Art instructor who showed images of Prophet Muhammad in class sues Hamline University; school officials say calling it …

Legitimate lawsuit and university admin having to scramble:

A former art instructor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in class has sued Hamline University, saying administrators defamed her and reneged on an offer to teach in the spring semester.

Attorneys for Erika López Prater announced Tuesday that she had sued the university for defamation, religious discrimination and breach of contract, among other things. Less than two hours later, the university’s president and board chair said in a joint statement that they had “learned much” about Islam and that the previous decision to describe the incident as Islamophobic was “flawed.”

The St. Paul private college found itself at the center of a painful debate over academic freedom and religious tolerance this month as news of the university’s decision not to renew López Prater’s contract spread across the globe. Instructors rallied around López Prater, saying the university’s decisions could have a chilling effect on professors who teach controversial material. A prominent local Muslim organization supported administrators, saying they had to act to protect students with diverse religious beliefs while a national Muslim group said it didn’t consider the teacher’s conduct wrong.

Scholars and religious leaders have sometimes disagreed about whether Islam permits images of the Prophet Muhammad. Some Muslims argue that the images are strictly prohibited to avoid idolization. Others have images of the prophet in their homes.

During a class in October, López Prater showed two centuries-old artworksthat depict the prophet receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel that would later form the basis for the Qur’an. López Prater said she provided a disclaimer in the syllabus for the course and spent “at least a couple minutes” preparing students for the images. One of her students, Aram Wedatalla, president of the Muslim Student Association, said she heard the professor give a “trigger warning,” wondered what it was for “and then I looked and it was the prophet.”

In the lawsuit, attorneys for López Prater said she shared her syllabus with a department chair and others at Hamline University and no one raised concerns about her decision to show the images.

“Students viewing the online class had ample warning about the paintings,” wrote attorney David Redden. “Students viewing the online class also had ample opportunity to turn away from their computer screens, turn their screens away from them, turn off their screens, or even leave their rooms before the paintings were displayed.”

Redden wrote that a department leader initially told López Prater “it sounded like you did everything right.”

A few weeks later, she received an email informing her that the university would no longer offer the spring semester online art history class she’d been in discussions about teaching. In early November, the university’s Office of Inclusive Excellence sent a campus email saying actions taken in her class were “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic” — a statement disputed by some Muslim scholars and advocacy groups.

Redden wrote that Hamline University had made López Prater a “pariah,” quashed dissent from others seeking to support her, and allowed people to defame her in the student newspaper and during a “Community Conversation” event discussing Islamophobia in December. He accused the university of violating its own policy on academic freedom and of discriminating against López Prater “because she is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.”

Throughout it all, Redden wrote, López Prater “suffered immediate, severe, and lasting emotional distress, including various physical manifestations of that distress.”

The university declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday night. In a joint statement, university President Fayneese Miller and board Chair Ellen Watters didn’t discuss the lawsuit but said the flurry of news coverage had prompted them to “review and re-examine” the university’s response.

“Hamline is a multi-cultural, multi-religious community that has been a leader in creating space for civil conversations. Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” the pair wrote.

“In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed,” they wrote. “We strongly support academic freedom for all members of the Hamline community. We also believe that academic freedom and support for students can and should co-exist.”

The university said it will host two events in the coming months: One will focus on academic freedom and student care, and the other on academic freedom and religion.

Source: Art instructor who showed images of Prophet Muhammad in class sues Hamline University; school officials say calling it …

Wheeler et al: The role of Blackness in the Hamline Islamic art controversy

Interesting angle on context, that nevertheless, as author notes, doesn’t justify Hamline’s decision:

In early October, Erika López Prater, a professor at Hamline University in Minnesota, showed her online Islamic art history class an image of the Prophet Muhammad. A Muslim student in the class complained, citing Islamic tradition barring representations of the prophet. Other students joined in to express their view that this incident was part of a larger problem of Islamophobia on campus. The administration agreed, and eventually López Prater’s contract to teach during the spring semester was rescinded.

Since her firing, other professors, including Islamic studies scholars, have rightly rallied around her, drafting petitions and op-eds calling her dismissal a case of censorship trammeling academic freedom. 

