The Life of Jesus: Reza Aslan Talks About ‘Zealot’

In a recent interview heard round the world (or at least, round influential Twitter feeds), the Fox News host Lauren Green spoke to Reza Aslan about his new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” Ms. Green’s focus on why Mr. Aslan, a Muslim, would write about Jesus, created a stir on social media (and traditional media), bringing more attention to the book, which was already on The New York Times best-seller list.

 

“Zealot” argues that the historical Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary interested in overthrowing Roman rule in Palestine, not in establishing a celestial kingdom, and that he would not have understood the idea of being God incarnate. In a recent phone interview, Mr. Aslan discussed the strong reactions to his book, his desire to reach a Christian audience, the difficulty of writing about ancient history and more. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation:

 

We’re all in this together: How Leicester became a model of multiculturalism (even if that was never the plan…)

You couldn’t ask for a better symbol of the present, paradoxical state of multicultural Britain than Jawaahir Daahir. She is a vigorous example of female empowerment: a Somali refugee in the Hague, she learnt Dutch and studied for seven years to become a social worker there, while bringing up her six children. She is also a conservative Muslim, like most of her compatriots. She combines the two – feminism and religious piety – with no apparent strain. And it was because that combination is one that Britain can deal with, while the Continent finds it unacceptable, that she is now happily settled in Leicester.

 

“When the Somali community came to Leicester there was a sense of support and a welcoming environment. For example, now there are lights, welcoming Ramadan. When I registered my children for school, there were welcome signs in so many languages, including Somali. It was a culture shock, because you don’t expect a Western city to welcome you in your own language. In Holland, even though I participated actively in all sorts of different areas, I still felt separate, different. But here in Leicester you feel a sense of belonging. You are not a foreigner, you are not an outsider. The society and the system acknowledge you and consider you.”

 

David Goodhart, founding editor of Prospect magazine, asks hard questions about the economic and political rationale for the mass immigration that has transformed the ethnic profile of so many of our towns and cities. Britain obtained its dazzling array of new citizens with little conscious planning. And, as Goodhart describes, in places such as Bradford and Tower Hamlets, the mixture of declining local industry and a large, tight-knit population of immigrants from rural parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh has produced severe social tension, culminating in the mill-town riots of 2001. But as Jawaahir Daahir’s story reveals, that is not the whole picture. Slap in the middle of England there is a city where an improbably rich mix of people and religions seems to be working rather well. Nobody planned for Leicester to become the most multicultural city on the planet. It just happened that way. And for the early immigrants, too, there was little thought that they might make their lives here.

 

In the past 40 years, Leicester has become the poster city for multicultural Britain, a place where the stunning number and size of the minorities – the 55 mosques, 18 Hindu temples, nine Sikh gurudwaras, two synagogues, two Buddhist centres and one Jain centre – are seen not as a recipe for conflict or a millstone around the city’s neck, but a badge of honour.

 

But in the 12 years since the attacks on America, punctuated by 7/7 and the Woolwich atrocity, Britain’s faith in multiculturalism has begun to erode. After every act of Islamist terrorism, there has been a spasm of revulsion. This is one of the conundrums of our age, one which laid-back, permissive Holland epitomises: how are the super-tolerant children of the European Enlightenment to react to the arrival of newcomers who refuse to adopt the uniform of secular liberalism? How far do you tolerate those who themselves have strict limits on what they will tolerate?

 

As atheists – who account for 23 per cent of Leicester’s population – like to point out, religion is not a reliable recipe for communal harmony. Quite the reverse: as every religion enshrines an exclusive explanation of the world, each has the potential to oppress and persecute those who think differently. And often that’s how it works out. Muslims are often treated like second-class citizens in India, Christians in Pakistan, Hindus in Bangladesh and Muslims in Burma.

 

While the mill towns of Burnley, Oldham and Bradford experienced race riots in 2001, Leicester has ridden out its multicultural decades in considerable peace and harmony. The white population, guided by the likes of Peter Soulsby, has responded with maturity and imagination to these epochal demographic changes. And while there will always be grumbling about the “cosseting” of immigrants, the facts speak for themselves. In the mid-1970s, the National Front was active in Leicester, and on one occasion came close to winning a single council seat. But since then, they and their successors have been notably unsuccessful in the city. If the minority of British whites are seething about the way the city is changing, they are keeping it very much to themselves.

