Islamic studies scholar Armina Omerika: “Muslims need new ways to approach their religious heritage”

The German Evangelical Church′s relationship with Luther shows Muslims that it′s possible to find and develop a way of engaging critically with your own religious tradition, says Islamic studies scholar Armina Omerika in an interview with Canan Topcu.

When did you first hear about Martin Luther?

Armina Omerika: I think I heard his name for the first time as a schoolgirl, in history lessons, but I don′t remember precisely when that was. For me, the figure of Luther is part of my general knowledge.

But many Muslims don′t even know about Luther′s existence, let alone his significance for Christianity – isn′t that true?

Omerika: I can′t say whether, what or how much each individual knows. And it certainly depends on a person′s educational background. The level of awareness of Luther among Muslims certainly also has something to do with the context in which they learn about Christianity.

In some Muslim societies – in the Middle East, for example – other forms of Christianity are more well known: Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. What people in Germany are often unaware of is that Muslim intellectuals in the Middle East actually studied the Reformation in depth during the 19th century, being sometimes even influenced by contemporary debates within German Protestantism.

Nevertheless, even people with a biographical connection to Christianity aren′t necessarily particularly well informed about Luther as a historical figure or his theological relevance.

From the viewpoint of an Islamic theologian, what stands out about Luther?

Omerika: The fact that Luther questioned the status of clergy keeps being picked up on by Islamic theologians – mainly because this institution doesn′t exist in Islam at all. In terms of the history of ideas, however, what is important to Islamic theologians is Luther′s image of Islam and Muslims and how it developed. It is well worth taking a closer look at the historical reception, the context and the reasoning behind such a negative image of Muslims.

In my view, it functioned as intra-societal criticism and had little to do with Muslims, particularly since Luther had absolutely no contact with Muslims; they weren′t part of his world. The criticism of Muslims was linked to criticism of the Catholic Church.

Is it actually important for Muslims today to study Luther?

Omerika: Yes, absolutely. One of the main arguments for studying Luther is the way he and his legacy are now being handled by Protestant theologians. The Evangelical Church in Germany, as well as colleagues in university theology departments, communicate and discuss Luther′s position on Jews, women, Muslims and social hierarchies quite openly. At the same time Christian theologians remain willing to pick up on other ideas put forward by Luther, building on them and bringing them to fruition.

The Evangelical Church′s relationship with Luther shows Muslims that it is also possible for us to find and develop a critical approach to our own religious tradition.

The current “situation” in the Islamic world is often explained by the fact that there was no Reformation there. So does Islam need its own Reformation?

Omerika: I don′t think calls for reformation contribute much to the theological debate. Luther′s thought and work should be seen as a reaction to a very specific historical context. And that context can′t be mapped onto present-day Muslim societies. The problems that without doubt exist in the Islamic world are entirely different to those that existed in the German principalities of the 15th and 16th centuries; the crises in Muslim societies are the result of many factors such as poverty, the battle for resources, post-colonial problems, an absence of the rule of law and insufficient democratic legitimisation.

As far as Islamic thought is concerned: yes, it needs to reorient itself, the traditional texts need to be re-read and historicised. Traditional modes of thought should be examined to see whether their methodological and epistemological bases still provide a firm foundation today. Not just the content, but the processes by which we engage with the content need to be re-examined. There needs to be some thought given to whether the positions taken in the past still offer adequate solutions for Muslims today. The answer to these problems does not, however, lie in a reformation modelled on historical examples from another age.

Muslims certainly need new ways to approach their religious heritage – with a view to the present and the future – but what they don′t need is the approach favoured by radical factions: drawing on the past, a time when there were entirely different social models. Nor however do they need to draw on the Reformation, which for all its benefits, remains a historical phase that can never be recalled.

Canan Topcu

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

Francois Fillon, embracing his Catholicism, challenges France’s secular tradition

When French presidential contender François Fillon marked the Feast of the Assumption last summer, he attended Mass at Solesmes Abbey, a Benedictine monastery known for resisting the anticlerical purges of the French Revolution. The trip, coming just weeks after the slaying of a Catholic priest in a terror attack, didn’t go unnoticed.

“He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s Catholic,” said Christophe Billan, head of Sens Commun, a grass-roots movement comprising thousands of French Catholics.

In France, the strict separation between personal faith and public life, known as laïcité, is a pillar of national identity. However, a confluence of events—from the legalization of gay marriage to the more recent string of Islamist terror attacks—has many conservative voters looking to the country’s Christian heritage as a bulwark.

