In 2007, Somali-born Dutch author Ayaan Hirsi Ali published Infidel, an autobiography that documented her journey from repression in Muslim East Africa to the freedom of the Netherlands. To be free, Hirsi Ali claimed, Muslim women must renounce their faith and their cultures. Rife with awestruck veneration of the empowered West, Hirsi Ali's recipe for liberation for Muslim women was eagerly consumed. The book became a New York Times best-seller and its author a celebrity. Not long after, Hirsi Ali collaborated on a film that further pushed her point and featured her naked silhouette in the rituals of Muslim prayer. Extremist clerics in various parts of the Muslim world denounced her as a heretic, bolstering Hirsi Ali's royalties.
In 2013, the world is getting to know Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl from Pakistan who has become a champion for girls' education and was a favorite in betting parlors to win the Nobel Peace Prize. On Oct. 8, 2012, Malala, then 15, was a student at one of the few girls' schools in the Swat Valley, in the country's north. On an otherwise uneventful afternoon, Malala, whose family had received threats from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for continuing her education, got into the Toyota van that transported the girls to and from school. Minutes later, it was accosted by Taliban gunmen; they asked for Yousafzai by name and shot her. Her skull was fractured, and she nearly died. Her book, I Am Malala, is the story of that grim afternoon and all that came before and has come after.
Reza Aslan’s newest book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, had already reached the bestseller list when a video clip of the author went viral this week. The religion scholar appeared on Fox news to explain his latest work, but the host repeatedly and outrageously questioned why a Muslim would be writing a book about Jesus.
Aslan–the acclaimed author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam–demonstrated extraordinary grace and patience on the show, explaining over and over that religion scholars write as academics, not as adherents. Buzzfeed asked if this was “The Most Embarrassing Interview that Fox News Has Ever Done?” Meanwhile, in the course of the interview, Aslan mentioned that his wife and mother are both Christians.
As it happens, I tell the story of this high-profile interfaith family in my book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. About a year ago, Aslan tweeted: “I’m in a blissful interfaith marriage with my Christian wife. We are raising our children to respect all faiths and choose 1 for themselves.” When I read that tweet, I contacted him, and he and his wife agreed to be interviewed for my book chapter entitled “Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists: The Next Interfaith Wave.”
Aslan’s wife Jessica Jackley is prominent in her own field, as the co-founder of Kiva, the pioneering microfinance non-profit. But Aslan’s engagement with Christianity did not begin with marriage. In Being Both, he describes his own journey as the child of a family of Iranian refugees who were “cultural Muslims,” to a period of evangelical Christian zeal beginning in high school (during which he converted his own mother to Christianity), to rediscovery of Islam while a student of religions.
One of my themes is how being part of an interfaith family can inspire deeper understanding of one’s own religion(s), in the religion of a partner, and ultimately in the religions of the world. In describing their courtship and marriage, Jackley, who comes from an evangelical Christian family, told me, “He knows the Bible better than I do. He’s writing a book right now on Jesus. He understood my life better than most Christians.” That book eventually became Zealot.
Aslan and Jackley are now raising their twin sons with the values shared by both family religions, and with stories from diverse traditions. “What we’re going to teach our kids is the values, the beliefs, the activism, the worldview,” Aslan told me. “And when it comes to the stories, we’ll give them all of them.”
Being Both includes more on the marriage of Aslan and Jackley, the reaction of their interfaith families, and how they are raising their sons. They are two, perhaps the most prominent two, out of the hundreds of people who entrusted me with their interfaith family stories. Aslan, who received an advanced copy, calls the book, “A gorgeous and inspiring testament to the power of love to not only transcend the divides of faith and tradition, but to bring faiths together and create wholly new traditions.”
The first extended look into the nation's first Muslim institution of higher education, Zaytuna College
Light without Fire closely follows the inaugural class of Zaytuna College, the nation's first four-year Muslim college, whose mission is to establish a thoroughly American, academically rigorous, and traditional indigenous Islam. Korb offers portraits of the school's founders, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, arguably the two most influential leaders in American Islam. Along the way, Korb introduces us to Zaytuna's students, young American Muslims of all stripes, who love their teachers in ways college students typically don't and whose stories, told here for the first time, signal the future of Islam in this country. It's no exaggeration to say that here, at Zaytuna, are tomorrow's Muslim leaders.
"Will Islam become an American religion or remain permanently estranged? Will Muslims in America develop an identity that contributes to their country or one that emphasizes isolation and opposition? Scott Korb knows just how crucial these questions are, and in Light Without Fire tells the story of the leaders and animating ideas behind America's first Muslim liberal arts college-an institution seeking to build an American Islam-in all its fits and starts, and in prose that is both clear and compelling. I for one could not put it down-it is essential and riveting reading." —Eboo Patel, Founder and President, Interfaith Youth Core, author of Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice and the Promise of America
"This is an important book, and one as original as its fascinating subject. Like Roy Mottahedeh's classic Mantle of the Prophet, Light without Fire is about education in both the broadest and deepest senses and about Islam in a particular place and time. Only here that place is America, now, a country desperately in need of stories about its own Islam. We are lucky to have a writer as erudite and engaged as Scott Korb to bring us this one." —Jeff Sharlet, New York Times bestselling author of The Family and Sweet Heaven When I Die
"With the warm generosity of an attentive host, and the critical yet respectful eye of a keen journalist, Scott Korb has given us an entertaining and illuminating look into the nation's first Muslim college." —Wajahat Ali, author of The Domestic Crusaders and lead author of the investigative report "Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America"
"A moving portrait of a little known but hugely significant coordinate in America's spiritual geography. For this journey into the heart of 21st-century Islam, Scott Korb is the perfect companion—not just a tour guide with ready answers to any question, but a fellow pilgrim leading the way to deeper understanding. Light without Fire is at once a fascinating account of Muslims living their faith in the US, and a universal story of the call to make tradition new." —Peter Manseau, author of Songs for the Butcher's Daughter
"How many stories in American religious experience are truly new? Not so many, and Scott Korb's story of Zaytuna College is one of them, expertly and presciently told."—Paul Elie, author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own
"Scott Korb's Light without Fire is a rare and precious book-intelligent, compassionate, and beautifully observed-one that will provide a necessary and vital contribution to any serious discussion of the role of Islam and religion in America." —Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears
About the Author
Scott Korb is the author of Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine and coauthor of The Faith Between Us. He teaches at the New School and at New York University and lives with his family in New York City. (Photo: M. Ryan Purdy)
“So which side are they on?” The question was part of a
conversation I overheard on the street the other day, and it was in reference
to people like me—American Muslims.
As several of my country's embassies
have been violently threatened by people of my faith, this seems as good a time
as any to be clear about my answer: I am on the side of all those who seek a
common life together. I believe America's founding creed, E
Pluribus Unum, makes us humanity's best chance to achieve that
possibility. I believe that Muslim values—just like Jewish, Christian, Hindu
and humanist ones—can contribute to that spirit. And I believe, as the violence
and ugliness demonstrate, that building societies where people from different
identities live in equal dignity and mutual loyalty is one of the great
challenges of our times.
