Rahim Mohamed: Unhinged teacher tells Muslim to support Pride or ‘you can’t be Canadian’

Of note. Teacher went to far with her “you don’t belong (in Canada)!” but most other points were valid. And it is equally valid to point out the lack of consistency in reasonable accommodation arguments:

Administrators were thrust into full damage control mode on Tuesday when an audio recording of an in-class scolding of a Muslim pupil, attributed to a teacher at North Edmonton’s Londonderry Junior High, was leaked to social media.

In the recording, shared on Twitter by the London (U.K.)-based 5Pillars news, the teacher could be heard berating a student, identified as “Mansour”, for allegedly skipping class to avoid ‘Pride Month’ activities:

“You are out to lunch if you think it’s acceptable to not show up because (of) Pride activities going on at school,” the speaker admonished. “But meanwhile, (your LGBT+ classmates), they’re here when we did Ramadan… and they’re showing respect for in the class for your religion…”

“It goes two ways! If you want to be respected for you are… then you better give it back to people who are different from you.”

The speaker then references new anti-gay legislation in Uganda, a country where over eight-in-10 citizens identify as Christian: “In Uganda, literally, if they think you’re gay, they will execute you.” (Uganda’s just-passed Anti-Homosexuality Bill imposes the death penalty for so-called “aggravated” homosexual acts, such as gay sex with an underage partner or infecting a partner with HIV).

“If you believe that kind of thing, then you don’t belong (in Canada)!”

She went on to suggest that those who don’t agree with certain laws in Canada don’t belong in this country.

“We believe that people can marry whomever they want. That is in law. And if you don’t think that should be the law, you can’t be Canadian. You don’t belong here.”

(As of Wednesday morning, the recording had garnered over 100,000 views on Twitter).

5Pillars also shared a letter, dated (Saturday,) June 3, 2023, purportedly written by the school’s principal Ed Charpentier: “Many of you may have heard an audio recording of a teacher at Londonderry School circulating on social media channels,” reads the letter. “I want to emphasize that the views expressed by the teacher do not reflect the values of acceptance, inclusion and belonging that are so strong at Londonderry School.” (a phone number given at the bottom of the letter leads to the school’s central directory). The letter’s date suggests that the incident took place sometime last week.

Edmonton Public Schools added the following on Tuesday in an email to members of the media: “(We are) aware of the audio recording of a teacher at Londonderry School circulating on social media channels. The school and Division are taking steps to address the situation. Due to the Division’s legislated privacy obligations, we are not able to provide any further information.”

While the teacher was clearly out of line, the recording nevertheless reflects a religious tension that’s playing out across Canada over increasingly elaborate in-school Pride celebrations. Evidence is starting to mount that Muslim students are “opting-out” en masse from Pride-related activities — going so far as to skip school on designated Pride days.

London, Ont. (a city where nearly 10 per cent of residents identify as Muslim) has been hit by a wave of absences on school days dedicated to LGBT visibility. Just last month, nearly one-third of students enrolled at London’s largest elementary school stayed home as the district commemorated the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. (As the National Post’s Tristin Hopper reported, a majority of students absent that day appeared to be from Muslim families). At least six other schools in the London-area reported higher than usual absences that day. A similar mass absence broke out three months earlier, when the elementary school marked “Rainbow Day”.

A subsequent public statement from the London Council of Imams (LCI) read, “When it comes to activities related to ‘Pride Month’… parents play an integral role in the education of their children and are critical to empowering them to remain steadfast on their faith and beliefs. For this reason, the LCI is not in the position to direct parents on whether to choose to have your child(ren) to attend or be absent from school.” The statement advised parents to “use their discretion” to determine whether to send their children to school on days that included Pride-related activities and programming.

While Pride-related absenteeism among Muslim students has been documented most extensively in London-area schools, the leaked recording from Edmonton indicates that this issue is beginning to crop up in other Canadian cities with large Muslim populations (Edmonton is home to nearly 100,000 Muslims).

Interestingly, the brewing tensions over Muslim students declining to partake in in-class Pride activities recall the “reasonable accommodation” debates of yesteryear — only with the ideological roles reversed. The same progressives who once breathlessly defended the right of Muslim women to don Niqabs in voting booths (and, famously, at citizenship ceremonies) are now claiming that celebrating Pride Month is a sine qua non of being Canadian: “If you don’t believe that, then you don’t belong here!”

Even as they publicly condemned the teacher’s words, it would be unsurprising if many leaders in Edmonton’s ultra-progressive public school system were quietly nodding their heads in agreement with this statement.

Once again, Canada’s Muslim community finds itself at the centre of an ideologically charged debate over Canadian values. This time around, the absolutists are wearing rainbow-coloured clothing.

Source: Rahim Mohamed: Unhinged teacher tells Muslim to support Pride or ‘you can’t be Canadian’

More Islamic lessons in Swiss schools? – SWI swissinfo.ch

Of note:

With a “Salam aleikum”, teacher Nimetullah Veseli greets the pupils of year four in the Kirchacker school building. Veseli stands in front of the six boys and six girls in the classroom in Neuhausen, Schaffhausen. Wearing jeans and a white shirt, he explains the Islamic religious teachings.

Imam Nimetullah Veseli gives confession-oriented Islamic lessons at the public school. Confession-oriented means that the children learn about their own religion, in contrast to the inter-faith lessons in most primary school.

Normally, these confession-oriented Islamic lessons take place in mosques. It is an exception that it is offered in a public school. Only ten Swiss schools offer such lessons.

Religious education with quality control

A recent study by the universities of Lucerne and Fribourg corroborates the advantages of this type of teaching: “The school is a neutral place,” says study director Hansjörg Schmid. This also means that children from different Muslim backgrounds receive lessons together.

In addition, more emphasis is placed on instructive elements of its study at the school. “The Islamic teachers are obliged to present their concepts to the school,” says Schmid. “This makes quality control possible.”

The director of the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society at the University of Fribourg, together with three other researchers, has examined all the Islamic instructions offered at schools. The study shows that once the lessons are up and running, the feedback is very positive. Generally the criticism and resistance comes beforehand.

Expand the programme – but how?

The study also shows that the lessons availability are strongly dependent on individuals. Most of the proposals came about as a result of initiatives by imams or Muslim religious teachers. “More stability would be important,” says study director Hansjörg Schmid.