Mr. Fillon’s candidacy is seizing on that impulse. In publicly embracing his faith, the 62-year-old is tapping a wellspring of Catholic voters who have begun coalescing into a potentially decisive voting bloc.

His performance during the country’s first-ever conservative primaries provided the clearest sign yet of the revived Catholic vote. After lagging behind rivals for weeks, Mr. Fillon spent the homestretch of the race debating opponent Alain Juppé over which of them stood closer to the teachings of Pope Francis —a development Le Monde described as “unprecedented.”

More than two-thirds of the people who voted in the primaries described themselves as Catholic in exit polls, and they helped hand Mr. Fillon a commanding victory. Pollster OpinionWay said 83% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass voted for Mr. Fillon and 68% of nonpracticing Catholics also backed him. Between 55%-60% of the overall French electorate identifies as Catholic, according to Jerome Fourquet, director of polling firm IFOP.

“I’ve never been so consciously influenced by my being Catholic,” said Catherine Mordant, 46 years old, a stay-at-home mother of four children who voted for Mr. Fillon. “Now we have to act, because the problem is really crucial.”

The Catholic vote is shaping up to play an unusually prominent role in the general election in May, when polls predict Mr. Fillon will face-off against Marine Le Pen , leader of the far-right anti-immigrant and anti-euro National Front party.

Many conservative Catholics shifted to the National Front during recent regional elections, feeling more at home with its call for revived nationalism than with the pro-EU principles—free movement of people and goods—espoused by other parties.

A quarter of self-described practicing Catholics voted for the National Front in December 2015 regional elections, up from 16% in local races in March of that year, according to IFOP.

Mr. Fillon’s Catholicism reassures voters who want to show support for French traditions. “The National Front has made a lot of progress with this group,” said Mr. Fourquet. “They could come back to the center-right with Fillon.”

The rise of a Catholic vote in France is a measure of how deeply the continent has been shaken by a series of crises, from the arrival of migrant waves from the Middle East to the surge in political parties questioning the future of the European Union itself. Just over a decade ago, it was France that led a successful campaign to prevent any reference to Europe’s Christian heritage from being added to the European Union’s constitution.

Today the EU is grappling with nationalist movements that point to President Vladimir Putin of Russia as a model of leadership, preferring his authoritarianism to the uncertainty clouding the economic bloc. Mr. Fillon has cultivated ties with Mr. Putin, criticizing sanctions the EU imposed on Russia after its forced annexation of Crimea.

Mr. Fillon has been careful to couch his talk of faith in language respectful to secularism. His support for Church teachings are personal choices, he says, not policy prescriptions. He has said he is personally against abortion but believes pro-choice laws shouldn’t be changed, and that he wouldn’t repeal the gay-marriage law but would revise sections that legalized adoption by gay couples.

Still, the politician has gone further than many of his peers in demanding space for religious voices in the public square. “Whenever the nation faces fundamental questions—life, death, what makes us human beings—it’s important that the point of view of religions not be ignored,” Mr. Fillon wrote in a chapter dedicated to faith in his book “To Do.”

In September, he returned to the question of religion and Republican values with the publication of a follow-up, best-selling volume, “Vanquishing Islamic Totalitarianism.”

“Let’s stop kidding ourselves,” he wrote. “France doesn’t have a problem with religion [in general]. The problem is linked to Islam.”

French secularism grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the 1789 Revolution. It was codified in a 1905 law on the separation of church and state that strictly limited the display of religious symbols in public places and forbade religious instruction in public elementary schools.

Designed to curb the influence of the Catholic Church, the law also helped lay the foundations for political conduct in the post-World War II era. French Catholics followed the cues of statesmen from Charles de Gaulle to François Mitterrand, who mainly kept their religious beliefs to themselves.

Any public references to faith were discreet. Mr. Mitterrand was praised for a 1981 campaign poster that set him against a bucolic background dominated by a church bell tower—a symbol of the central place of Christianity in the secular nation’s heritage. At the same time, the church’s cross had been airbrushed out.

The balance between public service and private faith has come under strain as the children and grandchildren of North African immigrants in the 1960s have come of age. These younger generations of one of Europe’s biggest Muslim minorities tend to practice stricter forms of Islam.