We’ve heard little in the media coverage of this fiasco, however, about the students who initiated the complaint — why they objected, who they are and what their lives are like at Hamline and in the Twin Cities. Most of all, we need to understand why a perceived attack on the body and dignity of the Prophet Muhammad may have felt like an attack on them.

What has been written about the students has at times been unfortunate. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for instance, described Muslims who believe it is wrong to display images of Muhammad as ascribing to the “most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view.” Never mind that using the term “extreme” insinuates that these students are violent; the point is not to discuss the history of iconoclasm in Islam, but why these particular Muslims objected to the image when and where they did.

Our many decades of learning and experience as scholars of Black American Islam tell us that the missing context is race. The Muslim students were hurt by what they saw as an attack on the dignity of the prophet, whether they are doctrinally correct or not. This hurt paralleled the attacks on their dignity they experience daily as Black Muslims. Violence toward Black Muslims, rooted in slavery and Jim Crow and perpetuated in post-civil rights America, is an embodied phenomenon.

Attacks on the Prophet Muhammad’s body for someone living in this reality may be felt as an assault from the whole surrounding community. In an interview with The Oracle, the school’s student paper, Aram Wedatalla, who was in López Prater’s class, said, “as a Muslim, and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.”

Black students account for 11% of Hamline’s student body, according to U.S. News & World Report — a smaller percentage than Black residents’ in Minneapolis (but about the same as African-descended people in the city’s metro area). In a forum at the university in early December, according to The New York Timesa student panel of Black Muslim women “spoke tearfully about struggling to fit in at Hamline.”

Beyond Hamline’s campus, Islamophobia in Minnesota is often colored Black: Muslims in Minnesota, especially Somalis, have faced discrimination and violence as well as state-sanctioned Islamophobia, often in the form of police harassment.

The Countering Violent Extremism program, launched by the Obama administration in 2011, aimed at partnering with the American Muslim community to reduce violence; it ended up marginalizing Musllms further. Minnesota Somalis were disproportionately affected by CVE, as the program was known. The Trump administration’s iteration of CVE “rebranded and refunded the programs, exacerbating ongoing racial discrimination, surveillance, and police brutality in the Twin Cities,” according to one study.

Minnesota’s Black Muslims have also watched as their elected representatives, Keith Ellison and Ilhan Omar, have received death threats and been called terrorists.

Anti-Muslim anti-Black violence is not just a problem in Minnesota. It’s an historic national issue. Black Muslims have been depicted in the media as irrational, violent and incompatible with American values for nearly 100 years. Look no further than how Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali (depending on the decade) or the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad were described by journalists, academics and law enforcement. Consider how images of the Black Muslim boogeyman (and in later cases, boogeywoman) were used to justify harassment and discrimination against Black Muslims and by 9/11, all Muslims.

This is the context missing from the current conversation about López Prater’s firing.

The solution, however, is not be to ban images of the Prophet Muhammad in the classroom or to fire professors for doing their jobs. (No report has shown that the students even asked for López Prater to be fired.) There is immense theological diversity and varying views among Muslims on the permissibility of depicting Muhammad, as López Prater is aware; she made efforts to soften the blow to Muslim students who might be offended.

In the eyes of these Muslim students, she and the university did not go far enough, but rather than address students’ concerns as a community, the university administration chose to deal with its institutional Islamophobia as a problem between an overworked and underpaid contingent faculty member and marginalized students.

We live in a deeply Islamophobic society where Muslims face both interpersonal and institutional oppression that affects how young Muslims experience everyday life. This incident is simply the latest example. López Prater has unjustly lost her job, and Hamline University Muslim students have been vilified in the media, while the underlying problem — Islamophobia — still persists on Hamline’s campus and beyond.

(Kayla Renée Wheeler is an assistant professor of critical ethnic studies and theology at Xavier University. Edward E. Curtis IV holds the William M. and Gail M. Plater Chair of the Liberal Arts at Indiana University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Source: The role of Blackness in the Hamline Islamic art controversy

Paradkar: Professor’s firing over Prophet Muhammad art offensive — but not because of ‘wokeism’ or ‘cancel culture’

Good column:

The news that a private liberal arts university in the United States fired a professor for showing a painting of the Prophet Muhammad, calling it Islamophobic, should worry us all.