We find ourselves in a terrible situation. The evening news in
America is full of Muslims burning American flags and trying to breach
embassies. The evening news in Arab countries is full of stories of Americans
defiling the Prophet Muhammad. And the actions of a thuggish few are
increasingly viewed as representing the sentiments of entire nations and
The sad part is that those thuggish few are not just skewed
representations of the broader whole, they actually stand in violation of their
traditions. I believe as a Muslim that the mob violence we are witnessing does
a greater dishonor to the Prophet Muhammad than the original offense. Muslims
are meant to act in the tradition of the Prophet, who dealt with insults during
his entire mission, responded unfailingly with mercy and commanded his
followers to do the same: “You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but
you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness...”
Moreover, Islam is a tradition that protected pluralism from its
beginnings. One of the Prophet Muhammad's earliest acts in his adopted city of
Medina was to enact a Constitution that created a single political community—barring
tribal violence, establishing basic freedoms and assuring collective security—between
his growing number of Muslim followers and the various Christian, Jewish and
pagan groups already present in the city. During Islam's expansion, the Caliph
Ali sent his governor in Egypt a letter that said, “All people there are your
equals in faith or your brothers in creation.” The Quran affirms the holiness
of this pluralistic view: “God made you different nations and tribes that you
may come to know one another.”
America, contrary to the strain of ugly Islamophobia that has
become more prominent since 9/11, has a long and positive history of respect
for Islam and Muslims. The Flushing Remonstrance, a 17th century document which
established the precedent of religious freedom and goodwill between different
faiths, explicitly includes Muslims: “The law of love, peace and liberty in the
states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of
Adam.” Thomas Jefferson famously owned a Quran and hosted an iftar dinner for a
Muslim diplomat. Benjamin Franklin started a hall in Philadelphia and said that
the pulpit would be open to all preachers, including a Muslim from
Constantinople. An envoy appointed by President George Washington negotiated
the Treaty of Tripoli with a majority-Muslim nation, a document which stated
that “no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an
interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” The treaty was
later signed by President John Adams.
Current events highlight a harsh reality of globalization. That
people on one side of the world can create something that incites violence on
the other side of the world. But there is a silver lining here: just as ugliness
begets ugliness, so might beauty inspire beauty. Let's not let the handful of
people who seek to spread hatred between faith communities pattern interfaith
relations across the world. Now more than ever, we need to lift up those
stories within Islam and America that speak to the power of pluralism. And we
need to act on those stories, by working together to apply the values of mercy,
compassion and hospitality that are shared across all traditions. I remember
President Obama telling his Inaugural Faith Council, of which I was a proud
member, that he hoped Americans of all faith backgrounds would participate in
interfaith service projects together. This was not just as a way of
strengthening our own nation, it was also an example of diversity leading to
harmony in a world that is increasingly convinced of the inevitability of
In an interconnected world, the only chance we have is a common
life together. If we are to build it, we must insure the bridges between us are
strong enough to withstand the bombs of the extremists. As the American poet
William Stafford wrote, “The signals we give must be clear now ... the darkness
around us is deep.”
The hashtag #loweshatesmuslims lit up the Twitter-sphere, thousands of people threatened to boycott, mainstream television channels started reporting on the story, star power in the form of Perez Hilton and Russell Simmons jumped on board.
Lots of other people have weighed in on the bigotry at play here. I’d like to comment on a somewhat different dynamic: the Americanization of the Muslim community, especially the immigrant segment. A community that not long ago wanted only the comfort and confinement of its own bubble is learning the great American art of building bridges.
There are bridges of three sorts being built.
The first bridge is to the influence-centers of American society. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there were hardly any Muslims on television saying, “What you just saw was not Islam, it was just evil.” That’s not because Muslims weren’t thinking those things, it’s just that very few of us knew anything about American media or politics. That’s the moment most Muslims realized the bubble was a mistake. Muslims started becoming writers and organizers, and got savvy about media and politics.
The anti-Ground Zero Mosque campaign showed that it’s not enough to have a bridge to the influence-centers in American society, we needed the ability to respond rapidly. If the #loweshatesmuslims campaign illustrates anything, it’s that Muslims will never be Ground Zero Mosque-d again.
The second type of bridge being built is the internal one, within the Muslim community. All American Muslim generated a lot of controversy amongst Muslims, a good deal of it from more traditional believers who didn’t like the community represented by people sporting tattoos and hanging out in clubs. But once Lowe’s pulled its advertising, even high-profile orthodox Muslims like Yasir Qadhi showed their outrage at the hardware chain, and thus their implicit support for the show.
Muslims, like every religious community, have a dizzying number of internal differences - theological interpretations, political persuasions, levels of observance, etc. These differences have long dominated discourse amongst Muslims, causing ugly divisions and an unhealthy blindness to the gathering storm from without. But now that the storm is upon us, we are banding together. Muslims of one sort who might otherwise actively denounce Muslims of another sort are now finding themselves supporting one another, all under the canopy of what I call ‘Big Tent Islam.’ There is a blessing to the forces of prejudice being so brutal and blatant: it’s uniting Muslims.
Bridges run two ways, especially the bridge to other communities. Muslims are indeed the victims of ugly prejudice, but we are far from the only ones. The vicious attacks on the Mormon faith in the presidential campaign, the continuing bullying of gay kids in schools - there’s lots of ugliness out there. Where are Muslims when it comes to other people’s suffering?
You cannot ask from others what you are unwilling to give. I know that Muslims are grateful that black hip hop visionaries like Russell Simmons, gay pop icons like Perez Hilton and so many others are going out on a limb for us. But that’s simply not enough. You have to offer what you seek.
Having a reality show called All American Muslim doesn’t make you American, not in the George Washington-Jane Addams-Martin Luther King Jr sense at least. Mobilizing to defend your own rights is a start. But if we want to go all the way to the heart of this nation’s greatness, we have to follow in the footsteps of Perez Hilton, Russell Simmons and Chris Stedman. We have to do for others what they are doing for us, at the same scale, with the same profile, even if it’s risky and uncomfortable.
The single most American thing you can do is stand up for someone else.
Ten years on, I'm remembering the literature I read and the music that kept me going in the days and months after 9/11. I had Rumi and Whitman on my bedside table, reading them back to back, alternating between selections of the "Mathnawi" and poems from "Leaves of Grass", sometimes feeling like the two were one, the soul of America and the soul of Islam intersecting at some point beyond where the eye could see:
"Whoever you are, motion and reflection are especially for you,The divine ship sails the divine sea for you."-- Walt Whitman
Come, come, whoever you are,Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,Ours is not a caravan of despair.Even if you have broken your vows a thousand timesIt doesn't matterCome, come yet again, come"-- Rumi
Until then, the Quran for me was a book of personal spiritual guidance, a convening symbol for my religious community. But after 9/11, I viewed it as a balm for my country's pain, especially lines from Ayat al-Kursi: "His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them."
I remember trying to decipher the opening noises of Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," and then having my breath taken away by the understated poetry: "All my lies are always wishes / I know that I would die if I could come back new." In the death of that day, how many wishes went unfulfilled, how many lies went untold, how many resolutions had no chance?