The classes in Kreuzlingen could be a model for future programmes. There, various mosque associations, an interreligious working group and the local parishes have jointly set up Islamic instruction, and an association has taken over the sponsorship.

The study recommends expanding confession-oriented Islamic instruction in public schools. But who will pay for it? At present, the programme is supported by voluntary work as well as parental contributions or subsidies from mosque associations.

Broad-based teachings with trained teachers are lacking. In addition, there is another hurdle as in most cantons, teaching requires recognition under public law.

“Salam aleikum” in chorus

If a comparable religious education as that of the Christian national churches is to be developed, the Muslim communities would first have to be recognised. This is a lengthy process.

But Hansjörg Schmid says, “A lot is possible at the level of pilot trials.” He therefore advises trying out as much as possible at a low-threshold level – as in Neuhausen. There, Imam Nimetullah Veseli ends the lesson with “Salam aleikum”: “What does that mean?” he wants to know from the fourth graders. “Peace be with you and with you,” they answer in chorus.

Source: More Islamic lessons in Swiss schools? – SWI swissinfo.ch

Egypt’s Debate on Music in Islam: Between Religious Austerity and Spiritual Ecstasy

Interesting discussion. During my time in the Mid-East (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran) gained an appreciation for the richness of Arabic and Persian classical music:

In Youssef Chahine’s 1997 historical film Al Maseer(‘Destiny’), twelfth century Caliph Yaqub Al-Mansur’s youngest son, Abdallah (Hani Salama) is recruited by Islamist extremists, who launch war on Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd (Nour Al-Sherif) and the band of bohemian artists who rally behind him in support.

Amidst the ideological battle, Abdallah finds himself torn between the Islamists’ austere views and his lifelong passion for music and dance — an internal conflict which culminates in the film’s most powerful musical sequence.

The character’s journey points to a larger debate in the Muslim world surrounding the status of music in Islam.

I lived happily indifferent to this debate until last April, when I shared a list of Ramadan concert recommendations, under which several people expressed the view that music was contrary to the spiritual ethos of fasting from drink, food, and activities which are deemed sinful.

A few days later, just before Eid, a widely shared threadon the topic stirred controversy on Twitter. The author voiced her shock at the number of Muslims who attend concerts despite what she perceived as an obvious religious prohibition.

Reading through the replies, I wondered: where did the notion of an inherent opposition between music and Islam come from? Moreover, how have these views made their way to Egypt — a country with a long and rich tradition of spiritual music?

An Age-old Relationship

The relationship between Islam and music is as old as it is contentious. When the Prophet first instituted the call to prayer, adhan, in the early seventh century, he selected the Abyssinian Bilal as the first muezzin, chosen for his beautiful singing voice.

In pre-Islamic times, poet-musicians were revered in tribal society and held a special place in the courts of Arabian kings. Following the advent of the Muslim faith, religious music swiftly grew from the Bedouin tradition of lyrical poetry, which was primarily vocal but occasionally accompanied by instruments.

As such, the first four Caliphs (~632 – 661 AD) were marked by a vibrant cultural life in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, where wealthy families hosted salons and contests among both locals and foreign converts to crown the most talented musical performers.

As a result of the Islamic conquests, religious music was also influenced by the musical traditions of the conquered territories, leading to the introduction of new instruments, like the oud, a descendant of the Persian lute. Vocal methods inspired by Coptic chanting were also adopted.

In 750 AD, the establishment of the Abbasid dynasty, which ruled for five-centuries, propelled what is now known as the golden age of Islamic music, chronicled in tenth century scholar Abu Al Faraj Al-Isbahani’s Kitab Al Aghani (‘Book of Songs’).

Scholars like Al-Kindi wrote extensively on the theory of ethos (ta’thir) and the cosmological aspects of music. Ibn Sina, meanwhile, studied sound, rhythm, composition, and instruments, laying the foundations of a rich body of Islamic musical theory.

Among the era’s most prominent musicians were Ibrahim Al-Mawsili and his son Ishaq, credited with developing the practices of Ibtihalat and Inshad Dini — two forms of devotional poems recited with musical accompaniment and expressing the believer’s reverence to and love of God and the Prophet Mohamed.

Nowhere was the relationship between music and spirituality more overt than in Sufism, which is said to be as old as Islam itself, but developed into different orders formed around spiritual founders in the twelfth century.

Mass chanting, dance, long instrumental solos, and devotional love poems formed an integral part of Sufi Dhikr (remembrance of God) ceremonies, with music seen to bring its listener into a trance-like state, facilitating internal self-knowledge and unity with God.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Egypt led the revival of these musical traditions with regional icons like Umm Kulthum, Abdel-Halim, and Shadya all performing Ibtihalat throughout their careers. The artforms were further mainstreamed through radio and later television broadcasts in the 1960s, with voices of legendary munshideen like Sheikh Sayed Al Naqshabandi’s coming to form pillars of Egyptian spiritual life.

A Contentious Status 

The Quran makes no explicit mention of music, and yet, throughout history, many scholars have held the viewthat it is prohibited or regarded negatively in Islam. Opponents of the artform base their arguments on hadiths (sayings of the Prophet), and one in particular, reported by ninth century scholar Imam Al-Bukhari.

This hadith reads, “There will be people from my Ummah [nation] who will seek to make lawful the following matters: fornication, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcohol, and the use of musical instruments.”

People on both sides of the debate have interpreted the saying differently. Followers of more orthodox schools of thought, like Salafism or Wahhabism, understand it as a plain prohibition on music and the use of instruments.

Others, including eleventh century Persian scholar Imam Al Ghazali, have put forward the mitigated view that music in itself is not sinful, but songs which entice their listener to immorality should be avoided — a view echoed by former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa.

In 2017, an article published by Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta contributed to the now-widespread debate. It argued that reference to music in the hadith was included to paint a clear picture of ‘the licentious night,’ but unlike alcohol and adultery, it is not sinful in and of itself.

Whatever the argument’s merits, it did not gain particular prominence in Egypt nor interfere with the country’s rich musical life until the 1970s, a period which marked an important turning point for Egyptians Muslims’ relationship to their faith.

Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war against Israel, the contentious signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978, and the spread of Wahhabism among Egyptian migrants returning from Saudi Arabia, were all factors that laid the groundwork for a growing Islamist movement to rise in popularity.

Over the next decades, debates about Islamic morality took center stage in public discourse and cultural life. A study published by the American University in Cairo finds that this surge in piety had a two-fold effect on the relationship between Islam and music in the country.

On the one hand, the 1980s witnessed growing religious animosity towards the arts, and particularly women’s involvement in the musical profession. Figures like Mohamed Metwally Al Shaarawy, Islamic scholar and former Minister of Endowments, advised women artists to renounce their profession and turn to a life of religious devotion.

On the other hand, spiritual and religious music grew in popularity and gained new audiences as proponents of moderate Islam turned to the artform as a means to explore, express, and deepen their faith — or to cope with mounting socio-economic pressures.

The latter trend was reinforced in the 1990s by the emergence of a centrist Islamist movement led by journalists, scholars, and a younger generation of preachers, in response to the parallel rise of extremism. Proponents of centrism encouraged the production of ‘clean art,’ a standard defined by adherence to Islamic morality and the spread of positive socio-political messages.

Those teachings, popular among Egypt’s educated youth, compelled pop artists like Amr Diab, Hisham Abbas, or Aida Al Ayoubi to put out one or more devotional songs; while international artists like the British Sami Yusuf grew to local stardom for their spiritual music.

Conversely, the move to bring music in line with a perceived adherence to religious values also fuelled calls for the censorship or outright banning of works which supposedly did not meet that standard — as seen to this day with purists’ ongoing war on mahraganatmusic, a politically charged and archetypally working class genre, denounced for overstepping moral boundaries in its tackling of socially contentious topics.

Fear of God or a Desperate Bid for Control?

In Chahine’s Al Maseer, the extremists’ bid for power rests on a darkly threatening view of Islam. Citizens of the Caliphate can either abide by their stringen norms, or risk not only the wrath of the extremists, but of God.

Through their practice of music, Ibn Rushd and his companions seek to counter this grim narrative with love, hope, and an unwavering call for freedom. In this way, the film’s central conflict rings true across borders and centuries, shedding a possible light on the source of religious extremists’ opposition to music and the arts.

Contention about the religious status of music is not unique to Egypt. Religiously austere movements in Sudan and Afghanistan have also pushed for or implemented stringent regulations on music as part of broader conservative social policies.

The debate is also not unique to the Muslim world. In the United States, one hallmark of the so-called ‘satanic panic’ of the 1980s — a period of nationwide hysteriaprompted by false allegations of mass satanic ritual abuse — was conservative Christians’ crusade against rock music.

I have neither the authority nor the theological expertise needed to make definitive statements about the status of music in Islam or any other religion. I do, however, believe that austere religious movements have historically opposed music for the same reason that Sufi mystics revel in its practice: because it nurtures a spirit of love, passion, communion, and hope — all things which stand as a direct counter to fear.

Source: Egypt’s Debate on Music in Islam: Between Religious Austerity and Spiritual Ecstasy

Bouchard: D’où viennent nos valeurs?

Always interesting to read Bouchard’s analysis and this is a particularly strong response to Premier Legault’s tweet stressing the Catholic heritage:

Le tweet de M. Legault début avril nous invite à nous interroger sur l’origine des valeurs prédominantes dans notre société. Quelles en sont les racines dans notre histoire ? Deux thèses se présentent, l’une privilégiant la religion catholique, l’autre, la culture populaire.

Le catholicisme

Une première difficulté posée par cette thèse, c’est qu’elle est contredite de plusieurs façons par l’histoire. Le catholicisme prêchait l’austérité, la soumission, la quête de spiritualité, la chasteté. Ce sont là, on en conviendra, des valeurs qui s’accordent mal avec l’esprit du temps présent. Mais l’Église enseignait aussi la liberté, l’entraide, la solidarité, l’éthique du travail. À première vue, on est ici en terrain plus sûr.

Ce n’est pas le cas : nos valeurs ont émergé malgré l’opposition de l’Église. Nous accordons une large place à la démocratie et à l’éducation. Sur ces deux points, le dossier de l’Église est en souffrance. L’autorité venait d’en haut et on ne croyait pas nécessaire de prolonger l’éducation du peuple au-delà du secondaire et même du primaire. L’Église a longtemps combattu les projets d’instruction obligatoire et gratuite jusqu’à 14 ans.

L’égalité sociale, qui nous est chère, s’est longtemps heurtée à la vision hiérarchique de la société professée par l’Église. Le statut de chacun était fixé par la Providence. L’Église s’est opposée aussi à l’émancipation de la femme (travail salarié, autonomie juridique, droit de vote, contraception…). Enfin, nos élites laïques ont fortement encouragé l’entrepreneuriat et l’insertion d’une élite francophone dans le domaine des affaires. Encore là, il y avait incompatibilité. L’Église avait envers l’industrialisation une tradition de méfiance, et même d’opposition.

Quant à la liberté, confrontée à une moralité tatillonne et à la pratique de la censure, elle a eu fort à faire jusqu’à la fin des années 1950. L’Église était aussi loin du compte en matière d’ouverture à l’autre. Elle prêchait l’antisémitisme, était hostile aux autres religions, interdisait les mariages mixtes au nom de la race pure et a longtemps fait preuve de racisme envers les Autochtones. Elle a par ailleurs beaucoup tardé à composer avec la modernité, le changement, le progrès, les droits de la personne. L’État-providence, avec ses politiques sociales généreuses, fut l’une des grandes réalisations de la Révolution tranquille. Une bonne partie du haut clergé a vu d’un mauvais oeil cette initiative de l’État.

Pendant longtemps, l’émancipation économique, sociale et politique des Canadiens français a compté parmi les objectifs principaux de notre nation. L’émancipation, c’est-à-dire la levée des contraintes imposées par le colonialisme anglophone. Or, à des moments clés de notre histoire, l’Église s’est mise au service du colonisateur contre les Canadiens français — pensons à la Conquête, aux rébellions de 1837-1838, aux deux crises de la conscription.