Not because “wokeism” has gone too far or because “cancel culture” has run amok, but because it overrides diversity among Muslims as well as threatens academic freedom and, therefore, democratic ideals. And because the chill is also happening in Canada.

There was nothing woke about Hamline University in Minnesota terminating the contract of Erika López Prater, an adjunct professor — meaning not tenured and working for low or no pay — who in October showed two medieval Islamic artworks in her global art history class. In one, the Prophet’s face is veiled. The other openly depicts Muhammad receiving the revelation of the Quran from the angel Gabriel. To be woke is to be awakened to societal injustices, not to further entrench them.

Nor was cancel culture at play at the university but rather the politics of appeasement, in this case by an institution that, like many, cloaks its reputational risk-management strategy in the language of inclusiveness.

“We have learned, over many years, that knowledge can be shared in a multitude of responsible, thoughtful and respectful ways,” wrote Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and David Everett, associate vice-president for inclusive excellence, in a letter to the campus on Dec. 9. 

“Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

A month prior, Everett is reported to have called the lesson “disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

If Islamophobia is hate and discrimination springing from prejudice against Islam or Muslims, how does showing an item that is a treasured part of Islamic history perpetuate that hate?

Many but not all Muslims believe visual representations of the prophet are forbidden, even though the Quran does not explicitly forbid it.

“If Islamophobia is characterized by anything that violates Islamic theology, then we have a problem, because that doesn’t respect academic freedom,” says Anver Emon, a professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair on Islamic Law and History.

“What is now being conveyed as Islamophobia is deference to certain forms of orthodoxy over others.”

By all accounts, the Hamline lecturer had informed the class beforehand what she was going to show and why, and invited them to bring any concerns to her. The class itself went smoothly.

Still, a student who was also president of the Muslim Student Association complained after the class.

“I’m like, ‘This can’t be real’,” she is quoted saying in the student newspaper. “As a Muslim and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.”

I don’t know if the student didn’t hear the teacher prior to class, or saw it as an opportunity to make a point. But it’s clear that, to her, the lesson tied in with the larger issue of not belonging.

I can see that the university had to do something, or be seen to be doing something, and calculated that losing a staff member on contract was far easier than the hard work of changing its culture.

Wrong move. Students complain, as is their right. But universities that are increasingly treating students as customers need to remember they are not always right. Students’ feelings can and should be taken seriously and issues resolved through dialogue and building trust. Not dealt with through human resources. Not used willy-nilly to dictate the curriculum.

A similar class created a furor at the University of Alberta last year. The professor involved is on leave.

Jairan Gahan, an assistant professor, ran afoul of the Muslim Students Association last February, ironically during a class about Islamophobia, after she shared images of a few medieval miniatures commissioned by a Muslim ruler that depicted the Prophet.

Gahan told the Star she was helping students understand why Muslims are so outraged by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of 2012 but may not react as strongly to other Islamophobic instances. “The point was to show this backlash (to Charlie Hebdo) is not just a theological debate. It’s more than that. It’s about moral injury.”

Given that the cartoon depicted the Prophet, she wanted to show historical diversity. To explain “how we have come to believe that there have been no images of the Prophet. Where is this coming from? What was the historical movement behind it? Is it absolute?”

Gahan says she never got to speak to the student or students who complained despite attempts to do so, found her online ratings as a professor affected and ultimately had a fruitless discussion with a Muslim organization that got involved. 

By contrast Emon, like many scholars, has shown images of Muhammad in class without offering prior warnings. He has a PowerPoint presentation that only looks at Islamic art and depictions of the Prophet. He has discussed and displayed the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons from 2005 depicting Muhammad.

The art depicts the Prophet as veneration, as honour and also for courtly purposes, he says. The cartoons, on the other hand, do so for denigration and to exemplify “the unbelonging of Islam and Muslims in Europe.”

“That’s the fundamental difference. And if we don’t account for that, then we ignore how embedded in every single depiction of the Prophet is a politics.”

To Emon, the situation at Hamline is not all that different from the hiring fiasco at U of T law school in 2020, when a major donor expressed objections to its plans to hire the academic Valentina Azarova, who had previously criticized Israel.

Demanding professors not discuss history or politics or religion because it is uncomfortable to some is an unreasonable restriction. 

This should not be confused with seeking an overhaul of language, curricula and practices that continue to harm the historically marginalized.