I remember the lift I felt when I first heard Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising," and the light that broke through when I went to the tour and heard him include in a song a bit that sounded like Arabic prayer. I felt like he was saying to the Muslims in the crowd, "You are a part of the us."
I remember the stories that summed up the American spirit in that moment. Salman Hamdani, an American Muslim emergency medical tech, hearing about the tragedy and rushing to the site. He perished there with his fellow American first responders. John Tateishi, head of the Japanese American Citizen's League, heard the news on the radio, felt alarm as the whispers that Muslims were to blame grew louder, saw those whispers easily turning into pointed fingers and worse. He cancelled his appointments for the next two weeks and sent a message to his organization's affiliates around the country: we are making partnership with American Muslims our highest priority. One of John's earliest memories was the day he left an internment camp in the mid-1940s. His father had told him: "Never forget this day, John, and never let this country forget it either. It is too good for what it did to us." John was going to make sure that America didn't commit the same egregious crime again with another minority community.
I visited ground zero a few months after the attacks. It was mid-winter, just past dusk, time for the Maghrib prayer. The lights were glaring at ground zero, the cranes were lifting and placing. There was a big pit in the ground, but that wasn't the main thing going on.
"What did you see," my wife asked when I returned.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and high-profile conservative intellectual, announced today that he is officially in the running for the Republican nomination for president. Along the way he’s been playing the politics of religion.
In the speeches and media appearances he did in preparation for his run, he has emphasized two things. The first is the importance of God and morality in the public square, referencing his own conversion to Catholicism to give him credibility. The second is to rail against the dangers of Islam in America.
This two-pronged approach underscores just how far we have come in America on issues of religious tolerance, and also how far we have to go.
Just a half-century ago, John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith was widely viewed as a significant liability to his presidential aspirations. Kennedy had to do the opposite of what Gingrich appears to be doing: effectively de-emphasize his faith, and say that it would play no role whatsoever in informing his public acts. “I am not the Catholic candidate for president,” he told the American Association of Newspaper Editors in April 1960. “I am the Democratic party’s candidate for president who happens to be Catholic. I do not speak for the Catholic Church on issues of public policy, and no one in that church speaks for me.”
The irony, of course, is that many of the same slanders leveled at the Catholic Church are now leveled at Islam in America. Catholicism was considered incompatible with liberty, democracy and pluralism. Any inroads made by Catholics into the corridors of power was considered a threat to the American way of life. Catholics were considered loyal to the autocratic Pope, not the American flag. Catholic politicians would enact policies to advantage their Church and hurt American values, everything from appointing an Ambassador to the Vatican to sending public funds to parochial schools.
The ‘No Popery’ signs of previous eras feel remarkably like the ‘No Sharia’ signs of today. The view of the Catholic faith as inherently incompatible with American values mimics today’s view of Islam. And the hysteria about the effects of increasing Catholic influence on American culture sound precisely like today’s fears about Muslims. Norman Vincent Peale, a powerful Protestant minister and a leading anti-Catholic anti-Kennedy voice, put the matter of Kennedy’s possible election in stark terms to a Who’s Who group of conservative Protestant leaders: “Our American culture is at stake.”
The historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. wrote that anti-Catholicism was the “deepest bias in the history of the American people.” The fact that Gingrich can proudly advertise his conversion to Catholicism as a personal and presidential asset is a sign of how much progress we’ve made. But it is profoundly un-American to replace one bias with another, and even more troubling that a man whose Catholic forbears experienced discrimination because of their religion should turn around and peddle such prejudice himself.
The forces of inclusiveness in America always turn back the forces of intolerance – we’ve seen it in the defeat of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism and segregation. Gingrich, who has a PhD in history, is well aware of this. Which makes it all the more surprising that he is willing to risk being remembered on the wrong side of that divide.
The death or defeat of an enemy brings on a difficult moral conundrum: how to resolve our baser instincts or feelings of having achieved "justice" for a wrong with the principles of our religious and ethical traditions. Beacon Broadside asked several of our authors for their responses to the death of Osama bin Laden, and what they feel is required of them by their respective faiths. Today, we have the answers of Eboo Patel, Susan Campbell, and Dan McKanan. Tomorrow, we will post responses from Rev. Marilyn Sewell, Christopher Stedman, and Jay Michaelson. (UPDATE: read part 2 here.)
I read about the assassination of Osama bin Laden as a Muslim with a strong Niebhurian streak. This is to say: we have to be clear-eyed in the recognition of evil, we have to put a stop to it if we have the ability and we have to seek peace in multiple creative ways. Niebhur believed this with regards to America's battle against Nazism, the Prophet did this with regards to the Quraysh tribe of Mecca, who were intent on destroying the fledgling Muslim community.
As has been said about Bonhoeffer, the Christian pacifist who plotted to assassinate Hitler: when you see a crazy man driving a car into a group of children, you have to stop the man.
America did that when it came to Hitler, Milosovic, and now bin Laden. In this case, it happened with targeted precision such that very few others perished in the actual operation. There is little doubt there will be more life (meaning, literally, fewer people being killed) in the future as result of this death.
I love my country, I love my flag, and I find absolutely nothing in the teachings of Jesus that supports the assassination of the terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden had, by all accounts, moved to the periphery, and we've been mesmerized by the developments in our Arab spring, where countless citizens were taking to the streets in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Syria, in Yemen, to say that bin Laden was precisely the kind of leader they don't want.
And then we shot him.
Jesus talked about vengeance when He tweaked the notion of taking an eye for an eye. He told followers to match their enemies' evil with prayer and love. The most unthinkable evil (bin Laden) calls us to love.
And that's immeasurably hard, according respect to someone we just don't respect, giving fairness and decency to someone who's responsible for the death of so many.
But that, nevertheless, is the rule. I think those crowds celebrating bin Laden's death outside the White House that night were clinging to the idea that his death would somehow balance the scales. It hasn't and it won't. Killing -- and burying him at sea -- stole our opportunity to bring him to trial, and let him defend himself -- with complete transparency in our judicial system, not a military tribunal. It robbed from us an opportunity to reaffirm that these are our values -- and to remind the world that we are bigger than a terrorist act. By treating bin Laden far better than he ever thought to treat those he killed on 9/11, we could have told the world that even our most despised enemy can expect fairness and decency. We could have told everyone that we are bigger than that.
Or, rather, I wish we were.
Author photo by Marc Yves Regis.
Dan McKanan is the author of Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition. He is the Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer at Harvard Divinity School.
The tenets of Unitarian Universalism do not require me to respond in any specific way to the death of an enemy. Instead, Unitarian Universalism—as would be the case for most other faiths—offers me a rich array of resources for developing an authentic individual response. These resources include the Unitarian Universalist Principles—which are commonly affirmed by Unitarian Universalist congregations but not doctrinally binding on individual Unitarian Universalists—as well as the collective stories of those who have preceded us in the faith.