Voici une autre difficulté. Des catholiques de renom comme Jean Hamelin, Pierre Vadeboncoeur et Fernand Dumont ont soutenu que la foi de nos ancêtres était très superficielle. Ils y ont vu la conséquence d’une pastorale autoritaire trop centrée sur le rituel et la routine, qui ne tenait que par la « coutume ». Sous l’effet des nouvelles coutumes introduites dans les années 1945-1960, l’ancienne serait disparue. Fernand Dumont : « On s’est débarrassé de la religion comme d’un vieil appareil de radio qu’on jette pour acheter une télévision. » Comment imaginer que les fidèles, ces « robot[s] télécommandé[s] », « ces chrétiens sans anticorps » (J. Hamelin) aient pu être profondément imprégnés des valeurs en cause ici ? F. Dumont encore, dans une conférence de 2003, reprochait à l’Église d’avoir failli à faire passer dans la culture civique les valeurs du christianisme.

Enfin, le Québec est une petite nation minoritaire qui est née et a grandi sous deux colonialismes et qui s’est toujours inquiétée de sa survie. C’est plus qu’il n’en fallait pour inspirer des réflexes d’autoprotection qui font d’abord appel à la solidarité.

La thèse de la culture populaire

Il est plus vraisemblable que nos valeurs soient nées dans la culture populaire. L’héritage de valeurs comme la solidarité, le travail, l’esprit communautaire et la liberté peut en effet être rattaché à une tout autre expérience que la religion catholique. Cette thèse comporte deux volets.

Il y a d’abord notre passé lié au défrichement. Nos ancêtres lointains étaient des défricheurs. Ils ont façonné le territoire originel et ont édifié une société. Après la mise en valeur de la vallée du Saint-Laurent, ce travail s’est poursuivi jusque dans les années 1940 dans les espaces péri-laurentiens, où, en un siècle, une quinzaine de régions ont été fondées. Nous avons été longtemps un peuple de défricheurs.

Or l’expérience des défrichements inculquait profondément le goût de la liberté. Elle faisait appel aussi à l’éthique du travail, à l’esprit d’entreprise (les colons, isolés, étaient laissés à eux-mêmes). S’ajoutait à cela, par nécessité, la solidarité communautaire, dans un contexte de vide institutionnel où la survie était un défi constant.

Le deuxième volet, c’est celui du travail industriel. La culture robuste née de l’expérience pluriséculaire des défrichements s’est ensuite transmise dans le cours de l’urbanisation. Car les Canadiens français étaient aussi un peuple de lutteurs, cette fois dans la sphère du travail. L’historien Jacques Rouillard a bien montré la vigueur et l’ampleur des luttes ouvrières menées depuis longtemps au sein du syndicalisme, sans compter la fréquence et la dureté des conflits là où il n’existait pas de syndicats.

On connaît les valeurs forgées dans ces luttes : équité, égalité, solidarité, émancipation sociale, entre autres. Or, elles résultaient de pratiques conflictuelles, souvent agressives, que le clergé, en grande partie, a longtemps condamnées, s’employant plutôt à diffuser l’idée que le patron devait être traité comme un père par ses employés.

On voit que l’origine de nos valeurs reste une question complexe. Mais on voit bien aussi que, sur des points essentiels, elles ont pris le contre-pied de l’héritage de l’Église plutôt que de s’en nourrir.

Source: D’où viennent nos valeurs?

Douglas Todd: Canadian Indigenous spirituality anything but monolithic 

Another good reminder:

“All First Nations believed their values and traditions were gifts from the Creator. One of the most important and common teachings was that people should live in harmony with the natural world and all it contained.”

That’s what the Canadian government’s educational resource for young people says every Indigenous person believed before settlers arrived. And today many continue to believe there is uniformity in contemporary Indigenous spiritual practice.

But the recent Canadian census reveals that Canada’s 1.8 million Indigenous people are anything but monolithic in regard to religion and spiritual practice. The range is extraordinary.

To begin with, the census, which every decade asks about religion, found a fast-rising number of Indigenous people, about 47 per cent, are checking off the box: “No religion, and secular perspectives.” That compares to only 20 per cent in 2011.

At the other end of the spectrum, a declining number of Indigenous people, also about 47 per cent, says they’re Christians.

And only four per cent of Canadian Indigenous people put themselves in the category of “traditional (North American Indigenous) spirituality.” This small group would be closest to the historic form of spirituality described in Ottawa’s educational resource for young people.

Indigenous religious diversity stretches surprisingly wide in 2023, flowing into unfamiliar streams.

The census, for instance, found 1,840 Indigenous Canadians who say they’re Muslim, while another 1,615 Canadians are Jewish.

I reached out to some Indigenous, Muslim and Jewish organizations to interview a First Nations, Inuit or Metis who is Jewish or Muslim, whereupon the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs introduced me to Cheyenne Neszo.

A status member of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation based in and around Prince George, Neszo is deep into the process of converting to Judaism, the proud religion of her fiancé, Zach Berinstein.

Neszo, a 32-year-old lawyer, grew up in North Delta, where her extended family occasionally attended church and had in many ways lost touch with their Indigenous roots. That changed in recent years, as Neszo, her mother and grandmother applied for First Nations status and reconnected to those cultural origins.

Now, Neszo is three years into studying Judaism with Rabbi Dan Moscovitz at Vancouver’s Temple Sholom, where she and Berinstein will be married in September. “It’s just one of the most welcoming places I’ve come across,” said Neszo, who specializes in Indigenous law. Their wedding will be Jewish, with Lheidli T’enneh elements.

To understand the evolution in Indigenous religiosity over the years, I have frequently interviewed First Nations, Metis and Inuit elders and others who are Christians, who belong to one of the three denominations that ran Canada’s defunct federally funded residential schools.

Although the proportion of Indigenous people who belong to those denominations is declining, it remains that 485,000 Indigenous people today (27 per cent) still say they’re Catholic, 110,000 affiliate with the Anglicans and 42,000 are United Church members.

In addition, 28,000 Indigenous people belong to the Pentecostal Church, which did not operate a residential school. And what of the 6,515 who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and 5,035 who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)?

Although he was not available for an interview, John Borrows, who is of Anishinaabe heritage and a committed Latter-day Saint, was recently profiled by Cardus, a Canadian think tank. Borrows is a professor specializing in Indigenous law, as well as head of the Victoria Multifaith Society.