The former quashes intellectual inquiry. The latter seeks to refine critical thinking and ultimately uphold democratic principles of freedom, equality and justice. 

“We, the academy, are being accused of violating something sacred, not respecting something sacred, but we are not the keepers of theology, nor are we the protectors of theology,” says Emon. 

“We are here as academics to question everything. And if society can’t sustain that, then there goes democracy.”

Source: Professor’s firing over Prophet Muhammad art offensive — but not because of ‘wokeism’ or ‘cancel culture’

An art treasure long cherished by Muslims is deemed offensive. But to whom?

Abject surrender to extremists and a further closing of minds:

It is a beautiful painting found in a 14th-century Persian manuscript, the “Compendium of Chronicles”, a history of Islam. It shows the Prophet Muhammad receiving his first Quranic revelations from the angel Gabriel. Christine Gruber, professor of Islamic art at Michigan University, describes it as “a masterpiece of Persian manuscript painting”.

Last October, an instructor at Hamline University, Minnesota, displayed the painting during an online class on Islamic art. The instructor (who has not been named) had warned of what she was about to do in case anyone found the image offensive and did not wish to view it. No matter, a student complained to the university authorities.

David Everett, Hamline’s associate vice-president of inclusive excellence, condemned the classroom exercise as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic”. A letter written by Mark Berkson, chair of the department of religion, defending the instructor and providing historical and religious context for her actions, was published on the website of The Oracle, the university’s student newspaper, and then taken down because it “caused harm”. The instructor was “released” from further teaching duties.

It is a depressing but all too familiar story. From The Satanic Verses to the Danish cartoons to Charlie Hebdo, the last decades have spawned a succession of often murderous controversies over depictions of Islam deemed blasphemous or racist.

What is striking about the Hamline incident, though, is that the image at the heart of the row cannot even in the most elastic of definitions be described as Islamophobic. It is an artistic treasure that exalts Islam and has long been cherished by Muslims.

Yet, to show it is now condemned as Islamophobic because… a student says so. Even to question that claim is to cause “harm”. As Berkson asked in another (unpublished) letter he sent to The Oracle, after his first had been removed: “Are you saying that disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm’?”

That is precisely what the university is saying. “Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” wrote Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and Everett in a letter to staff and students. In what way was showing the painting “disrespecting” Muslims? Those who did not wish to view it did not have to. But others, including Muslims who desired to view the image, had every right to engage with a discussion of Islamic history.

Universities should defend all students’ right to practise their faith. They should not allow that faith to dictate the curriculum. That is to introduce blasphemy taboos into the classroom.

Hamline has effectively declared whole areas of Islamic history beyond scholarly purview because they may cause offence. And not just Islamic history. As Audrey Truschke, associate professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University, observed, Hamline’s action “endangers… professors who show things in class, from premodern Islamic art to Hindu images with swastikas to Piss Christ”.

One can only wonder that the university bureaucrats who declared representations of Muhammad to be proscribed by Islam did not ask themselves why, if this was true, there were figurative Islamic paintings to show the class in the first place? There has developed a historical amnesia about the many Islamic traditions, especially Persian, Turkish and Indian, which have celebrated portrayals of Muhammad; portrayals found in manuscripts, paintings, postcards, even in mosques.

While there have always been debates on this issue within Islam, the strict prohibition on picturing Muhammad is primarily Sunni and relatively recent. The growth of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist strand of Islam that developed in the 18th century and came eventually to be the ideological cement of modern Saudi Arabia, has been particularly important. Saudi petrodollars have allowed the fanatically austere character of Wahhabism to find greater global purchase.

Even so, Gruber observes, as late as 2000, a senior Saudi-based legal scholar recognised certain portrayals of Muhammad as both “permissible and laudable”. Only in the wake of 9/11, and the emergence of more fundamentalist forms of Islam, did the absolute prohibition of images of Muhammad become more widely accepted.

The actions of Hamline University are a threat not just to academic freedom but to religious freedom, too. They implicitly disavow the variety of traditions that constitute Islam and condemn those traditions as in some sense so bigoted that they cannot be shown in a class on Islamic art history. University bureaucrats are, as non-Muslims, taking part in a theological debate within Islam and siding with the extremists.