Two of the Principles shape my own response to the death of Osama bin Laden, as well as the deaths of enemies in general. The first principle, which affirms “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” suggests that my response to the killing of an enemy should be one of prophetic protest. “Not in my name!” I say to all those who celebrate bin Laden’s death as retribution for the murders he perpetrated on September 11. If all people, those who kill and those who are killed, have inherent dignity, then mourning and reconciliation are better responses to violence than retaliation.
The question, of course, is not specifically about the killing of enemies but more broadly about the death of enemies. What would my response be if bin Laden had died of natural causes at the end of a long life? In that case, I think, the appropriate response would be simple mourning. Indeed, in one sense the death of an enemy is more an occasion for lamentation than the death of a beloved grandparent. My thinking here is shaped by the seventh Unitarian Universalist principle, “respect for the interdependent web of existence.” If all life is interwoven, then every enmity is a rip in the shared web—and the death of an enemy means we have lost our best opportunity to weave the broken threads back together. We often use the phrase “celebration of life” to describe the funerals of our friends, and when those friends have lived full lives those funerals often have a truly celebratory feel. That is as it should be. But even if bin Laden had lived to be a hundred, his death would have been an occasion for sackcloth and ashes if he had remained unrepentant, and thus unreconciled with all those he harmed.
In reaching beyond the UU principles toward the shared stories of faith, I turn especially toward the story of Jesus, because I identify as a UU Christian, just as other Unitarian Universalists may claim Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, or humanist identities. Like other Christians, I find in Jesus’ story reason to hope that death does not have the last word. Some would express this hope in dogmatic claims about resurrection and eternal life; I prefer to speak more tentatively about the experiences of Jesus and his friends. In the face of the death-dealing powers of empire, Jesus lived a full, rich life. Even after the empire killed him, his friends experienced him as still alive in their circle. When they gathered to break bread and tell stories, they felt he was there with them. Curiously, Christians have seldom reflected on what this experience might teach us about the death of our enemies.
I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect that some of Osama bin Laden’s disciples and admirers are currently having an experience not unlike that of Jesus’ disciples between Easter and Pentecost. In the midst of their mourning, they may have felt bin Laden’s spirit still moving among them, still inspiring fervent love for their faith and fervent hate for those of us they regard as enemies. Many of us may regard this analogy between bin Laden and Jesus as monstrous. But perhaps what remains alive of bin Laden’s spirit is not so much his hate as his fervent faith. In his own life, that fervor was terribly twisted; as it is carried by his followers, it still has the potential to be untwisted. If death does not have the last word, our mourning of bin Laden’s death should lead us to redoubled efforts to reconcile with his friends.
The people of the United States, of course, have ample opportunities to pursue such reconciliation. Many of bin Laden’s most devoted followers remain imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. (Many who never had much to do with him are also held there, but here I want to focus on those who are truly enemies—those who committed horrible violence out of twisted love for bin Laden or for Islam.) For ten years we have treated these traumatized and idealistic young people as if they were not part of the interdependent web, as if their suffering could not hurt us, as if they had no gifts to share with the world. Bin Laden’s death can be a time for us to open our ears to their voices and our hearts to their truth. I am not suggesting that we “forgive” them without talking to them, but simply that we start treating them as human beings rather than enemy combatants. Some of them may be more than ready for reconciliation. Others may not—but even for those, a bit of kindness may open up a long path toward repentance.
As I write these words, I am conscious that many of us may feel more visceral enmity toward those who have harmed us personally, or even toward our political rivals, than we do toward bin Laden. It is easy for me to preach about what the U.S. should do in Guantanamo; much harder to pursue genuine reconciliation with my own most intimate enemies. When I mourn bin Laden’s death, I mourn those enmities as well. And, since all life is interwoven, it is likely that reconciliation with those intimate enemies will create more chances for reconciliation with bin Laden and his friends.
Named by US News & World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, Eboo Patel is the founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a Chicago-based institution building the global interfaith youth movement. Author of the award-winning book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Eboo is also a regular contributor to the Washington Post, National Public Radio and CNN. He is a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship. This post originally appeared on his blog The Faith Divide at the Washington Post.
As I listened to President Obama explain the chain of events that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Eric Greitens. Eric’s doctorate at Oxford was on the effects of war on children. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he was training to be a Navy Seal.
“But you know how terrible war is, you have been with the orphaned children,” I sputtered. “How can you participate in it?”
“It is guys with guns that end wars, Eboo,” he told me.
Eric deployed four times over the last ten years, earning a bronze star and a purple heart. One of his missions was to command a Navy Seal cell that targeted al Qaeda. It was likely some of Eric’s buddies - guys he trained with, maybe guys he trained - that got bin Laden.
Eric titled his book,The Heart and the Fist, for a reason. He knows as well as anyone that you may well need the fist to crush evil but you need the heart to radiate good. The fist is fine for defeating enemies, but the heart is what builds societies.
That’s what I liked about Obama’s speech yesterday. He was very clearly our commander in chief - recounting how he told C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta to make the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden his top priority, getting frequent briefings on the relevant intelligence and giving the final order that authorized the fatal mission. His demeanor was focused and serious. ‘I did what had to be done,’ he seemed to be saying.
Vanquishing evil is necessary but insufficient.
Obama seemed most human to me, most American, most presidential, when he spoke of life, not death. He recalled America in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a nation shocked and grieving, a country focused more on community than revenge:
“On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”
That line brought to mind two key moments. The first involves George Bush. A lot of Americans think of the fist when they think of the post-9/11 George Bush. But I think at least as defining as his roar at Ground Zero and his boasting of “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters was his visit to an Islamic Center six days after 9/11. There, he spoke movingly not only of Islam being a peaceful faith but about how Muslim women with headscarves ought to feel safe in this country:
“I’ve been told that some fear to leave; some don’t want to go shopping for their families; some don’t want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they’re afraid they’ll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America.”
He went on to make it clear whose side he was on, which America he hoped to build.
“Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”
The second moment took place nearly a year later, on September 25, 2002 - Bruce Springsteen at the United Center. During the climax of “The Rising,” as Springsteen was singing - Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life), Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life (a dream of life) - I saw out of the corner of my eye a young woman in a Muslim headscarf, eyes closed, hands raised.
Woody Guthrie had a message scrawled on his guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”
Sometimes you need the aid of guns in that mission. But when we think of who we want to be, not just what we need to destroy, American guns are second to American guitars.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf. She is a leading commentator on British Islam, a columnist for EMEL magazine, a regular contributor to the Guardian and the BBC, and author of the award-winning blog, Spirit21. This post originally appeared on The National.
Not to be outdone, the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, this week organized a debate on secularism and the role of religion. His prime minister, François Fillon, refused to attend, saying that it would further stigmatise Muslims. Abderrahmane Dahmane, who was fired from his post as Sarkozy’s adviser on integration for criticising the debate, called on Muslims to wear a green star in protest against the discussion. It is aimed to echo the yellow star that Jews in Europe were forced to wear during the Nazi era.
With such emotive references on both sides to the Nazi era, it’s clear that France still needs to come to terms with its own history in dealing with minorities.
Despite arguing that the ban and the debate are in defence of secularism, Sarkozy has had no qualms in simultaneously praising the “Christian heritage” of the country.
