It has been surprising for all of us to see how large of a role culture actors and artists have played in the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. You see street theater, singers, painters and dancers on Tahrir Square, which is about 50 meters from the Goethe Institute. Many of these people have come to see us in the Goethe Institute because we have set up a "Tahrir Lounge". All we really did was set up a room, but a lot of artists quickly found out about it because they had known the Goethe Institute because they were visitors or learned languages there. The space is used to discuss the new era's culture – it's an open space and a place for debate. We have brought employees from the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives to Cairo because they have experience dealing with state secret services. That's when people can talk about how to deal with secret files and hear about how Germany dealt with the issue. Our work encompasses everything from cultural to sociopolitical issues.-- Klaus-Dieter Lehmann in an interview with Aya Bach
Your revolution also gave the lie to the idea that Arabs are not interested in democracy, that they willingly tolerate despotism. Such opinions after all have been much too prevalent in the media; even from people one would have believed were more intelligent: professors, historians, respected journalists. You have really shown them! Well done! And it is my belief that if the so-called "western values" are being defended by anyone nowadays then it is by the Arab peoples, who are now freeing themselves from the yoke of despots to whom the West, where it has not openly supported them, has too often and for too long turned a blind eye. I would, therefore, be very interested to know what sort of attitude, what sort of commitment it is that Arab intellectuals, and indeed the ordinary people too, would like to see from us in the West.-- Stefan Weidner
Christianity in Europe is facing an existential problem – but not the increasing secularisation of society or its alleged Islamification. The threat to Christianity's existence lies instead in the fact that people do not really believe in Christ, his message or his works. Unlike Doubting Thomas, however, people are unwilling to touch Jesus' wounds and find faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ. The provocation of the Christian faith lies in Jesus' last word on the cross: "Tetelestai!" – it is finished. There is nothing we mortals can add to Christ's surrender of his life for our sake. All Christians have to do is celebrate Jesus' miracle in church services, to testify to the name of God as a form of mission, and to serve our fellow men and women.-- Jochen Teuffel
The presentation of the Qur’an by the local Jewish community was a way to show goodwill and remove any misunderstanding and hurt that Muslims may have experienced in today’s unfortunate atmosphere of Islamophobia – something Jews can relate to given their long years of dealing with anti-Semitism. -- Habeeb Alli
For socially conservative Christians, the result may be short-term alliances with critics of Islam who are distanced from the Church or even with atheist Islam critics. In the long term, however, propagating a community of heirs to a Western, Christian culture can be understood as nothing but a "post-secular" attempt to re-establish a partial bond to church traditions by means of social policy. When a claim to inclusion in society as a whole is newly made in the name of Christian values, it inevitably awakens the collective memory of the pre-Enlightenment corpus Christianum. -- Jochen Teuffel
In the beginning of the 20th century, Lord Cromer once said that he could not tell Copts from Muslims until he sees them pray. He wasn't just speaking for the record, or out of admiration. He was describing a reality that he found a bit exasperating. But for the past three or four decades, especially since the 1971 events in Al-Khankah, the ground has been shifting. We can still speak about the amity between the "two elements of the nation" but we all know of the horrors that lie not too far underneath the surface. The Quran was carried aloft with a cross and Christians held a mass once Muslims were done with their prayers. Then the dream turned to a nightmare. -- Abdel-Moneim
So my final advocation will be the following:" just respect native / local customs", and add tolerance. In France remember that showing your face and your eyes is polite and customary. Remember too that women religious of numerous religions other than Islam are also wearing a veil, not just a full face one, so covering your hair if you want to is perfectly understandable.