The City thinks of a new mosque for Muslims

July 23, 2013

Savona – At the suggestion of Luca Martino, the City of Savona has approved during today’s session of the Executive Council to proceed to enter into an agreement with ARTE – Territorial Regional Construction of Savona in order to make available to the Muslim community a suitable premises for social activities and prayer. The Head of Heritage Luca Martino said: “The Community has long called for the availability of premises to which, in recent years, we have responded by providing a gym, however, this does not suffice in times of Ramadan, when the attendance is much higher. Obviously this is an inadequate solution and it is temporary. This is why today we approved the use of a convention pursuant to article 15 of Law 241/90 for the use of premises located in Via Aglietto, owned by ART. ART will provide the premises at a moderate fee. The community has expressed its interest to perform, at its own expense, the necessary maintenance and adjustment to local regulations.”

Extremadura TV Channel broadcasts a report about Ramadan

15 July 2013

 

Canal Extremadura TV has broadcasted a report on fast of the month of Ramadan in the news of Sunday, July 14. The report addressed the Muslim’s everyday day routine during the Ramadan period. The reporters also interviewed the imam of Badajoz and President of the Union of Islamic Communities of Extremadura, Adel Najjar who highlighted the social side of Ramadan:

“If a person is able to stop eating and drinking for 17 hours a day and with the heat that is going on, he/she would be able to face any problem in this life; self-control is what teach us Ramadan.” Said Adel Najjar.

Ramadan’s ‘non-fasters’

09.07.2013

Le Monde

Although keeping the fast during Ramadan is one Islam’s five pillars, around one third of French Muslims do not observe the sacred tradition. Many young people choose to not fast due to practical reasons, such as the inability to perform well in their profession while keeping the fast. Others are traditionally exempted from fasting such as children, the sick, the elder, travellers and pregnant women.  For those who freely choose to not fast it is often a difficult to justify their decision in front of their families and communities, especially since there has been a great rise in piousness amongst young Muslims in France. In 2011, 71% of Muslims in France declared to fast during Ramadan, 11% more than in 1989.

The ‘non-fasters’ often feel ashamed in front of their peers and find it increasingly difficult to be different amongst France’s Muslim communities. Some parents, however, support their children’s decision such as those of a 20-year-old student of Tunisian origin who chose to not fast to keep his vacation job. His parents, for instance, consider his career more important than fasting.

Haoues Senigeur, a political scientist and expert on Islam, says that “this choice of
non-fasters is often resented by Muslims who carry the weight of tradition”. He considers the tradition of Ramadan to correspond with a strong social conservatism and cites the example of pregnant women, who are traditionally exempted from fasting yet sometimes feel obliged to hide to eat. According to Senigeur, Islam has intensified over the years, especially amongst young Muslims born in France aged 18-24 who practice Ramadan more strictly than before.

During Ramadan, he continues, piousness increases and social ties are reinforced.

Ramadan 2013: Fasting for the body, food for the soul

Ramadan in Britain during the early Eighties was very different from the way it is now. There was no awareness of the rotating month of fasting in the Islamic calendar, no flexibility to working hours, no facility for prayer in offices and no calls for prayer on television. For one month every year, my family and I would undertake this annual Islamic duty furtively, tip-toeing around for the pre-dawn meal for fear of waking up the neighbours with the kitchen clatter, and reluctant to talk about the practice for fear of censure or mockery. The Eid festival that marks the end of Ramadan is also increasingly celebrated in public venues around the country, including Trafalgar Square in London. Channel 4 announced last week that it would broadcast one out of five “calls for prayer” during the month-long fasting period.

 

Four decades on, Ramadan is marked far more openly in Britain. Some employers are offering flexi-time to those Muslims who, from this week, will undertake a daily fast for 30 consecutive days that will involve around 19 hours of abstention from all food and drink – from sunrise to sunset. Some firms are allowing Muslims to begin their working day later, so they can catch up on sleep after waking up at 3am to eat, and to end their shifts earlier, so that they are not working when they are physically weakened. Now, fasting seems to have been reinvented as the ancients saw it – a way of giving the body a rest, cleansing both physically and spiritually, and a way of sharpening our collective sense of self-restraint. These objectives are being resurrected in our obesity-riddled Western world, with its binge culture, its childhood obesity and its addictions to food.