And even though a 1905 law separated church and state, churches and synagogues still receive indirect subsidies from the state. If mosques were included in this it might help put an end to the lack of space in them that forces worshippers to overflow onto the streets.
It is easy to understand the motivation behind the ill-conceived debate on secularism held this week, as it is the political context for the ban on face veils in public.
However, this would fail to illuminate the bigger picture. By pandering to the far-right to gain votes, Sarkozy is giving anti-Muslim sentiment legitimacy and a national platform that it does not deserve and that could have long-term and dangerous consequences.
He is not the only leader guilty of this. Germany’s Angela Merkel was keen to score cheap political points last year when she stated that the “multikulti” project had failed, and pointed her finger at Muslims. Merkel would do well to remember that Germany’s earlier mono-culture project in the 1930s and 1940s did not work out so well.
Following hot on her heels was the UK’s prime minister, who repeated the same vacuous mantra in February this year at a conference in Munich. He told world leaders that state multiculturalism had failed in the UK and pledged to cut funding for Muslim groups that failed to respect basic British values such as freedom of speech and democracy. Strange words from a government that harped on about “stability” when the protesters of Tahrir Square were demonstrating for democracy.
Europe must be more principled in its approach to dealing with its Muslim populations. Countries such as the UK and France are taking bold actions in Libya to support the movement towards freedom and democracy. At the same time, domestically they wish to suppress Muslim self-expression.
You can’t have it both ways. Freedom, self-expression and democracy need to be accompanied by one more value to be meaningful: a consistent standard for all.
The hearings planned by Congressman Peter King to isolate American Muslim communities as hotbeds of terrorism evoke two memories from Jewish life - one from two centuries ago, in America; the other, far more distant, about 35 centuries ago in Egypt:
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt. And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly against them, lest they multiply and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and rise up over the land.. So they made the Children of Israel subservient and embittered their lives." (Exodus 1: 10-13)
In the other, it was August 17, 1790. The new Constitution had been in effect barely more than a year, and the Bill of Rights - including the First Amendment's forbidding Congress to invade freedom of religion - had not yet been adopted. But President George Washington had just received a letter from the "Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island," asking what the role of Jews and Judaism would be under the new government.
Washington was no great writer, no great speaker. Yet he wrote back perhaps the most eloquent and ringing words of his life. Though it is clear that his behavior as a slaveholder was ignoble, yet this letter bespoke nobility:
"To bigotry, no sanction; To persecution, no assistance."
"May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid..."
In the minds of Americans in 1790, "the stock of Abraham" meant the Jewish community. Yet two centuries later, millions of American Muslims also look upon themselves as "the stock of Abraham," and for them Washington's promise is in jeopardy.
Shall American government and society today lean toward Washington's or Pharaoh's vision of society, when it comes to behavior toward American Muslims?
There have been virulent attacks by radio talk "hosts" with millions of listeners against Islam as a religion. Local governments have tried to use zoning laws to prevent the construction of mosques in neighborhoods where churches were warmly welcomed. And where local governments have supported such efforts (as in New York City and the plans to create a Muslim community center/mosque in Lower Manhattan), political vigilantes have whipped up a storm of fear and rage.
Yet the most egregious of these acts of bigotry is the decision by the new chair of the House of Representatives Committee of Homeland Security, Congressman Peter King of Long Island, to hold hearings on American Islam as if it were a hotbed of terrorism.
Leave aside Congressman King's own hypocrisy: He used to support the Irish Republican Army, twin culprits with the Ulster nationalists in terrorizing Northern Ireland for three decades. Leave aside the real question about homeland security: Why is it taking so long to secure American ports against the clandestine import of high explosives, even nuclear weapons, for use against civilians? Leave aside why the Committee is not looking urgently into the network of incitement against "homeland security" that led to the near murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the actual murder of her staff and supporters and a Federal judge - an event that one might think should occupy the thoughts of another Member of Congress.
Leave all that aside, and we still must ask ourselves what it means for the Congress to be inciting bigotry and inviting persecution of an entire religious community.
In two sorts of crises in the past - wars and economic depressions - some Americans have reacted with scapegoating of "the other" and attacks on freedom. These moments include passage of the Alien & Sedition Acts in the 1790s during the half-war with France, the "draft riots" that killed hundreds of Blacks in NYC during the Civil War, the "Red Scare" deportations led by J. Edgar Hoover in 1919, the wave of anti-Semitism during the Great Depression, the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the hounding of artists and professors and actors and activists by Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee early in the Cold War.
Afterward, almost all Americans have felt deeply ashamed of these behaviors. But during each episode, some political forces in America benefited from inciting bigotry.
Now, we are in the midst of both mass disemployment and an endless, unwinnable war. For those modern analogues of Pharaoh who rule and support centers of great undemocratic power and wealth while stripping others of public services and servants - teachers, nurses, social workers - indeed, while some lose jobs, homes, lives, and limbs - it is convenient to make scapegoats, just as Pharaoh did.
Indeed, as we look around today we notice that the same political forces that are trying to smash unions, to undermine the health of low-income women by defunding Planned Parenthood, to weaken even the mildest milieux of independent public discussion by defunding NPR, to risk global scorching and the pollution of the drinking water of millions of Americans and the imposition of unprecedented droughts in Russia and unprecedented floods in Pakistan - all for the sake of enormous profits - are the same forces trying to scapegoat Hispanics and Muslims, so as to distract those who are suffering in the present economic, political, and cultural crisis in the US and the world.
This analysis of our situation suggests that addressing bigotry directly is a necessary but not sufficient response to the wave of bigotry. It is crucial to address as well the need to end the endless wars and the economic depression that are exacerbating Americans' sense of insecurity and anxiety that make scapegoating attractive.
In the present American crisis, there is an even more precise political use for anti-Muslim scapegoating. The second most progressive ethnic voting bloc in the US, second only to African-Americans, is the Jewish community. Efforts to use anti-gay or anti-immigrant or anti-abortion rhetoric to divide various progressive blocs and nullify their progressive instincts have been shrugged off by almost all American Jews.
But anti-Muslim bigotry, because it evokes fears of Muslim and Arab hostility to the State of Israel, has won more support in parts of the Jewish community than any of these other forms of bigotry. At the same time, still other parts of the Jewish community have responded out of strong memories of the treatment of Jews as outsiders, pariahs, and traitors, from the time of Pharaoh to the time of Henry Ford and Father Coughlin.
The best of Jewish wisdom, Jewish values, and Jewish historical experience all accord with the best of American wisdom, American values, and American historical experience to teach us that America will "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," as the Constitution promises, if we choose the path of shalom and tzedek -- peace and social justice - and the path of President Washington, not the path of Pharaoh as in our generation it is echoed in Congressman King's diatribes against Islam.