And there is a reason why one moves to another country than his birth country. It is usually because things are better there. Not all things as I learned from my travels, but enough for you to want to stay. So go with local customs as they are part of your new country. -- Sylvain Muckenhirn, A New Age Islam Reader
One of the metaphors that we found most helpful was to think of our religions as growing from the same root and diverging into branches. It is when we get out to the outer edges of branches where our differences stir up trouble. It is out at the edges that we get people like Pastor Terry Jones, who caused a firestorm of media attention when he threatened to burn the Qur’an at his 30-member Florida church on the 9th anniversary of 9/11.-- Ann Gillespie
The intensity of communal supremacism in religious discourse differs in the case of different religious traditions and within each as well, depending on how they are interpreted. Some strands of Brahminical Hinduism, for instance, are premised on the notion that the Brahmins are not just God’s chosen people but, more than that, are virtual ‘gods on earth’ (bhu devatas). On the other hand, non-Brahmin ‘Hindus’ are regarded, simply on account of their birth, as inferior in varying degrees, with the so-called Untouchables being considered not just non-human but as the very epitome of every conceivable devilish quality. Non-Hindus are treated as virtually outside the pale of humanity, as polluting cow-slaying mlecchas and so on. Christian evangelists, for their part, fervently believe that non-Christians as well as Christians who understand Christianity differently from them will be thrown into Hell simply because they do not accept their particular and peculiar understanding of the status of Jesus. Orthodox Jews are convinced that they are God’s chosen people, and, hence, must dominate over the rest of humanity. For their part, most 'Muslims' imagine that all non-Muslims are ‘disbelieving infidels’, who will be dumped into eternal Hell by a vengeful God simply because they do not believe in the prophethood of Muhammad, pray in Arabic or venerate the Kaaba in Mecca. In short, the religionists are firmly convinced that they know the mind of God, for it is on that basis that they claim that members of their fold are God’s elect and that all others are definitely out of God’s favour. -- K. Itarwala, NewAgeIslam.com
A petition for Asia Bibi is online, and shame on Muslims for the poor response on it, a few had the audacity to tell me that they object to the apology to Christians in it, what arrogance! How unjust! It has to change. What is happening in Bahrain, Syria and Libya is outrageous; the gutless and useless Islamic organizations around the world have an opportunity to speak up for Justice. No Dictator has died in peace and these monarchs can choose to live a respectable life by letting the governance rest in the hands of the people, or start counting their days and line up behind Shah, Saddam, Mubarak, Gaddaffi and their ilk. Muslims around the world need to speak up if not we will watch a total destruction and subjugation of the people of Middle East. If Muslims fail, America must lead in bringing justice to the minorities around the world. – World Muslim Congress
Today, a lot more people realise that increasing religious expression is not the problem. The problem lies with the kind of orientation within that expression. For example, if a person consumes halal food and refuses to eat beside someone who takes non-halal food, the problem lies with the act of self-exclusion - not the consumption of halal food. If the orientation behind a religious expression is of the exclusivist, supremacist and intolerant type, then we ought to be wary. Measures need to be taken to ensure it does not become dominant in our society. But if the orientation is of the inclusive, egalitarian and progressive sort, then we ought to celebrate these expressions as part of our diverse religious landscape. The latter may even help strengthen our identity as a cosmopolitan society where diversity is celebrated and cultural exchanges lead to the greater common good. The challenge before us, therefore, is to ensure that social policies are able to distinguish the diversity within each religious tradition. Interfaith awareness must go hand-in-hand with intrafaith. -- Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib
More than 10 people were killed in Afghanistan as a result of violent incidents staged to protest the reprehensible act committed by Terry Jones. Indubitably, the desecration of the Holy Quran is an unbearable crime and an affront to the idea of mutual tolerance among all religions, which is an irrefutable need in this volatile, globalised world. But attacking and killing innocent people in the name of condemning an outrageous act committed by someone else, is not the solution. And Muslims must bear in mind that, at present, the biggest challenge facing them across the world is the negative and distorted image of their religion. So, the only reasonable response could be to ignore the publicity-seeking Terry Jones or condemn his behaviour in a very peaceful manner. In view of the present state of frayed relations between the two major civilisations, Islamic and Western, it is of the utmost importance that a solution be worked out to reconcile inter-religious differences. Interfaith dialogue can help combat evil forces and rein in fundamentalist elements among various religious communities. In addition, it is the only natural method of relating to people of other faiths and understanding their thinking patterns. All the religious communities should reaffirm their faith in the values of pluralism and actively participate in undertaking trust-building efforts. Interfaith harmony must be built on the foundations and concerns that all religions have in common. -- Rizwan Asghar