Like other Anishinaabe people, Borrows went on a Vision Quest as a young man, fasting and being alone in the forest. Although he joined the Latter Day Saints when he was 19, he believes those experiences of encountering God’s presence in nature still inform his faith.

Ray Aldred, a member of the Cree Nation who directs the Indigenous studies program at Vancouver School of Theology, is not surprised more Canadian First Nations are classifying themselves under “no religion, and secular perspectives.”

They are essentially saying, Alder believes, that they don’t want to be associated with “one of those,” by which he means the Christians who are increasingly being condemned for their role in operating about 125 residential schools, which were almost all closed by the 1970s.

There was “no such thing as secular” in traditional Indigenous culture, said Aldred. “The category didn’t exist in the Indigenous mindset.”

He said Indigenous people are picking up the concept from attending college and university, where faculty tend to vilify Christianity and academic papers about the faith seem to only get published if the author can show they hate the religion.

“All that has an impact.”

At the same time, Aldred said many Indigenous people don’t see a contradiction between Christianity and their peoples’ ancient spiritual ways. “Their families have been part of the church for a couple of hundred years.”

For his part, Aldred, who is an Anglican priest, said he believes settler culture and religion has brought both positives and negatives.

Rather than Indigenous people zeroing in on their specific religious or non-religious identities, Aldred suggests they “try to focus on a communal identity,” which connects them to the land and to each other.

He talked about how Metis people, as well as the Nisga’a of northern B.C., follow many different denominations and religious traditions without fighting about it. He admires the Nisga’a creed: “One nation, one heart.”

And in an era when social media incites groups to feel contempt for the other, Aldred rightly encourages people of different faiths and no faith to engage in authentic dialogue.

“The important thing is people learn to speak heart to heart, so we hear one another.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Canadian Indigenous spirituality anything but monolithic 

Nicolas: Catho-laïcité

Great column:

Dans ma cohorte à l’école primaire, il y avait une poignée d’enfants qui n’étaient pas catholiques. On savait tous qui ils étaient. Parce que nous, les enfants « normaux », regardions les enfants « bizarres », inscrits en morale, sortir de la classe pendant que nous nous préparions pour notre cours de catéchèse. En effet, nos institutions publiques avaient déjà le don de faire se sentir les minorités religieuses comme des extraterrestres bien avant l’apogée de nos débats sur la laïcité.

Nous, les enfants « normaux », disais-je, avions des chansons à apprendre sur Zachée, Lazare, les noces de Cana. Du sérieux, quoi. Le prêtre visitait l’école, puis on passait des soirées dans le sous-sol de l’église de la paroisse à chanter encore pour orchestrer une scène de la nativité pour la messe de Noël, encore pour préparer notre première communion, puis notre confirmation. C’était là un éventail d’activités normal pour des enfants « normaux » d’une école primaire publique, à la fin des années 1990, dans une région certes plus conservatrice que la moyenne, au Québec.

Au secondaire, dans une école officiellement déconfessionnalisée mais que tout le monde continuait d’appeler « couvent » quand même, les religieuses étaient encore très impliquées dans l’enseignement et l’administration de notre quotidien. Dans les années 2000, donc, j’ai récité des « Je vous salue Marie » avant de commencer mon cours de français. Le prêtre venait toujours — dans la salle dédiée à la prière de l’école, n’est-ce pas, qui était tout simplement une chapelle — pour nous encourager à faire le carême, avouer tel ou tel péché sous un mode certes un peu plus créatif que le confessionnal traditionnel et nous accorder le pardon. Les élèves « bizarres » étaient toujours les bienvenus parmi nous. Les crucifix et autres statues de Marie décoraient des salles de classe… inclusives.

J’ai un rapport complexe à cette éducation catho-laïque, plus importante que celle de bien des jeunes de mon âge élevés dans la « grand ville ». Pour le moins, je pense qu’avoir grandi ainsi m’aide à faire des nuances.

Je sais bien, par exemple, qu’aucun élève LGBTQ+ de mon école n’a fait son coming out au secondaire, et que ce n’est certainement pas dans un cours de Formation personnelle et sociale donné par une religieuse qu’on aurait pu se sentir à l’aise de discuter de la diversité sexuelle. Ce tabou, je suis profondément contente qu’il soit moins vécu de front par la génération qui me suit.

Je sais aussi que les soeurs qui m’enseignaient avaient eu l’occasion de faire de longues études, parfois jusqu’au doctorat, qui étaient demeurées inaccessibles à ma grand-mère, pourtant de la même génération. Je comprends que des femmes, dans une société profondément patriarcale, ont choisi de cesser d’exister comme objet sexuel et reproducteur, en quelque sorte, pour avoir des carrières, voyager et contribuer plus largement à leur société.

Cela ne m’empêche pas de comprendre le rôle de l’Église dans la perpétuation de la violence coloniale dans les Amériques et l’Afrique, y compris la mise sur pied des pensionnats autochtones. Il y a quelques jours encore, le pape devait encore s’excuser pour la « doctrine de la découverte », une idéologie qui a légitimé la dépossession territoriale, et donc la « fondation » du Canada.

Et je sais encore que des mouvements politiques ancrés dans la théologie de la libération a nourri des soulèvements des classes populaires en Amérique latine et que les églises afro-américaines ont joué un rôle central dans la mobilisation pour les droits civiques. Et qu’il est tout à fait possible de créer des espaces de subversion et de réflexion critique porteuse au sein même des institutions religieuses.

Tout ça, on s’en rend compte lorsqu’on s’intéresse aux phénomènes religieux et spirituels dans toutes leurs complexités et en nuances. Et lorsqu’on ne sait pas faire d’analyse nuancée de son propre héritage religieux, on est aussi probablement très mal outillé pour avoir des conversations franches, tout aussi pleines de nuances, avec des croyants d’autres confessions qui cherchent aussi du sens dans leurs héritages complexes capables de beauté comme de violence, d’oppression comme de libération.