 

Dr Michael Mosley’s Horizon investigation in 2012, which studied the effects of intermittent fasting, presented medical evidence for the life-extending and life-improving benefits of fasting on the human body, though this is still contentious territory in the scientific and nutritional community. Even grander claims came from American scientists last year who said that fasting for regular periods could help protect the brain against degenerative illness.

 

Faith and fasting: Ramadan rules

* Fasting at Ramadan is deemed to be one of the “five pillars of Islam”, which are the basis of the Muslim faith. Only children or those health conditions or children are excepted from fasting.

* Fasting is seen to cleanse the soul from worldly impurities. It also serves to formally train Muslims to repel negative social vices through self-control and restraint.

* In the UK, 2.7 million citizens are Muslim, according to the 2011 census, comprising 4.8 per cent of the population. Among under-25s, the figure is 10 per cent.

* Advice on how to deal with Ramadan is widely available to schools, which are largely tolerant and flexible. Stoke-on-Trent city council advised in 2010 that schools should rearrange exams, cancel swimming lessons, sex education and school-wide social events during Ramadan, as well as offering school meals as packed lunches to take home to facilitate flexibility.

We British go out of our way to avoid using the word ‘Muslim’

Have the Brits got a problem with “Muslims”? The author notices that on British television news coverage the lengths to which some reporters went to in order to avoid using the word “Muslim”.

 

Now if we categorise court defendants by their religion, we are saying – in effect – that their religion must have some relevance to their crime, or to their propensity to commit crime. We don’t routinely identify men or women charged with criminal offences as “Christian”, “Buddhist”, “Jewish” or, for that matter, atheist, because this, too, would suggest that our belief – or non-belief – in Jesus, Buddha or Yahweh has a connection to our criminal intent. We may be described as “British” in a court appearance – to distinguish us from French or Spanish citizens with whom we are accused of consorting in crime – but never as British Catholics.

 

Criminals of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, Muslims though they probably are, are technically of “Asian background”. The catch is that the word “Asian” – according to the author – means Chinese. Or Japanese. That’s not a dated or a racist idea. Visiting an Asian restaurant in London, people don’t expect to eat Arab food. If acquaintances say they are bringing an Asian friend to dinner, expect to see a Chinese or a Japanese or a Burmese or a Thai or a Malaysian. Or Indian (albeit they may be Muslims). Chinese, after all, constitute more than a quarter of Asia’s 4.3 billion population. But if they are bringing a Muslim friend, they would say just that, or Iranian or Pakistani or perhaps – if they were from the “Western” end of the Muslim world – Arabs. The real subject to be confronted here, is whether the misogynistic, patriarchal world in which so many Muslims do indeed live has somehow leached over into crime; whether there actually is a connection between the Muslim identity of the men in Oxford and their crime; no, not their religion, but their background, call it “social”, cultural”, political or whatever. The 500 Imams obviously thought there was a connection. That’s why they all preached the same sermon at the same time.

 

The author’s argument is far larger than this. The 9/11 attacks brought down a lot of the sensibilities about “Muslims”. The killers were Arab Muslims. And reporters said so. But what could not be discussed was that almost all were from Saudi Arabia and that the identity of these men might suggest there were problems in the Middle East, which must not be the subject of conversation since it might involve America’s relations with Israel. But nobody referred to the hijackers of 9/11 referred to as an “Asian gang”. Which they were, were they not?

Arab Spring Adds to Global Restrictions on Religion

pew restrictionsIVAt the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011, many world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, expressed hope that the political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa would lead to greater freedoms for the people of the region, including fewer restrictions on religious beliefs and practices. But a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the region’s already high overall level of restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – continued to increase in 2011.

 

Before the Arab Spring, government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion were higher in the Middle East and North Africa than in any other region of the world.1 Government restrictions in the region remained high in 2011, while social hostilities markedly increased. For instance, the number of countries in the region experiencing sectarian or communal violence between religious groups doubled from five to 10. (See sidebar on the Middle East-North Africa region.)

The Americas, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region all had increases in overall restrictions on religion in 2011. Government restrictions declined slightly in Europe, but social hostilities increased. Asia and the Pacific had the sharpest increase in government restrictions, though the level of social hostilities remained roughly the same. By contrast, social hostilities edged up in sub-Saharan Africa, but government restrictions stayed about the same. Both government restrictions and social hostilities increased slightly in the Americas.