In response, successive French governments have become increasingly strict in their application of secularism. A debate over students wearing Islamic head scarves led to a 2004 ban on wearing religious symbols in general in public schools, including crosses and yarmulkes.

Catholics who once steered clear of politics out of respect for laïcité gradually found reason to speak up. One moment came in 2013 after newly elected president, Socialist François Hollande, signed legislation legalizing gay marriage. To the surprise of many, hundreds of thousands of Catholics took to the streets in what was known as a “manif pour tous,” a protest march for everyone.

“A cornerstone was being touched—defining the identity of the child, the couple—and we were barred from the debate,” said Mr. Billan of Sens Commun.

Seizing on the momentum of the protests, Mr. Billan and others founded the grass-roots movement, called “common sense,” with 9,000 members across the country. Though not officially Catholic, the group aimed to pressure lawmakers on a platform consistent with church teachings. Suddenly, French Catholics had a lobby.

The group found a kindred spirit in Mr. Fillon. He had grown up in Sarthe, a rural area nestled in France’s northwest, where he attended a Jesuit school. He recited morning prayers and mealtime benedictions.

“I grew up in a world where the Catholic faith structured whole sections of your social life,” Mr. Fillon wrote in “To Do.”

As prime minister between 2007 and 2012 to then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr. Fillon’s social conservatism took a back seat to his role as a technocrat carrying out economic policy.

When he returned to the opposition as a lawmaker in 2012, however, Mr. Fillon clashed with Mr. Hollande’s Socialist government. He voted against the gay-marriage bill and criticized the government for not doing more to protect Christian minorities in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, organizing a rally in June 2015 to support them.

“We are all Eastern Christians!” Mr. Fillon told the crowd.

A year later, Mr. Fillon met with Mr. Billan of Sens Commun, seeking the group’s support to better compete with Messrs. Sarkozy and Juppé, who had the support of the machinery of the conservative party, the Républicains.

Sens Commun had built the kind of grass roots organization Mr. Fillon lacked. It had phone banks, a social-media operation and local chapters across the country that would eventually be called upon to canvass for voters and drive them to the polls.

Weeks later France was hit by a pair of terrorist attacks. The first, a truck attack on a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice that killed 86 people, struck at a symbol of national unity.

Less than two weeks later, the brutal slaying of Rev. Jacques Hamel, 85, while he celebrated Mass in a small town church in the country’s north stirred a rare outpouring of support for France’s Catholic roots. Thousands of people, including Mr. Fillon, packed into Notre Dame of Paris to celebrate a Mass in tribute to the priest.

Thibault Fraisse, a 28 year-old doctor from the town of Aurillac in central France, said he worried the priest’s slaying and other attacks were an outgrowth of Muslim communities isolated from the rest of French society. He said wider acknowledgment of France’s Christian past, and a vote for Mr. Fillon, could act as a counterweight.

“We have to recognize that France is first and foremost a country with Catholic roots,” said Mr. Fraisse, who describes himself as a nonpracticing Catholic.

In August, Mr. Fillon held a rally near his hometown, where he warned of a France “ashamed” of its history and reminded the crowd he had recently celebrated the Feast of the Assumption at the nearby Abbey of Solesmes.

“You just heard the bells ringing,” Mr. Fillon said, gesturing toward the Benedictine monastery. “A thousand years of history! How can you not feel the force, the power, the depth of this past that forged us, that giv

 

Dutch terrorism-expert Peter Knoope: “A large part of the world hates us”

The Dutch antiterrorism-expert Peter Knoope searches for the motives of terrorists and warns the West. “A large part of the world hates us. What we think is progress, they find neocolonial.”

The Dutch specialist in international relations Peter Knoope warns the West: we force our way of thinking about history upon the rest of the world. And this is going terribly wrong. “We have no idea of what is developing. The anger, the dissatisfaction, the anti-Western sentiments.”

“We still think we need to democratize, and that our secular progress-thought still holds any relevance in a word were the majority of people are anti-Western. This disconcerts me,” Peter Knoope says. Until last year he was the director of the International Center for Counterterrorism (ICCT), we he is now an associate fellow. Additionally, he is a senior visiting fellow at Clingendael. the Dutch Instituut for International Relations, and travels around the world. It is utmost cynicism. I fly to Myanmar, to Mauritania, to South Africa, I’m hyper mobility itself. Someone who is stuck in Syria or Iraq is not welcome in Europe. This angers people.”