Les valeurs de solidarité et de partage sont promues par toutes les grandes religions, sous une forme ou sous une autre. Par exemple, la générosité envers les plus démunis est une valeur fondamentale dans l’Islam, une valeur particulièrement à l’oeuvre durant le ramadan, en ce moment même. Et si ce n’était pas de l’entraide, le peuple juif n’aurait pas pu traverser tous les millénaires de son histoire — ni même se libérer, avec Moïse, de l’esclavage en Égypte, ce qu’on célèbre, justement, lors de la Pâque juive, ces jours-ci. Et dans le reste du pays, les communautés anglo-protestantes construisent des filets sociaux les uns pour les autres, sans attendre nécessairement que l’État s’en mêle. C’est une autre manière de voir les institutions, certes, mais certainement pas une absence de solidarité.

Aller dire — par exemple, comme ça — que le catholicisme aurait une espèce de monopole de la valeur de la solidarité, alors que les trois religions du Livre partagent un moment particulièrement fort serait donc un geste d’une profonde insensibilité et inculture. Lorsqu’on est un chef d’État qui doit représenter et traiter équitablement tous ses citoyens, peu importe leur foi, présenter une religion comme « meilleure » sur un aspect ou un autre est une grave erreur politique. Lorsqu’on a fait une partie de sa carrière politique sur le concept de la laïcité a en plus, la déclaration devient tragicomique.

Mais surtout, peu importe le rôle de la personne qui le déclare, sur le fond, il y a un truc qui ne tourne pas rond dans cette hiérarchisation, parfois. On se dit que l’auteur d’une telle sortie aurait besoin d’un bon cours d’éthique et culture religieuse. Et que c’est probablement parce qu’il lui en manque qu’il a voulu l’abolir.

Source: Catho-laïcité

Arab Autocrats are Masking Repression with Religion

Of note:

On March 1, the Abrahamic Family House opened to the public on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Hailed as a beacon of tolerance and modernity in the Middle East, the interfaith complex hosts the Imam al-Tayeb Mosque, St. Francis Church, and Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue.

The complex, part of a UAE government effort marketed as a way to foster interreligious harmony in a region that is regularly depicted as lacking such a quality, began development in 2019, following a visit by Pope Francis to the UAE during which he, along with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Egypt, Ahmed el-Tayeb, signed the “Document on Human Fraternity” with the hope of fostering interreligious unity.

Such government-directed initiatives—marketed as a mechanism to advance peace, tolerance, and moderation—have become increasingly common throughout the Middle East over the past decade, with countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and many others launching various international initiatives focused on interfaith dialogue, countering extremist religious practices and interpretations and promoting so-called “moderate Islam.”

However, despite outwardly projecting an image of tolerance and moderation, many of these same governments simultaneously employ religion to buttress their authoritarian rule, legitimize repression, limit their citizens’ freedoms, and justify aggressive policies abroad. For example, the UAE is not only fiercely repressive at home but is also one of the Middle East’s most interventionist states, pursuing policies that have prolonged the region’s civil wars, created humanitarian crises, crushed democratic aspirations, and fueled the underlying grievances that lead to unrest.

Increasingly, many Middle Eastern governments are wielding religion as a tool of soft power alongside other efforts—including sportswashing, greenwashing, and other PR campaigns—designed to absolve themselves of their culpability in human rights abuses and destabilization of the Middle East while maintaining the support of their Western benefactors.

A considerable proportion of academic and policy analyses examining the relationship between religion and politics in the Middle East tends to focus overwhelmingly on how Islam drives political outcomes in the region. Less attention is devoted to how politics often drives religious outcomes. The government-sponsored project of so-called moderate Islam is an example of politically driven religious messaging.

There are two key elements to this government-sponsored moderate Islam.

First is the promotion of a politically quietist and statist conceptualization Islam that stresses absolute obedience to established authority. Governments depict obedience to the ruler of the state as a religious obligation. These governments embrace an interpretation of Islam that is subservient to the state, incapable of challenging the regime’s legitimacy or policies, while also delegitimizing alternative sources of religious or political authority.

Critical to such a strategy is the portrayal of all forms of Islamism—whether mainstream or more radical—and all forms of political opposition as manifestations of “extremism” and “radicalism” in order to eliminate all independent or dissenting religious and political voices capable of challenging state authority.

Aiding these efforts are strategically constructed anti-terrorism laws that have proliferated throughout the Middle East in two main waves: one following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the other following the 2011 Arab uprisings. The language of such legislation was always designed in a vague manner in order to be capable of targeting almost any challenge to the status quo. This kind of legislation has been used to target all forms of dissent in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and elsewhere.

By painting challenges to the status quo as extreme and casting such opposition as a manifestation of religious radicalism, these governments are simultaneously able to deflect attention from how their authoritarian policies are often the underlying catalysts for regional instability and repress anyone they deem as a threat to their own rule under the guise of countering so-called extremist behavior. Such framing allows these governments to monopolize discussions surrounding Islam, reform, and politics in the Middle East.

Second, in the efforts to brand themselves as moderate, these regimes have also adopted the strategic usage of interfaith tolerance. In particular, outreach by these states to various Christian and Jewish communities, organizations, and figures has proved particularly effective. By framing their actions as in-line with Western initiatives designed to protect religious freedom and encourage interfaith relations, these governments have received regular praise from political leaders and religious groups in the United States. This has allowed them to project an image of tolerance while also currying favor with influential actors in certain key countries.

Engagement with other faith communities and leaders abroad not only advances the image of these governments as tolerant and progressive actors, but also presents an opportunity for these states to project themselves internationally as the sole legitimate representatives of the global Muslim community. The curation of such an image is designed to present these actors as stabilizing forces throughout the Middle East despite their repressive policies at home and aggressive foreign policies that contribute to the underlying sources of regional instability.

The government-sponsored project of moderate Islam is primarily a product of the post-9/11 era. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the West proceeded to construct arbitrary categories of what the scholar Mahmoud Mamdani referred to as “good” and “bad” Muslims. The Islam that autocratic regimes in the Middle East practice and promote is presented to the West as “good” and “moderate,” and is designed to depict these governments as the best—perhaps only—partners capable of working with the West to combat “bad” and “extreme” Islam.

As the United States began pouring money and weapons into the pockets of these governments under the notion of supporting counterterrorism, these regimes were able to harness these resources and utilize them in the widespread repression of any who challenged the status quo. These patterns were accelerated by the 2011 Arab uprisings as ruling elites jockeyed to delegitimize and repress opposition to their rule while maintaining Western support. Presenting themselves as upholders of stability, these autocratic governments have been able to deflect attention away from how their policies and the nature of their rule have contributed to the underlying sources of regional instability.