Suddenly, to be an Arab has become a good thing. People all over the Arab world feel a sense of pride in shaking off decades of cowed passivity under dictatorships that ruled with no deference to popular wishes. And it has become respectable in the West as well. Egypt is now thought of as an exciting and progressive place; its people’s expressions of solidarity are welcomed by demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin; and its bright young activists are seen as models for a new kind of twenty-first-century mobilization. Events in the Arab world are being covered by the Western media more extensively than ever before and are being talked about positively in a fashion that is unprecedented. Before, when anything Muslim or Middle Eastern or Arab was reported on, it was almost always with a heavy negative connotation. Now, during this Arab spring, this has ceased to be the case. An area that was a byword for political stagnation is witnessing a rapid transformation that has caught the attention of the world.
Three things should be said about this sea change in perceptions about Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners. The first is that it shows how superficial, and how false, were most Western media images of this region. Virtually all we heard about were the ubiquitous terrorists, the omnipresent bearded radicals and their veiled companions trying to impose Sharia and the corrupt, brutal despots who were the only option for control of such undesirables. In US government-speak, faithfully repeated by the mainstream media, most of that corruption and brutality was airbrushed out through the use of mendacious terms like “moderates” (i.e., those who do and say what we want). That locution, and the one used to denigrate the people of the region, “the Arab street,” should now be permanently retired.
Named by US News & World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, Eboo Patel is the founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a Chicago-based institution building the global interfaith youth movement. Author of the award-winning book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Eboo is also a regular contributor to the Washington Post, National Public Radio and CNN. He is a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.
One hundred years ago, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. DuBois famously wrote, "The problem of the 20th century will be the problem of the color line."
History proved DuBois correct. His century saw the struggles against, and ultimately the victory over, systems that separated and subjugated people based on race -- from colonialism in India to Jim Crow in the U.S. to apartheid in South Africa.
No American did more than Martin Luther King Jr. -- whom America pauses to honor today -- to address the problem of the color line. He spearheaded the marches that revealed the brutality of segregation, made speeches that reminded Americans that the promise of their nation applied to all citizens and expertly pressured the nation's leaders in Washington to pass landmark civil rights legislation.
But to confine King's role in history only to the color line -- as giant as that challenge is, and as dramatic as King's contribution was -- is to reduce his greatness. In one of his final books, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, King showed that race was one part of his broader concern with human relations at large: "This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited ... a great 'world house' in which we have to live together -- black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu ... Because we can never again live apart, we must learn somehow to live with each other in peace."
This ethos, as King's examples make clear, applies not only to the question of race, but to faith as well. In the same way as the headlines of the 20th century read of conflict between races, headlines in our times are full of violence between people of different religions. Indeed, what the color line was to the 20th century, the faith line might be to the 21st.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf. She is a leading commentator on British Islam, a columnist for EMEL magazine, a regular contributor to the Guardian and the BBC, and author of the award-winning blog, Spirit21. This post originally appeared on The National website.
"It's fine for me to have a 'love marriage'," the male caller to the radio show said, "but I won't accept anything other than an arranged marriage for my sister."
I was live on the air recently, co-hosting one of the UAE's most popular morning radio shows as part of my invitation to speak at the Sharjah International Book Fair.
We were discussing the fiery topics of love and marriage. Calls and text messages came through furiously as this usually private topic was given a forum for public debate.
The notion of "love marriage" is one that carries a note of unspoken and sinful rebellion across Middle East and some Asian cultures. The open discussion of love, even within the sacred boundaries of marriage, is taboo – especially for women. But we do need to talk about it because the ability to love – our spouses, our communities and the Divine – is what makes us human and binds us together.
My presence on the show and the publication of my book, Love in a Headscarf, challenge the prevailing silence.
I don't advocate mass love-ins or the abandonment of the arranged marriage process: quite the opposite. I'm in favour of a structured approach to love and marriage with support and input from families.
Nevertheless, my position on the subject is clear: love is not a four-letter word.
As the hosts of the show, we challenged the caller: "Would you say that your attitude to love and marriage is hypocritical if you can have a love marriage, but your sister can't?" "Yes," he responded. "And what are you going to do to change your hypocritical position?" "Nothing. That's just how it is."
He was not alone in being unashamed of his double standard when it comes to love and marriage for men and women.
Another caller, male and 36 years old, told us his personal story, which initially tugged at my heartstrings. "I'm a divorced father of three, and I'd like to remarry. I think it's important to be open with prospective families about my personal situation, but as soon as I tell them these details, they break off all discussions."
Our societies shouldn't discriminate against those who are divorced or who already have children, especially when they are honest about their situation. But on delving deeper, we found a murkiness in his position.
"I keep being offered girls who are leftovers," he whined. Leftovers? These are women we're talking about.
"I want a girl who is 28, not divorced or with children. I don't want a leftover girl who is 36," he said without shame, just minutes after complaining of his own treatment by women.
The hypocrisy of these two male callers was bad enough, but it was compounded by the fact that they were not embarrassed by their positions. As men, they saw love as their right and their privilege alone. They would not permit women the same love, the same life choice.
Forceful text messages came through from female listeners. "If these are the men, kill me now!" one wrote. I can only assume she was joking.
But one message raised an issue at the heart of the debate: "We must make it clear that these attitudes are based in culture, not religion."
To eradicate these double standards, this difference needs to be made abundantly clear. And for this to happen, what we need most is to be able to discuss love and marriage openly and honestly, without fear or shame.
Eid al Adha began yesterday, marking the end of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. In this excerpt from Eboo Patel's acclaimed memoir, Acts of Faith, Patel shares a story of pilgrimage, cultural and religious diversity, and compromise from the life of the Prophet.
We humans know violence well. It is a part of each of us. It is precisely the reason I was drawn to religion in the first place. Somehow, the religious people I admired overcame the human desire to hurt others. Tibetan Buddhist masters talked about their struggle to love their Chinese tormentors. Mahatma Gandhi spent his time in a South African prison making sandals for his jailer. Pope John Paul II met with the man who tried to assassinate him, and forgave him.
Dorothy Day once said that she created the Catholic Worker because she wanted a place where people could be better. It was one ofthe key reasons I spent so much time there as a college student. I wanted to overcome those parts of me that would tackle somebody from behind. I wanted to be good.
It was in Islam that I found the clearest articulation of this inner struggle. The story goes like this: As a victorious Muslim army was celebrating its triumph in battle, the Prophet Muhammad told the men they had won only the “lesser jihad.” Now, he said, they had to mov eon to the “greater jihad”—the jihad al-nafs, the struggle against their lower selves. The first time I read that, I felt as if the Prophet was speaking directly to me, as if he could see the thousands of times in my life that my lower self had won, as if he was personally returning Islam to my consciousness.
There is another event in the history of Islam that, for me, defines the religious spirit in the world, and the meaning of lasting victory. It is the signing of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah and the Prophet’s peaceful return to Mecca. After years of defending himself and his fellow Muslims in Medina against aggressive military assaults by the Quraysh, a powerful tribe based in Mecca, Muhammad decided to launch a religious peace offensive. In the year 628, he announced to the Muslim community in Medina that he was going to make a holy pilgrimage to the Ka’aba, the black shrine in Mecca that Abraham built to God. Against the advice of his closest companions, who were convinced that the Quraysh would take this chance to murder him, Muhammad refused to carry arms. He set forth dressed in the simple, white, two-piece outfit still worn by Muslims making the hajj today, uttering the cry “Labbayk Allahuma Labbayk” (Here I am, O God, at Your service). A thousand Muslims accompanied him, many questioning the wisdom of making a religious pilgrimage in the direction of an enemy that wanted war.