Remember Christian pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida? He caused an international uproar last year by threatening to burn 200 copies of the Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Scripture, on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Among others, the overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, had warned at that time that such an action could provoke violence in Afghanistan and could endanger American troops. Jones subsequently promised not to burn the Qur’an. Last month, on March 20, however, with only 30 worshipers attending, Terry Jones held a self-styled mock trial of the Qur’an in which he presided from the pulpit as a judge. Sitting in judgment was a jury of 12 members of his church. Punishment was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Jones said voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings. So the Qur’an was burned. The hateful act drew little publicity inside the USA, but provoked angry condemnation in the Af-Pak region, where it was reported in the local media and where anti-American sentiment already runs high. Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan condemned the burning in an address before the Parliament, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Thursday called on the United States to bring those responsible for the Qur’an burning to justice. A prominent Afghan cleric, Mullah Qyamudin Kashaf, the acting head of the influential Ulema Council of Afghanistan and a Karzai appointee, also called for American authorities to arrest and try Terry Jones in the Qur’an burning. -- Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Faith is supposed to liberate and empower us. To give us hope, strength and a reason to live. And keep us going even when everything around us is falling apart. It’s faith that bonds humble man with God making angels fall before him in submission. Faith, like reason, distinguishes men from animals and all other creations of God. So why do we often see the so-called men of God turn on their fellow men in unbridled hatred in the name of faith? Faith is ought to make us more compassionate, more forgiving and generous to our fellow men and every living thing around us. Because they are all the creation of the One who created us too and whom we claim to love and worship. You would understand if crimes against humanity are committed by agnostics or deniers of the whole business of creation. Mass murderers like Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and others like them could be explained away as pathological killers untouched by morality or any sense of right and wrong. -- Aijaz Zaka Syed
If you’re a neocon who hates Muslims, or better yet, a Muslim who hates Muslims (and Pakistan has more than its fair share of self-loathing latter-day colonists who’ll say anything to seem more Hollywood than Lady Gaga herself) then nothing suits your narrative more than the atrocities and murder that took place in Mazar-e-Sharif last week, in reaction to the burning of a Quran in Florida. Such events help perpetuate the twisted narrative of Muslims as generically rabid fanatics with no compunctions about beheading innocent people. If you’re an anti-Semitic, Hinduphobic, anti-American right winger who believes Pakistan was made the day Bin Qasim landed at Kemari, and for whom killing people on street corners for purported offenses of speech (and we know with certainty that our living rooms, televisions and streets are overflowing with such vileness), is no big deal, then the burning of the Quran itself is a boon to your trade. Nothing helps sell hatred more than a made-for TV drama like Terry Jones. Too many of the politically irrelevant mullahs in the Muslim world live and die for a chance to stir up reactions to the Terry Jones’ of the world. -- Mosharraf Zaidi
Some years ago, a Commission headed by Justice N.P.Nathwani was appointed to investigate the complaints of the Bohra reformists. The Commission had dragged out several skeletons from the Syedna’s cupboard. It revealed out that the Syedna and his family of several hundred members had amassed enormous wealth by taxing his followers, wielding, for this purpose, the mithaq as a weapon to reduce the Bohras into virtual slavery. Indeed, as numerous reformists attending the Udaipur convention stressed, so abject is the surrender of the Bohras to the Syedna that they willingly call themselves abd-e syedna or ‘slaves of the Syedna’. Bohra reformists claim that although the mithaq was a traditional Bohra practice, crucial changes had been made in it by the present Syedna’s father and predecessor, Tahir Saifuddin, in order to further reinforce his control over the Bohras. -- K. Itarwla, NewAgeIslam.com
It’s tempting to say that the only gain could be for those fringe voices who garner public credibility for their otherwise discredited views. But neither those voices nor their regular sparring partners are likely to care much what someone like Aravosis thinks about the bible. Indeed, the blog post’s only imaginable effect on homophobic church readers would be to move the more moderate of them towards a more extreme interpretation. Does Aravosis really want to persuade members of the Southern Baptist Convention, say, that a strict interpretation of Leviticus requires them to advocate the death penalty for same-sex acts? It’s more likely that Aravosis is preaching to his own choir; that is, to political liberals who identify as LGBTQ, or their staunch allies. What effect will this post have on them? It can only confirm the view that queer political progress depends on a strict secularism—after all, Christians only quote their violent bible “to take away our civil rights.” We politically awake queers would be so much better off, the post implies, if only we could get rid of that hateful book and those who still read it. -- MARK D. JORDAN
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Islam also puts great emphasis on Justice. And since seeking justice may sometimes call for violence, some people think Islam allows violence in its quest for justice. This is not true. Two examples from the Life of the Prophet should suffice. The first is the treaty of Hudaibiya that the Prophet signed on terms that all his companions found humiliating for what was by then a powerful community which had fended off several attacks and could be expected to do so again. Hudaibiya was not a just treaty they all thought. But the Prophet accepted that as this was the only way to peace. Another example is Muslims victory over Mecca. The Prophet announced a general amnesty after this. Justice demanded that war criminals be punished. But this would have probably created bad blood and possibly led to counter-violence. The Prophet again delinked Justice with Peace. The requirement of peace was paramount in his view.