Barbaric violence

During one of those diplomatic travels he heard a remark, as a a red tread through a lot of conversations: “The majority of people here are anti-Western.” It came from a Frenchman he met in Niger. Knoope thought: the implication of what is said here, is tremendous. He repeated the sentence once more. Those words, in a random African country: “The majority of people here are anti-Western.” They stick, they hang as a sword of Damocles above our European heads. “Because it is not only like that in Niger, but also in Nigeria and also in Chad, and in Cameroon, in the of whole Sub-Saharan Africa, and also in large parts of Asia.”

Another incident. In the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria he read a pamphlet, meant for the citizens of the South-African Republic: “China is pleased that the hundred-year long humiliation of the European barbaric dominance has finally come to an end.”

Knoope: “We have no idea of what is developing. The anger, the dissatisfaction, the anti-Western sentiments. Beneath the small group of people that is mobilized by IS and that will actually take a step toward the use of barbaric violence, exists a sea of people that can understand well why those people do it.” Knoope wants to deal with the foundation of terrorism; this he finds more important that to merely battle the phenomenon.

Terrorists’ motivation

It has been long overdue that we allowed ourselves to ask the question of what the motivations of terrorists are. It was politically incorrect to ask this question in the years after 9/11,” Knoope says. Between 2001 and 2007 that question would even make you suspect. “People believed that to would demand understanding for the perpetrators.”

He sees a change in the American war-rhetoric. The big turn came in 2011. “Thas had to do with the combination of the Arabic spring and the death of Osama bin Laden. The Arabic Sping brought a sense of hope. Just as the idea that Al-Qaeda did not play a role in it, That it was not a religiously motivated but a civil uprising. With that the demise of Al-Qaeda was proclaimed. A space developed to as the question of the motivation of terrorists. The America president Barack Obama has, inspired by Hillary Clinton, further built upon this agenda. He allocated money for it and initiated programs.”

But in the meantime the bombardments on Syria continue. Knoop: “The Pentagon has an own agenda and an own dynamic that is hard to control. While we know that to depose leaders is strategically unwise. A terrorist organization is like a pyramid. If you take away the top, other more aggressive people will replace them. Take a look at Abubakar Shekau, who succeeded Mohammed Yusuf as leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria. It is strategically more wise to take away the public support, to break away the foundation. But for the military it is a difficult message that their machinery does not lead for the full hundred percent to the result they hope to reach with it.”

What binds 5 billion people? 

The worldwide character of Al-Qaeda and IS is new. “The globalization, that started with Christoffel Columbus, has intensified itself enormously the past twenty years. The global character of terrorism was never before seen, and is not comparable with other waves,” Knoope says. It is just like a water bed. You push it don’t at one side and it comes up on the other side. This much we have learned the past few years.

But to break away the foundation, how to do that? Knoope: “The first step is to try to understand why people resist. Otherwise you cannot present an alternative. The IS has a force of attraction in China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the in the Central Asian republics, until Russia, the Middle East and North and West Africa. You could go on. What is the undercurrent here? What binds those people with the shared idea that “we have something to fight against”? As long as we don’t understand that, as long as we keep throwing bombs on it and answer the phenomenon with violence, we will not solve the question.

Pretentious view on history

A better insight into what history means for the other is a good start, he believes. Because the seed of the danger is already in our pretentious view of history. “Our Western society, with her whole modernistic view on life, is afflicted with a belief in the future. The whole idea of modernization is about the manufacturability of the future: the world will become better, the world will change, our economy will grow. But for many people in this world time is something totally different. For a large part of the population of the world the world is not about tomorrow but about yesterday: want we have gone trough, what happened in the past to me, my culture, and my ancestors. Those hundreds of years of history are the baggage on everyone’s backs. The future is a fantasy.” And this is were the problem lies. “Western modernism has the inclination to deny that view of history. And this is the cause of a tremendous short circuit.”

“A group of more than five billion people rejects that idea of modernization. They say: “What you are here for to tell us, is not our future but your future.”” Because of that short circuit youths are incited to go on a search for alternatives. Knoope: “Then appears the tradition and the history and the “true” interpretation of the Islam, and then arises a group that says: “We offer an alternative, we offer you a home in which you can live that is based on the past, in our own rich history, and that offers a kind of togetherness that runs from Indonesia until Morocco. Feel at home.” And in the meanwhile our conviction that the modern society will lead to a worldwide secularity, and to a growing market and scientific knowledge, is viewed by large parts of the world as a neocolonial agenda. The modernists have never intended it that way, but if you ask the people in Africa, they say: “This is your newest way to look at us and tell us that we are not in order.” And because the parting of ways with religion is part of the modernization plans, this causes resistance and also causes for the religious component to emerge in an even stronger way.”