The project of moderate Islam is directed primarily toward the West, particularly the United States, which remains the security guarantor for many of the governments spearheading these projects. Successfully selling this image on a global scale is a critical component to other complementary soft-power initiatives and efforts to legitimize the domestic and international policies of these autocratic actors.

Two states in particular lead the enterprise that is moderate Islam: Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, hailedby many as a long-awaited reformer, made headlines upon his vow to return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam. Domestically, the crown prince has made several changes, including attempts to distance official Saudi Arabian history from ultra-conservative Wahhabism; allowing women to drivelive alone without male permission, and travel without a male guardian; limiting the religious police’s powers; permitting public entertainment venues such as cinemas and concerts; and arresting religious clerics and scholars labeled as extremists by the regime. State religious figures and institutions continue to praise Mohammed bin Salman as a “modernizer” and “renewer,” and the Council of Senior Scholars, the preeminent religious body in Saudi Arabia, regularly endorses his controversial domestic and foreign policies.

Internationally, the crown prince has overseen the projection of moderate Islam to Western audiences. Institutions such as the Saudi-based Muslim World League, led by Secretary-General Mohammed al-Issa and representing a virtual extension of the Saudi state, have spearheaded such efforts, particularly outreach to Jewish and evangelical Christian communities. In November 2018, Saudi Arabia hosted a delegation of evangelical Christian leaders from the United States, who were received by Mohammed bin Salman and Issa. A similar delegation visited the kingdom again in September 2019. In January 2020, al-Issa led a delegation of Islamic scholars in an unprecedented visit to the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, accompanied by representatives of the American Jewish Committee. A year later, Pope Francis received Issa at the Vatican.

Likewise, the UAE under the leadership of Mohamed bin Zayed has projected an image of the Emirates as a beacon of tolerance, modernity, and stability in the Middle East. The UAE embassy in the United States stresses that “values of inclusion, mutual respect and religious freedom have been ingrained in the UAE’s DNA since before the country’s founding in 1971.” It notes the Emirates “has a forward-looking vision for the Middle East region—a path that promotes moderate Islam, empowers women, teaches inclusion, encourages innovation and welcomes global engagement.”

After the Arab uprisings, the UAE created a series of new institutions to cement this image domestically and promote it abroad, such as the Muslim Council of Elders, the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, and the UAE Fatwa Council; and in 2016, it established an official minister of tolerance position, currently held by Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak al-Nahayan. The year 2019 was proclaimed the “Year of Tolerance” in the Emirates, further advancing this image of the UAE as a source of stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

Internationally, the number of interfaith initiatives spearheaded by the UAE or involving institutions based in the Emirates is considerable. Programs such as the UAE’s Alliance of Virtue seek to “bring together religious leaders of good-will for the benefit of humanity”; the alliance’s steering committee is composed of leading Muslim, Christian, and Jewish individuals from around the world. The newly formed Jewish Council of the Emirates serves as the representative body of Jews within the UAE and, in 2019, New York University Chaplain Yehuda Sarna was named the country’s first chief rabbi.

More than any of the other interfaith efforts the UAE has pursued, the crowning jewel remains the Abraham Accords. The accords were marketed as a way forward for the Israel-Palestine conflict and a broader framework for Middle Eastern peace. When the Abraham Accords were announced, signatories emphasized how this historic declaration would be a tool for “maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world based on mutual understanding and coexistence.” The UAE described the accords as “catalyst for wider change in the Middle East” and a mechanism to “promote regional security, prosperity, and peace for years to come.”

Yet, despite these initiatives, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among the most autocratic governments in the world. Bothcountries are engaged in widespread human rights abuses at home and support a wide array of autocratic actors throughout the region engaged in similar abuses.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the vanguards of the authoritarian resurgence taking place across the Middle East. At home, they are fiercely repressive, forcibly silencing any form of dissent or opposition to the policies pursued by the government. Both states are witnessing a strengthening and intensification of personalistic rule whereby Mohammed bin Salman and Mohamed bin Zayed have sought to eliminate institutional constraints and amass an unprecedented amount of power.

Abroad, these two leaders spearheaded an ongoing military offensive in Yemen that has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, continue to pour financial and military resources into supportingallied authoritarian actors engaged in gross abuses, and are engaged in sophisticated campaigns of transnational repression and surveillance targeting activists and dissidents around the world. Additionally, they have played critical roles in supporting China’s repression of its domestic Muslim communities, and both Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue to engage in illegal activities within the United States.

Despite many of the interfaith initiatives being marketed as a way to promote moderation, tolerance, and peace, they have increasingly paved the way for expanded cooperation and collaborationon strategic issues. For example, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have increasingly coordinated their lobbying efforts in Washington to advance mutually-shared objectives in the Middle East and across the globe, namely the preservation of the prevailing illiberal status quo and regional balance of power.

The Abraham Accords in particular did not represent a breakthrough for peace in the Middle East, but rather the solidification of a top-down, imposed regional order designed to advance the interests of political elites. Instead of a mechanism to promote peace, interfaith initiatives for Middle East actors are often steeped in shared political objectives between actors with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Interfaith initiatives and the promotion of religious moderation and tolerance are themselves not problematic and should be encouraged. The problem is autocratic regimes are using the government-sponsored project of moderate Islam as a mechanism to whitewash their repressive, aggressive domestic and foreign policies while projecting a false image to their Western benefactors. The initiatives pursued by these regimes are inherently political, designed to support the domestic and geopolitical objectives of these autocratic governments instead of actually countering specific religious interpretations or practices.

Jon Hoffman is research director at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). Twitter: @Hoffman8Jo

Source: Arab Autocrats are Masking Repression with Religion

François Legault shares racist article, reveals hypocrisy on secularism


Quebec Premier François Legault shared an article by infamous Journal de Montréal columnist Mathieu Bock-Côté about the importance of Catholicism in Quebec, revealing his hypocrisy on secularism and a willingness to overlook barely disguised racist sentiments in the material he shares.