Following the Prophet’s example, in the last century, the great leader of the then united India’s northwest frontier province, which is now known as Pakistan’s province of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa, Badshah Khan devised a strategy that harmonised the demands of a quest for Justice with the interests of peace. He was inspired by the Mahatma and was his greatest, most unflinching ally. But he had worked out his strategy of non-violent struggle and started his unique movement before meeting him. He said he had learnt this from his study of Quran and Hadith. He found his nonviolent strategy in Islam’s call for an unrelenting struggle against injustice and the Prophet’s constant exhortation for patience and perseverance. He brought the two virtues together and thus was born his unique movement of non-violent resistance against British colonial rule. He told his 100,000 strong non-violent army of khudai khidmatgars (Servants of God):
“I am going to give you such a weapon that police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it. …tell your brethren that there is an army of God and its weapon is patience….”
Many scholars and peace activists who have studied the Khudai Khidmatgar movement in detail consider this as an Islamic model for non-violent struggle against injustice. -- Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam at a seminar organised by Al-Hakim Foundation and Himalayan Research during the UN Human Rights Council’s September 2010 session at Geneva.
Generally rationalists hold religion responsible for religious fanaticism. Is it really so? First of all we must understand what is fanaticism? When mind is closed to any idea other than one holds and refuses to accept even simple logic, much less complex arguments sometimes involved and prefers to follow rather than think using one’s own intellect, it would be called fanaticism and a person known as fanatic.
From the above one can easily understand that this does not involve religious issues alone but also other opinions, be that political, cultural or social. Any firmly held opinion which refuses to change in view of overwhelming evidence to the contrary would be called fanatically held opinion. Thus fanaticism is psychological whereas religion is moral and spiritual category. -- Asghar Ali Engineer
No sooner had Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi been appointed as the new head of the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband, India’s most influential madrasa and nerve-centre of the global Deobandi movement, than he found himself in the thick of controversy, which only seems to be getting even more embarrassing and convoluted with every passing day. Shortly after being appointed to his post, Vastanvi created a storm by claiming, in an interview given to a leading newspaper, that Muslims in Gujarat (from where he hails) were not subject to any form of discrimination, and that they were reaping the fruits, in the same way as other communities, of the state’s chief Minister Narendra Modi’s much-touted ‘development model’. Vastanvi’s naïve and wholly untenable statement won him fierce condemnation from Muslims (and some others) from across the country, who pointed out the continuing discrimination against Muslims in Gujarat and the fact that he had conveniently remained silent on Modi’s central role in planning and instigating the horrific anti-Muslim genocide of 2002. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
Photo: Maulana Ghulam Wastaanwi
Admittedly, this task of rethinking the ‘other’ in Islamic thought is not an easy one. It involves engaging with numerous problematic issues, particularly related to the corpus of Hadith (which is replete with fabricated narrations) and the tradition of fiqh of the mullahs (which is based on the notion of ‘Muslim’ communal supremacism). But this is a task that cannot be avoided, particularly in today’s world, where ‘Muslims’ and others live in increasing proximity, where their lives are intertwined far more closely than ever before, and where, therefore, communal supremacist understandings of religion pose a very real danger to peace and harmony.