So does something exist such as fundamentalist secularism? For sure, Knoope says. “It’s fanatic. People who are part of ISAF (the international peace coalition in Afghanistan) tell me without shame that people in Afghanistan are 2000 years behind. I ask then: behind what? They mean behind our modern, secular, scientific view of the future, to which according to modern thought the population of the whole world shall have to submit.

Postcolonial disappointment

The problem if modernization started, according to Knoope, with the liberation theology after the postcolonial period, that started around 1960. A lot of the people in the colonies were disillusioned: the liberation had not brought what they had expected. “The postcolonial promise of improvement – we are now going to build up our own countries, we will make something beautiful – is turned over to postcolonial rage. If you ask an average youth in North Nigeria what democracy has brought, he’ll answer: “Nothing. A corrupt police officer and a life endangering army. That is our democracy. Thank you, dear Europeans.” The democracy that was installed in large parts of our former colonies did not bring the people anything. But we keep on telling them that democracy is the wonder drug.”

What concerns Knoope most is in many of those countries the traditional systems that existed had worked. “If one stole a cow, they went under the tree and spoke with each other. Conflict was dealt with amongst the people themselves. But the traditional way of conflict resolution was supplanted by a Western system of judges and lawyers. That Western system does not function over there at all. Prisons are full of people who have never seen a judge or lawyer. The old system of justice was completely destroyed and replaced by what the West implemented under the banner of democratization, human rights and “international law.” But in their daily practice people see that it has only brought misery. And then Al-Qaeda comes by, or IS or one of those groups, and they say: “Democracy? What is that for? What has it brought you?” Those groups demand a place for themselves in politics. There are of course masses of people that have huge problems with the reprehensible and brutal violence of the terror groups, but they do understand.

Is there, then, a peaceful solution? “As a first step we must realize that we cannot anymore force our modernity upon our former colonies,” Knoope says. “We must muster the humility that modernity is not attractive enough for everyone to embrace. After that you cannot but search in non-Western society for their own solutions for justice and good governance. Look at what the tradition brings to the table, and how they then become enriched with new elements. Looking back is also immensely important. They people must from within their own history and tradition give form to their contemporary society. Their uniqueness is in their history, not in ours. We think that – after the liberation movements and the independence – colonialism is already decades old an fully over. We left it behind, but the people that it happened to have not. In their collective conscience and history it is an important part of their identity.”

History of humiliation

It is important to realize that a lot of people that joined Boko Haram and IS really view us as the enemy, Knoope stresses. “We are not in order, that is their serious conviction. They are convinced that westerners try to marginalize Muslims, to humiliate and lower them, and that we allow them no fair, no rightful position in the world. We kill them in the Middle East, Chechnya, and Bosnia, we have them tortured in Guantanamo Bay. As soon as a Muslim crosses our border, he is picked out and humiliated. And now waves of Muslims enter Europe from Syria and Iraq. Then you know how it goes.” In this way the history of humiliation is fed. We must also consider this with regards to the influx of refugees.

Knoope takes a big lesson from history: Generational solidarity plays a much more important role with us then we realize. The anger of people about what was done to their parents, is many times bigger that the anger the parents themselves have felt about what was done to them. That anger travels over the generations. What you are is for a large part influenced by solidarity with your parents. That should not be damaged, because then people are touched in their fundamental values. That can be explosive material.

 

Source: www.knack.be

Interviewer: Anna Luyter

Interview: Peter Knoope

Translated from Dutch by: Jeroen Vlug

 

For more information about Peter Knoope see: http://www.clingendael.nl/person/peter-knoope?lang=en

 

To read the full interview in its original Dutch follow this link: http://www.knack.be/nieuws/wereld/terrorisme-expert-knoope-een-groot-deel-van-de-wereld-haat-ons/article-normal-624191.html

 

 

Not sacrificing on Animal’s Day? We don’t ask the bio-industry to quit for a day’

The Party for the Animals has proposed not to slaughter sheep the fourth of October, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha and it is also Animal’s Day. Not everyone agrees: “Why are only Muslims being addressed?