The Quraysh sent a war party of two hundred cavalry to prevent Muhammad from entering the city. The Prophet steered his companions toward Hudaybiyah, at the edge of the Sanctuary, where all fighting was forbidden, sending a message to the Quraysh that he came in peace. He reminded his companions that they were on a religious quest and as such should prepare to repent and ask God’s forgiveness for their sins. No doubt some of them were confused about why Muhammad was making spiritual preparations instead of war preparations. But Muhammad, guided by revelations from God, knew that ultimate victory for Islam did not mean violently defeating the enemy, but peacefully reconciling with them. Achieving this required an act of personal humility and self-effacement that shocked even his closest companions.
After being convinced that Muhammad was not going to engage them in battle, the Quraysh sent Suhayl, one of their most stridently anti-Muslim leaders, to negotiate a settlement. The two sat togetherfor a long time, finally agreeing to terms that the Muslims felt were deeply unfair but that Muhammad insisted they accept. The Muslims would be allowed to do the holy pilgrimage in peace, but not now. They would have to go back to Medina and wait a whole year before returning. Also, the Muslims would have to repatriate any Meccan who had converted to Islam and immigrated to Medina to be with the Prophet without the permission of his guardian. One source writes that the Prophet’s companions “felt depressed almost to the point of death” when they saw the settlement. Umar, one of the Prophet’s closest associates, said, “Why should we agree to what is demeaning to our religion?” But the greatest shock was still to come.
When it came time to sign the treaty, Suhayl objected to the statement,“This is what Muhammad, the apostle of God, has agreed with Suhayl ibn Amr.” He said that if he recognized Muhammad as the apostle of God, they would not be in a situation of war to begin with. “Write down your own name and the name of your father,” Suhayl instructed the Prophet. To the utter despair of his companions, Muhammad agreed. He told Ali, his son-in-law who would later become the first Shia Imam, to strike the words “apostle of God” from the treaty. Ali could not bring himself to do it. So the illiterate Prophet asked Ali to point to the words on the paper, took the pen, and struck them himself.
On the journey home to Medina, with the bitter taste of humiliation still fresh in the mouths of his companions, the Prophet received a revelation that would come to be known as the Victory Sura, chapter 48 in the Holy Qur’an. In it, God told the Prophet, “Surely We have given thee / a manifest victory.” The sura states that God Himself was involved in the situation: “It is He who sent down the sakina/ into the hearts of the believers, that / they might add faith to their faith.” The Arabic term sakina loosely translates as “the peace, tranquillity,and presence of God” and is thought to be related to the Hebrew term shekinah. The sura closes with the following lines: “God has promised / those of them who believe in and do deeds / of righteousness, forgiveness and / a mighty wage.”
The following year, as promised, Muhammad returned with nearly three thousand pilgrims to perform the pilgrimage. His enemies, holding up their end of the bargain, vacated the city and watched the Muslims do the ritual circumambulations around the Ka’aba and run seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. They were shocked to see Bilal, a black Abyssinian who had been a slave in Mecca before being freed by the Muslims, climbing to the top of the Ka’aba several times a day to give the call to prayer, a position of honor in Islam. Muhammad heard that a woman had recently been widowed and offered to marry her, thus taking her into his protection. He invited his Quraysh enemies to the wedding feast. They refused and told him his three days were up. The Muslims left with the same discipline and grace with which they had entered. It was a powerful image that many Quraysh would not soon forget.
When Muhammad returned to Mecca a year later, those who had taken up arms against him converted to Islam in droves. Muhammad granted a near total amnesty to the Quraysh, despite the fact that many had fought battles against him in the past and regardless of whether they converted to Islam or not. To the surprise of some of his companions, he even gave high office to some of the people who, a short time before, had been his sworn enemies. But Muhammad was not interested in punishment. He was interested in a positive future,and he knew that would be accomplished only by widening the space so that people could enter it.
During this time, God sent Muhammad a revelation about relations between different communities in a diverse society:
O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most righteous.
For me, the Treaty of Hudaybiyah and the peaceful return of Muhammad to Mecca are the defining moments of Islam. They exemplify the genius of the Prophet, the generosity of God, and the bright possibility of a common life together. It is an ancient example of how a religiously inspired peace movement can win a victory not by defeating the enemy, but by turning them into friends.
As I think now of the civil rights marchers in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, I cannot help but hear the message of “Labbayk AllahumaLabbayk” in their songs. I cannot help but see the Prophet at Hudaybiyah as I reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. staring at his bombed-out home in Montgomery, Alabama, and calming the agitated crowd by saying, “We must meet hate with love.” I cannot help but glimpse the spirit of the Holy Qur’an’s message on pluralism in the lines that King uttered at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott: “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization . . . The end is reconciliation,the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.” I cannot help but believe that Allah’s sakina is a force that has reappeared across time and place whenever righteous people are overcoming the tribal urges of humanity’s lower self with a message of transcendence.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf. She is a leading commentator on British Islam and is author of the award-winning blog, Spirit21. Named one of the UK's hundred most influential Muslim women by the Times of London, Janmohamed lives in London. This post is from her weekly column at The National UAE.
Let's stop talking about politics and extremism. We need to go shopping.
Trade was arguably one of the things that once made the Muslim world great (and rich), and created fluid and mutually binding relationships with other great world powers.
Star products included spices from as far afield as India and Indonesia, Oman’s sweet fragrances of frankincense. And coffee, ah, dear wonderful coffee with its warm hug of caffeine first thing in the morning, also came from the Muslim world.
So, at a time when global relations are showing the odd sign of strain (anyone mentioned the mis-labelled "Ground Zero" mosque recently?), what antidote could be more fitting than the resurgence of Islamic branding and marketing as a 21st century phenomenon?
You all think I’ve lost the plot, don’t you? Some Muslims are going to be up in arms that I’m advocating a supposedly consumerist-capitalist-slave-making-spirituality-stifling paradigm. And Islamophobes are going to say that I’m trying to hide an Islamist take-over inside my recyclable plastic shopping bags.
Ogilvy & Mather, one of the world’s largest marketing and advertising agencies, has commissioned research to better understand the world’s 1.6 billion Muslim consumers. The segmentation of consumers was not just for shopping’s sake, but to get under the skin of what makes "real" Muslims tick, those 1.599999 (recurring) billion Muslims, not the handful of crazy ones who think the way to get your fifteen minutes of fame is to blow things up.
Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the seeming frivolity of shopping versus the scary headlines of bombings that gives rise to this kind of angst. Or maybe it’s that people who stand to benefit most from upholding the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis don’t want us to see the things we have in common as human beings. These shared aspirations include trying to become better human beings, world peace, eradication of poverty, equality and justice for all, and an end to exploitation, violence and suffering. Oh yes, and we all need stuff, starting from the basics like food, clothing and construction materials.