The new study also finds that reports of harassment or intimidation of Muslims increased worldwide during 2011. Muslims were harassed by national, provincial or local governments or by individuals or groups in society in 101 countries, up from 90 countries the year before. Christians continued to be harassed in the largest number of countries (105), although this represented a decrease from the previous year (111 countries). Jews were harassed in 69 countries, about the same as the year before (68). (For details, see Number of Countries Where Religious Groups Were Harassed, by Year chart.)

The number of countries with overall increases in restrictions compared with the previous year outnumbered those with decreases. However, a larger share of countries (35%) had a decrease in at least one of the 20 types of government restrictions or 13 types of social hostilities measured by the study compared with the previous year (28%). Examples include a relaxation of registration requirements for religious groups in Austria; efforts to overturn a centuries-old law barring the British monarch from marrying a Catholic; and elimination of a requirement in Jordan that groups, including religious groups, obtain prior permission from the government before holding public meetings or demonstrations.6 (See sidebar on initiatives aimed at reducing religious restrictions.)

In the four countries with decreases of 1.0 to 1.9 points (Bangladesh, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the United States), some hostilities that occurred in the year ending in mid-2010 did not reoccur in 2011. In the United States, for instance, multiple religion-related terrorist attacks occurred in the year ending in mid-2010, but none occurred in 2011.15

Among countries with small changes on the Social Hostilities Index (less than 1.0 point), 69 had increases (35%) and 59 had decreases (30%).

Considering all changes in social hostilities from mid-2010 to the end of 2011, regardless of magnitude, 49% of countries had increases and 32% of countries had decreases. The level of increase in social hostilities during the latest year studied remained unchanged from the previous year (from mid-2009 to mid-2010).

RestrictionsIV-web

Woolwich attack: racist Facebook posts lead to suspended jail term

A 24-year-old woman who posted racist comments on Facebook after the death of Drummer Lee Rigby has avoided a jail sentence. Michaela Turner, of Southsea, Hampshire, was sentenced at Portsmouth magistrate’s court to an eight-week jail term, suspended for six months. She was ordered to pay £85 in costs and a victim surcharge of £60. The court heard that Turner had been drinking when she made comments about the Woolwich attack on the social networking site. They included: “Feeling like burning down some mosques in Portsmouth, anyone want to join me?” Rebecca Strong, defending, said: “She is extremely remorseful and ashamed of what happened. She was with a friend, they were drinking, they had watched some clips regarding what happened in Woolwich and she was extremely upset, as is most of the country at what happened.” Strong said Turner had stopped using Facebook and deleted the comments. “She fully accepts what she did and is very ashamed of what she said. Turner pleaded guilty to an offence contrary to section 127 of the Communication Act 2003.

Salam, Islam: a Trip inside the Muslim Community

June 6, 2013

Salam_Islam_book_cover[1]

After success with his first novel, Pasquale Nuccio Franco goes back to the library this time with another book.

 

“Salam, Islam” is a travel through the Muslim community, through a number of interviews and articles that have given life to an understanding of spiritual matters, politics and social issues of a religion very often viewed with suspicion if not bitterness.

 

With this work, the author hoped to illustrate the truth essence of Islam and open a window to little known aspects that are often misinterpreted. In fact, many include anecdotes, and stories told in library book pages little known to many.

From the social point of view, the author insists that the collective followers denounce those who now seem to be synonymous with the religion i.e. Islam and radical Islamism.

There are, however, also insights pertaining to market expansion as fashion, food, forms of tourism – including new tourists to the Islamic religion – search engines and the internet and the presence of women no the net and in the economy.

In this respect, the author delves into a topic that in a situation like the present, of the economic downturn, could make it a resource for international markets, namely Islamic Finance, focusing to the rules of Shari’a which is still little known in our country.

From the past, some considerations related to the so-called “Arab Spring”, the role played by the media as a sounding board of this movement and the struggle for greater freedom of information and the effect on the proliferation of newspapers, satellite channels and Internet.

Not the usual book, Salam, Islam’s purpose is to tell the reality as much as possible with objectivity and consistency in a framework that places the Islamic community as a pivotal player of our society.