Marianne Thieme (Party for the Animals) states that they don’t want to insult the religious tradition. But according to inspections, animals won’t be slaughtered individually and there won’t be time to sharpen the knifes in between. They therefore propose to give money, instead of slaughtering an animal.

Sandra van de Werd, spokesperson for three animal-organizations had contacted CMO (Contact device Muslims and Government) about the issue. According to CMO giving money is an important part of the fest, but offering an animal too.
Ibrahim Wijbenga, chairman of the Judea-Islamic Platform says it should be better to look at the bio-industry first.

The Animal Protection (dierenbescherming) was not involved in the proposals. “We don’t ask other slaughterhouses to quit for a day.”

In Virginia House of Delegates, a push for inclusive prayers

February 28, 2014

 

RICHMOND — Every day they’re in session, as they have for hundreds of years, the members of Virginia’s House of Delegates stand together and pray.

At least most of them do.

Nearly every legislature in the country begins sessions with a prayer, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as does Congress. It’s a tradition that dates back to the British Parliament. The Supreme Court ruled 30 years ago that legislative prayers were constitutional, as they were “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country” as well as “a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people.” But a Jew and an atheist in Greece, N.Y., have challenged the prayers that began their town council meetings as violating the court’s requirement that prayers not favor one religion. The justices are reviewing an appeals court ruling that agreed with the women that eight years of almost exclusively Christian prayers violated constitutional protections.

“I’d like to be able to take part in the prayer,” said Del. Marcus B. Simon, a freshman Democrat from Fairfax County and one of the few Jewish lawmakers in the House who has made a point of standing in the back of the chamber when prayers are read. “I wish it was one I felt like I could take part.”

In part to reflect the seismic demographic shifts in recent decades that have helped JewishMuslimBuddhistHindu and Sikh communities take root in the commonwealth, prayers in the House are supposed to be “ecumenical” — not tied to a specific faith. Too often for some, they’re not.

“We start with a prayer to feel energized and rejuvenated,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who is Jewish. “Why not be inclusive?”

This isn’t the only instance in which the legislature’s allegiance to Christian traditions — many of which are still championed by conservative lawmakers — have clashed with the changing sensibilities of the state’s population centers.

On Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vowed to veto a bill that would allow students to pray and make religious remarks in public schools. The measure was hailed by some in the legislature, including Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), who said that lawmakers should “give to our students the same religious freedom and same religious rights that we have granted ourselves.”

Prayers in the House have become contentious before. In 2010, delegates were urged toboycott a prayer from an imam because two of the Sept. 11 hijackers briefly worshiped at his Falls Church mosque — and because a former imam at the mosque is suspected by U.S. authorities of having aided al-Qaeda in terrorist activities. About a dozen delegates were not in the chamber for that day’s prayer.

That same year, then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) reversed a policy banning state police chaplains from referring to Jesus in public prayers.

Although the concerned delegates in Virginia appreciated Nardo’s response, prayers invoking specific Christian beliefs continue in the legislature. But signs of change are apparent.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-virginia-house-of-delegates-a-push-for-inclusive-prayers/2014/02/20/25c1eb6a-9971-11e3-b88d-f36c07223d88_story.html?wprss=rss_story-courts_law-NW3&_monetaClick=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

European conundrum: Integration of Muslims or securitisation of Islam?

December 2, 2013

 

Across Europe, the general feeling is that integration of Muslim immigrants has failed and that multicultural policies are responsible for this failure.

However, a closer look at data on integration of Muslims reveals a more nuanced reality, writes Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center of Georgetown University and Director of the Islam in the West programme at Harvard University.

First, it is important to distinguish between socio-economic, cultural and political integration.

On the economic front, the results are daunting. Despite the emergence of a Muslim middle class, the high number of Muslims in lower socio-economic groups is reaching the point that some talk of a Muslim underclass.

This means that Muslims are affected by lower social mobility and persistent discrimination, even when their levels of education or resources are comparable to other immigrant groups. In other words, discrimination seems to exist for immigrants or citizens with a Muslim background.

When it comes to political integration however, data gathered across European countries show that Muslims do participate politically and on some occasions even more so than their ‘non-Muslim’ peers. They also present specific features. For example, they tend to participate less in formal politics (vote/party membership) than in informal political activity like civic action or voluntary work.

Muslims also display higher left-leaning political identification than their non-Muslim fellow citizens.