In his column, timed with Easter weekend, Bock-Côté praises Quebec’s Catholic heritage, noting that  “Catholicism, from the origins of New France, gave a particular impetus to our adventure in America” — kind of like how the Catholic Church’s Doctrine of Discovery encouraged Europeans to crush Indigenous communities in their travels? Bock-Côté also says, “It is this same sense of the collective that leads us today to resist the fragmentation of society under the pressure of multiculturalism” — a gratuitous slam on multiculturalism as being the root of all our problems.

Legault quoted another piece of the Journal article on Twitter: “Catholicism has also engendered in us a culture of solidarity that distinguishes us on a continental scale.” As Montreal comedian Sugar Sammy pointed out, “Secularism is important except for this one tweet.”

Secularism has been identified by the Legault government as one of Quebec’s core values, and used as justification for Bill 21, which supposedly treats all religions equally in terms of banning religious symbols.

Source: François Legault shares racist article, reveals hypocrisy on secularism

Quebec Muslim associations denounce government ban on prayer rooms in schools

Of note:

A group representing Muslim associations in Quebec wants the provincial government to rescind a directive prohibiting the presence of prayer spaces in elementary and high schools.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Bernard Drainville banned school service centres from transforming classrooms into places of prayer.

In a joint statement issued Thursday evening, representatives from several mosques with the Table de concertation des organismes musulmans (TCOM) expressed their shock and indignation at the decision.

Source: Quebec Muslim associations denounce government ban on prayer rooms in schools

Shia Muslim scholars denied entry into US suspect religious bias

Of note, particularly given that the persons quoted had made frequent trips to the US:

It took the US consulate seven minutes to reject Nabil Ahmed Shabbir’s visa application.

Shabbir, a British Shia scholar, had applied for his US visa to assist with the birth of his first child. His wife, an American Shia Muslim, wanted to have the birth in the US.

Shabbir hadn’t even left the embassy gate after handing in his visa application when he got a text message saying it had been rejected.

Shabbir, whose work has brought him to the US dozens of times prior to this rejection in 2020, did not think obtaining a visa would be an issue.

Instead, he had to watch his firstborn’s birth via WhatsApp video.

Shabbir is one of numerous Shia scholars who have been repeatedly – and unexpectedly – denied entry to the US in the past decade, despite their prior travel to the country for work purposes, raising concerns that they are being deliberately excluded because of their religion.

Despite traveling to the US regularly for five years on a valid 10-year visa, Shabbir was stopped at the airport in 2019 and detained for five hours, facing questions about the intent of his visit.

He was traveling with his wife, but was asked why he had invitations from years ago from American organizations – which fed his suspicion that officials had gone through his email.

He was eventually allowed to enter, but once he returned from the US, he received a notification that his visa had been revoked.

This revocation – unceremonious, without a specific reason and out of the blue – fits a pattern that has been experienced by many Shia scholars.

Mohammad Ali Naquvi, cofounder and chair of the American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA), said his organization has documented denials or revocations of more than 50 Shia scholars in the past decade.

Some were denied entry as they were about to board a US-bound flight, some were denied entry after arriving in the country and forced to turn back despite having a valid visa – and some like Shabbir still remain in a limbo of “administrative processing”.

“It has a burden on the religious practice of Shia Muslims in the US, not being able to have the scholars here,” Abed Ayoub, national executive director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said. “Not being able to have your religious events because of immigration enforcement is very problematic.”

The issue has been going on for a long time. Sheikh Jihad Ismail, an Australian Shia scholar, was about to board his flight to Albany from Dubai in 2014 when he was told he couldn’t fly into the US. This threw him off, especially because he had visited the US nearly 20 times since 2002, giving talks and engaging with the Shia community in the country. His visa has been under “administrative processing” for six years. According to Naquvi, there are some “administrative processing” cases that go back nine years.

Both Ismail and Shabbir know numerous other scholars going through similar experiences. Ismail recalled the story of a friend who was recently made to return on the next flight after arriving in the US.

Many of these scholars are from English-speaking countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia.

There is no solid reason to which anyone in the community can point to explain why so many Shia scholars have been denied entry, but they say they have their suspicions.

Ayoub traces the issue back to the San Bernardino shooting in 2015, in which the shooters had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

This was followed by the Obama administration passing the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which disqualified the visa waiver for applicants from 40 countries if they had made any trips to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on a government assignment or military order.

This is tricky because Shia pilgrimages, including the ziyarah, take place in Iran and Iraq.

Nearly all Shia scholars have visited or regularly visit these countries, which automatically puts them under scrutiny under the law.

“Because you’re seeing a big number of individuals coming from visa waiver countries, what we believe is happening is the consular officers at the state department are misreading this law,” Ayoub said.

“What they’re doing, in our opinion, is yes, the individual may not qualify for visa waiver, but they’re holding the same standard in even issuing a visa,” he added.

That still doesn’t explain why Ismail was denied the visa in 2014, before the San Bernardino shooting, feeding further confusion among the scholars. It’s clear that there is a pattern that holds true for all these instances, yet nobody can pinpoint the exact issue that would uniformly justify these cases.

This has a grave impact for Shia Americans, especially the current generation.

For a religion with a rich practice of cultural and knowledge exchange across borders, Shabbir said there is an immense value English-speaking scholars have in reaching the current generation, and these visa denials hamper that education.

If scholars like himself aren’t allowed to teach in the US, the other option for such exchange programs is to invite scholars from countries where they may not understand British or American culture, and the culture gap could become a barrier.

“Those young people then find it very difficult to consolidate their faith and the culture they are living in,” he said.

“They see the western culture as something inherently bad, and if they’re going to be religious that means they have to be against western culture,” he added. “Whereas it’s not the case – but they won’t know that until they are presented with a western scholar who has grown up through the system.”

But there are signs of progress. Ayoub said the Trump administration assisted on some individual cases, and activists are now in talks with Biden administration officials who Ayoub said had been “very receptive”.

Those like Shabbir hope the doors open up soon. For him, beyond giving talks as a religious scholar, he misses the opportunity to visit his in-laws, with whom his wife has been staying for a few months to take care of her mother. This means he has to go months without seeing his wife or child.

“It’s not just the visa rejection,” he said. “There’s just so much more that ends up being attached to it.”

Source: Shia Muslim scholars denied entry into US suspect religious bias