One could go on further to elaborate this, but I shall stop here. What I have tried to argue in this presentation is that efforts for genuine inter-faith dialogue and solidarity can make no headway without each of us radically transforming the ways in which we understand what is projected as the religious ‘other’, as well as how we understand our own religious systems. The dialogue needs to happen, therefore, within oneself as well, rather than being directed solely outwards. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
It appears, or so the film suggests, that Muslim groups might not even have known of the existence of the Cheeta-Kathats had Hindutva groups not arrived on the scene, fired by an irrepressible zeal to ‘purify’ the community, which, for all practical purposes, means ‘cleansing’ them of their Muslim beliefs and practices. Instigated by the intervention of these Hindu groups, a number of Islamic outfits, the film tells us, rushed to the scene, to ‘rescue’, as they saw it, ‘the fallen Muslim’ Cheeta-Kathats from the very real threat of apostasy on a mass-scale.
To stave off the Hindutva threat, they resorted to precisely the same strategies as the Hindu missionaries have adopted with such resounding success—building schools, mosques and madrasas in the area (where, the film shows, children are taught chaste Urdu and Arabic, languages as completely foreign to them as Sanskritised Hindi and Sanskrit that are taught in the Parishad-run schools), and arranging for roving missionaries of the Tablighi Jamaat to popularise what they regard as ‘Islamic’ dress and appearance (such as skull-caps for boys and beards for men). They began speaking out against the observance of ‘Hindu’ festivals, occasions of joy and gaiety, branding them as ‘un-Islamic’ anathema.
The sort of Islam that they sought to promote was dour and sullen, with little occasion for celebration, quite in contrast to the lively, earthy traditions of the community. All these were part of a wider agenda of providing visible external markers of ‘Muslim’ communal identity that would clearly mark the Cheeta-Kathats off from the Hindus, starkly confirming them as ‘complete’ Muslims, thereby coaxing them to identify with other Muslims in the area and beyond.
As the film very strikingly suggests, the war for converts being fought among the Cheeta-Kathats by Hindu and Islamic outfits is not about making them better human beings (in what one might think ought to be the truly spiritual sense of the term). Rather, it is all about prodding them to unambiguously and explicitly identify themselves with either the Hindus or the Muslims, as the case might be, these communities and their religions being defined in fierce opposition to each other. In other words, it is a communal struggle in which exclusivist and intolerant notions of religion and religious identity play a central role. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
I use the word “Christmas” with feeling since I’ve recently celebrated my own festival of Eid , wished my Hindu and Sikh friends a delightful Diwali, and my Jewish friends a Happy Hannukah. Therefore, I feel we should have absolutely no qualms about wishing our Christian friends a “Merry Christmas” on their day of joy. ... Just to to think that in the year 2010, when Canada is fast set to become the most pluralistic country in the world, we’re avoiding saying “Merry Christmas.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but pluralism doesn’t mean minimizing the celebrations of the majority but being inclusive about everyone’s festivals. We know that every minority celebrates with full gusto, taking time off work with pay and having their kids take time of school without any qualms. In fact, employers have to accommodate minority faiths. But when it comes to Christmas, the story is different. A huge corporation (one of the largest in Canada) sent out a memo to its employees giving them guidelines on how to enjoy the holiday. The guidelines tell them not to use the word “Merry Christmas” lest they offend someone who doesn’t celebrate. My fellow Canadians, ... Muzzling the voices of those who wish to celebrate the best of the season and wish everyone a Merry Christmas is excessive. So what if this is not your festival – “Merry Christmas” is a greeting, not a slur, so get over your personal pettiness and become part of the cultural festivities. -- Raheel Raza
This grievance can be traced back to the Crusades. But the militant forms of Islam that have corroded tolerance for Christians in many Islamic societies owe more to contemporary history. Western support for Israel and the humiliation both of the Palestinian people and of surrounding countries have favoured the spread of a more narrow interpretation of Islam. The United States invasion of Iraq has been catastrophic for Iraqi Christians. Under Sadam Hussein they lived in relative peace. As a result of the invasion, they have been identified both with the United States as Christians and as clients of the Sunni. The antagonism between Sunni and Shiite and the cooptation by Iran and Saudi Arabia of radical groups has hemmed in the space for happy co-existence.....
But leaders of Western churches are unlikely to press for such solidarity, or Christian congregations to hear it, unless Western Christians own their complex history with Islam. Solidarity with Christians in the Islamic world cannot be built unless it is accompanied by solidarity with Islamic peoples as well. It is contradictory to embrace Christians as the victims of Islam while ignoring the way in which both they and Muslims in the region have been the victims of Western depredation and invasion. -- Andrew Hamilton