So, given our shared human need for things which we need to buy, perhaps we can use trade and commerce, built on ethical, sustainable and non-exploitative principles, to understand a bit more about each other and to build relationships. Please note that I am not advocating a materialist, exploitative, disposable culture. I’m simply pointing out that all human beings need things to survive, and trade is a basic of human civilisation.
So what did Ogilvy & Mather’s research tell us about Muslim consumers? Importantly, instead of judging them on a single dimension of how "devout" they are, it looked at what role religion plays in their lives. Their findings identified two broad categories which they labelled "Traditionalist" and "Futurist" and in each one were a further three segments. "Traditionalists" have a desire for harmony and belonging, they are quietly proud of their faith and align with values of tolerance and compassion. "Futurists" see themselves as steadfast followers of Islam in a modern world. They are individualists who "choose" Islam. Their pride is intense, regardless of the extent to which they would be categorized as "devout."
The research insights are meaningful because the trick to successful commerce is the same as that needed for international relations and diplomacy: it is to understand the drivers and motivations of people and to give them due recognition.
So, when we talk about trade with Muslims, we might find ourselves positively addressing wider issues of international relations. In the world of shopping, I believe they call that a "two for the price of one" offer.
Reshma Melwani is Publicity and Rights Associate at Beacon Press.
Today, U.K. author Shelina Zahra Janmohamed’s memoir Love in a Headscarf will be released in the U.S. As Shelina’s publicist at Beacon Press, I’ve been spending the last few months working on ways to publicize her irreverent and witty book about her journey to find a husband through the arranged marriage process.
While chatting with a girlfriend, I mentioned I was going to blog about this book but couldn’t quite figure out what to write. “I suppose I can write about my mom’s arranged marriage,” I told her “or my aunt’s on-going, slightly manic search to find my cousin a suitable husband.” But then my friend suggested I write about how I was a “liberated” Indian woman, not condemned to an arranged marriage like the other women in my family.
That’s when it hit me—arranged marriage, or the idea of what an arranged marriage is, unfortunately continues to get a bad rap in our society, which is more or less unfamiliar with this still common South Asian and Middle Eastern custom. And this is precisely why a book like Love in a Headscarf is so invaluable. Many Westerners likely hear the term arranged marriage and assume it is a coercive, anti-feminist practice straight out of the dark ages. But for Shelina, my friends and family members, and countless other bright and independent women who opt for an arranged marriage, the process is only filled with love and the best of intentions. An arranged marriage, as Shelina explains in her memoir, is “something very different from a forced marriage.”
When the good news of my engagement spread throughout our community, the first question many friends curiously asked my parents was not when the big day was, but rather, if my match was “arranged or love.” A “love marriage,” as it’s referred to, may have been taboo during my grandmother’s generation and possibly even my mother's, but today there is really no right or wrong answer to the question. As for me, I had a “love marriage,” not because I was ever opposed to the idea of an arranged marriage, but it just so happened that my husband found me before my family had the opportunity to find him.
My mom, who recently celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary this September, still gets a kick out of sharing her two-day courtship story with friends. My parent’s first “date” was a family dinner and their only solo meeting was drinks at a coffee shop followed by an awkwardly silent rickshaw ride. The next time they met, September 12, 1980, was their wedding day. And while my mom’s quick courtship was the custom at her time, she was in no way forced into the marriage. She always had the choice to pass on my dad, but I am glad she didn’t.
With humor and heart, Shelina perfectly recounts what it’s like to find a husband with your parents, siblings, “buxom aunties,” extended family and friends along for the ride. When your loved ones are your matchmakers, only the best and the brightest men make the cut. And with so many potential suitors to choose from, there is no chance of wasting months or years in a dead-end relationship. In her memoir, readers go on countless, sometime disastrous, dates with Shelina. She was not coaxed to say yes to the first man presented to her—she took her time, almost ten years, until she met what she calls her “Muslim Man Travolta.” Her experience personifies the modern arranged marriage process—a process my single and searching cousin compares to being on a dating game show where her anxious mom and lovingly meddling aunts set her up on blind dates with various “contestants.” And one day, one lucky winner of her choosing will get her hand in marriage.
These days, it seems like it has become even harder to meet “the one.” With so many of us relying on online dating and social sites, where’s the harm in welcoming some friendly matchmaking from those who know us best and love us the most?
"Acts of Faith, a beautifully written story of discovery and hope, chronicles Dr. Eboo Patel's struggle to forge his identity as a Muslim, an Indian, and an American. In the process, he developed a deep reverence for what all faiths have in common, and founded an interfaith movement to help young people to embrace their common humanity through their faith. This young social entrepreneur offers us a powerful way to deal with one of the most important issues of our time." —President Bill Clinton
Eboo Patel grew up outside of Chicago, subject to a constant barrage of racist bullying, and unsure of what it meant to be Muslim. In high school he rejected everything about his Indian and Muslim heritage and excelled in academics in an attempt to be like the white Americans around him. In college, this illusion came undone as Patel discovered the liberatory power of identity politics—and a deep rage at the inequities and hypocrisies of America.
He soon learned that anger is not an identity. As the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Atlanta Olympics bombing, and 9/11 occurred, Patel saw how religious extremists recruited young people with similar raw emotions and manipulated them into becoming hate-filled murderers. He, on the other hand, was encountering a set of people and ideas that illuminated a different understanding: an America striving to achieve its core value of openness to all; an Islam seeking to return to its primary teachings of mercy and reconciliation; an India with diversity woven into its original fabric. Patel's most important discovery was not about his relationship with his past but about his concrete responsibility to make the best part of that past—the possibility of pluralism—a reality in the contemporary world.
Beacon Press has just released a new edition of the paperback of Acts of Faith, with a new afterword by the author. Read an excerpt from the book below or on Scribd.
Today's post is from Helene Atwan, the director of Beacon Press.
While one man and his small group of followers in
Gainesville, Florida are talking about burning copies of the Quran on 9/11,
it's been thrilling to see America's secular and religious communities reacting
in solidarity. Religious leaders,
including Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association,
are calling on their communities to read the Quran. The Mass Bible society has a project to
donate two copies of the Quran for every one burned. For those
who would like to take the opportunity to read at least some passages from the
Quran, you'll find some excerpts here.
Can you believe that, at one point, women couldn't vote in America? That Japanese American citizens were put in detention camps because of the actions of the Imperial Japanese Navy? That Jackie Robinson was spat upon on the baseball diamond because of the color of his skin? That there were quotas on Jews at Ivy League Universities? That mosques were opposed across the country and a shocking number of people suggested a Muslim should be disqualified from the Supreme Court or the Presidency because of his religion?
Oh yeah, that last one is still happening. But one day, I promise you, we will be as ashamed of the way American Muslims are viewed and treated in 2010 as we are of Japanese internment and Jim Crow. America's promise is meant for everyone or we are not America.
But the tide is turning. Several articles over this past week are shining a spotlight on the forces of division that manufactured the "ground zero mosque" controversy. The piecesreveal a small cabal of professional Muslim haters who gleefully found an issue that resonated with a larger public.