The most striking finding is that they not only identify themselves highly with Islam, but also to European citizenship. The opposite is true for non-Muslims who do not express the same attachment to their religious tradition. This difference does not exist in the United States, where Muslims perform at the same level as other religious groups when it comes to religious self-identification.

Therefore, the alarming political discourse on the lack of cultural and religious integration of Muslims is ill-placed.

The perception of Islam as a threat is one reason for this gap between the social reality of Muslims and the political discourse on Islam. Anti-terrorism and security concerns fuel a desire to compromise liberties and restrict Islam from the public space.

The outcome is an increasing securitisation of Islam that includes a number of actions through which the normal rule of law is suspended in favour of exceptional measures. This is justified by extraordinary situations that threaten the survival of the political community.

This securitisation aims to respond to Islam as if it were an existential threat and therefore justifies extraordinary measures to contain it. Securitisation of Islam is discernible in speech and rhetoric, such as the justification for the War on Terror and the persistent linking of Islam with political violence.

Our research shows, however, that securitisation not only encompasses speech acts but also administrative and political measures not directly related to terrorism. For example, limitations on Islamic practices (minarets, the hijab, the burqa, male circumcision) as well as the restriction of immigration and citizenship. In this regard, these measures reinforce the perception of Islam and Muslims as ‘others within the West’.

Consequently, Muslims are under increased political scrutiny and control, especially those who assert their religious affiliation through their dress and engagement in public religious activities. Furthermore, the signs of these activities, such as mosques and minarets, have become highly suspect. In these conditions, not only radical groups are seen as a threat but also all visible aspects of the Islamic religion.

Securitisation of Islam regards Islam as a monolithic ideology spreading from Europe all the way to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to this perception, Muslims are determined by history and fit a mold from which they cannot escape. They are defined by their so-called conformity to the past and their inability to address the current challenges of political development and liberal religious thinking.

This perception justifies the imaginary creation of an insurmountable boundary between modern and pre-modern times, between secularism and Islam, and therefore supports exceptional political measures to fight against supposedly anti-modern and anti-Western forces. It leaves very little space for Islam in liberal democracies and it fuels the extreme polarisation of Islam versus the West on which European and Muslim extremist groups thrive.

One way to overcome the exclusion of Muslims in the West would be to include Islam in the narratives of European countries through a reframing of national history textbooks to locate this religious tradition and its diverse cultures within the boundaries of each national community. Another proven way to increase the legitimacy of any given group is through greater political representation in mainstream institutions (political parties, assemblies, and governmental agencies). Concrete action on these ideas has yet to materialise.

 

World Review: http://www.worldreview.info/content/european-conundrum-integration-muslims-or-securitisation-islam

Pope Francis Writes to Muslims, I feel like your brother

August 2, 2013

“As you all know, when the Cardinals elected me as the Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Catholic Church, I chose the name of Francis, a very famous saint, deeply loved by God and every human being, to the point of being called the ‘universal brother.’” The Pope wrote in a message “to Muslims around the world” on the occasion of “the conclusion of the month of Ramadan, chiefly devoted to fasting, prayer and almsgiving.” In the text, the Pope follows a tradition that, on this occasion, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends a goodwill message, accompanied by a theme offered for joint consideration. “This year, the first of my Pontificate, I decided to send this message to you, dear friends, as an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims, especially those who are religious leaders.”

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.

Christians, Muslims & Jesus by Mona Siddiqui: review

Sameer Rahim applauds a stimulating dialogue between great faiths.

 

Despite that in some parts of the world you find violent conflict between Christians and Muslims, the Muslim theologian Mona Siddiqui touches on a central doctrinal difference between the two largest monotheisms: the true nature of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

When Mohammed announced his new religion in the early seventh century, he claimed to be walking the same path as Old Testament prophets such as Abraham, Moses – and Jesus. The Koran relates that Jesus was born to a virgin called Mary, preached God’s word, gathered disciples and performed miracles. He was condemned to death by crucifixion, the Koran says, but was saved through divine intervention and ascended to heaven without dying. Jesus will return to Earth, according to Islamic tradition as the Messiah.

 

The crucial difference from the Christian narrative is that for Muslims, Jesus is emphatically not the Son of God.

 

Siddiqui raises the point that Islam might well have preserved aspects of theologically unorthodox Christianity. In Siddiqui’s final chapter she bravely questions what the crucifixion might mean to a Muslim.