atheists have a choice: we can stamp our feet and rage against religion, or we can support those figures within religious belief systems who are fighting to make those systems more caring, compassionate, open-minded, accountable and willing to work with those who do not subscribe to their creed. And Francis is one of those figures.

Now it’s not that I think that everything he does is hunky-dory. We’re still dealing with the Catholic Church here, the same organization that took 400 years to apologize to Galileo. As someone who was raised Catholic I can tell you that nothing happens quickly regardless of who is in charge. There is a part of me that secretly fears that it is all just window dressing – a guy with a great sense of PR who won’t make the real fundamental changes that are needed.

For instance, his positions on women are sadly typical of a 78-year-old white guy. While Francis has spoken about promoting women to more senior positions within the church hierarchy, he has often described women in ways that are demeaning and extremely patriarchal.

Tina Beattie, a professor of Catholic studies at the University of Roehampton in London, this past summer wrote a column for the Guardian newspaper in which she argued that women do not seem to have a place in the pope’s vision of a Catholic church that cares for the world’s poor people. In June of this year, he dodged numerous questions from a female journalist about the position of women in the church and made jokes about female subservience.

So I look at Francis with a grain of salt. But, because he appears to be so much better than those who have come before him, you want to believe the best of him while putting those negative thoughts to the side for the moment. If Francis can make the Catholic church more open-minded, compassionate, caring and less conservative ideologically he will have achieved a great amount.

It won’t be easy. Conservative fundamentalists within the Catholic church are already mounting counter offensives and will not go down without a fight. USA Today noted in a Nov. 2 article that conservatives are saying that the church under Francis is “a ship without a rudder.” American conservative cardinals have been particularly critical. The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput said a recent Vatican conference called by Francis produced “confusion” and that confusion is basically the work of the devil. Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis and now head of the Vatican’s highest court, has been even more outspoken and has made several harsh comments about Francis.

But the one key card that Francis does hold is that he is THE Pope. And according to Catholic dogma he gets to call the shots. Cardinal Burke learned this, when a few days after his remarks about the church being rudderless, Francis dismissed him as the head of the Vatican court and appointed him to a relatively meaningless ceremonial role. 

 So for those of us who see a new and better future for the church, and perhaps an improved relationship with groups outside the church — atheists, for instance — and if he is the man he appears to be, it is our “Christmas” wish that he stays Pope for a long time.

Copyright Tom Regan 2014

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 Correction: An early version of this column said Cardinal Burke had been head of the Vatican bank. He was head of the Vatican court.

Tom Regan

Tom Regan

Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe newspapers and National Public Radio in the United States.

A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

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 Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate and need your support: please click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up using the form on the right side of our Frontlines blog to receive posts by email. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com.

 

 

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China’s latest Cultural Revolution underway — Manthorpe

China’s constant sensitivity about its international image has intensified as Beijing flexes its muscles as a growing world power, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt of his new column, China’s Xi launches his own Cultural Revolution:

312px-Kir1_1

Frontispiece of Athanasius Kircher’s China Illustrata, 1666.

Xi Jinping is not content with being the most powerful leader of China since Mao Zedong. He also wants to play God.

Xi’s ruling Communist Party announced last week it will write its own version of “Chinese Christian theology” to ensure adherents abide by the country’s party-imposed political culture. The attempt to take control of religion in China is part of a broad campaign by Xi to establish “cultural security.” The aim is to outlaw and control all foreign influences that might undermine the communists’ one-party rule. The campaign, endorsed by the National People’s Congress last November, is seeing unrelenting crackdowns on the media — especially foreign journalists — academics, foreign businesses, and civil society organizations as well as Christian churches.

Chinese in their millions have been seeking a spiritual element in their lives by becoming Christians or following traditional religions such as Buddhism since the Communist Party in the 1980s abandoned any pretence of being an idealistic social movement. The most reliable estimates are that there are about 70 million Christians in China, most of whom are Protestants and about 12 million of whom are Catholics.

As well as re-writing Christian theology and liturgy, the Communist Party is engaged in a more direct assault on religion …  log in first (subscription required*) to read China’s Xi launches his own Cultural Revolution 

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