That is why, the historian Amna Khalid observes, it is as a Muslim she is most offended by Hamline’s actions that have “flattened the rich history and diversity of Islamic thought” and “privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view”. In an age in which there are demands for the syllabus to be “decolonised”, she adds, “Hamline’s position is a kind of arch-imperialism, reinforcing a monolithic image of Muslims propounded by the cult of authentic Islam”.

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of Hamline’s action is the use of the language of diversity to eviscerate the very meaning of diversity. This is an issue not confined to Hamline. Too many people today demand that we respect the diversity of society, but fail to see the diversity of minority communities in those societies. As a result, progressive voices often get dismissed as not being authentic, while the most conservative figures become celebrated as the true embodiment of their communities.

Here, liberal “anti-racism” meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For bigots, all Muslims are reactionary and their values incompatible with those of liberal societies. For too many liberals, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim; that to be Muslim is to find the Danish cartoons offensive and the depiction of Muhammed “harmful”. Both bigots and liberals erase the richness and variety of Muslim communities.

The Hamline controversy shows how the concepts of diversity and tolerance have become turned on their head. Diversity used to mean the creation of a space for dissent and disagreement and tolerance the willingness to live with things that one might find offensive or distasteful. Now, diversity too often describes a space in which dissent and disagreement have to be expunged in the name of “respect” and tolerance requires one to refrain from saying or doing things that might be deemed offensive. It is time we re-grasped both diversity and tolerance in their original sense.

Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist. His book, Not So Black and White, is published by Hurst (£20).

Source: An art treasure long cherished by Muslims is deemed offensive. But to whom?

Survey: Religiously, Congress doesn’t reflect America

Of interest. Haven’t seen a comparable analysis of Canadian MPs but in general Canadian MPs are relatively more diverse than their American counterparts:

Religiously speaking, the incoming 118th Congress looks like America — that is, the America of decades past, rather than today.

Congress is far more Christian, and religious overall, than today’s general population.

Even though nearly three in 10 Americans claim no religious affiliation — a rate that has steadily risen in recent years — only two of the 534 incoming members of Congress will admit to as much.

Those are among the conclusions of an analysis by Pew Research Center of the 118th Congress, which was expected to start this week pending a House leadership vote.

The Congress “remains largely untouched by two trends that have long marked religious life in the United States: a decades-long decline in the share of Americans who identify as Christian, and a corresponding increase in the percentage who say they have no religious affiliation,” said the Pew report, released Tuesday. It was based on a CQ Roll Call survey of members of Congress.

Nearly 88% of members of Congress identify as Christian, compared with only 63% of U.S. adults overall. That includes 57% of congresspersons who identify as Protestant and 28% as Catholic, both higher than national rates. Also, 6% of members of Congress identify as Jewish, compared with 2% of the overall population.

While 29% Americans claim no religious affiliation, they’d have to squint to see themselves reflected in Congress. The only overtly non-religious members are U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who identifies as humanist, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, independent of Arizona, who says she’s religiously unaffiliated.

Pew listed 20 other members of Congress as having unknown religious affiliations, either because they declined to answer CQ Roll Call’s query or because the answers are otherwise muddled (such as in the case of New York Republican George Santos, along with much else in his background).

Historically, lacking a religious identity was seen as a political liability.

Only 60% of Americans told a Gallup survey in 2019 that they’d be willing to vote for an atheist — fewer than would vote for gays or lesbians or various religious or ethnic groups.

But Huffman said he experienced no political blowback.

“If anything, there’s a political upside,” he said. “People appreciate the fact that I’m just being honest.”

He said many colleagues in Congress find religion to be politically useful, “particularly across the aisle, how so many of them exploit and weaponize religion but seem to be totally divorced from any authentic connection to the religion they’re weaponizing.”

The ranks of Christians in Congress has dipped only slightly over the decades, though it’s a different story with the general population. Since 2007, Christians have gone from 78% to 63% of the population, while the non-affiliated rose from 16% to 29%, according to Pew. The trend line is even more dramatic when looking back to 1990, when nearly nine in 10 Americans identified as Christian, while less than one in 10 identified as non-religious, according to researchers at Trinity College in Connecticut.

In some ways, the two political parties conform to perception.

The Republican congressional delegation is a staggering 99% Christian, with the rest Jewish or unknown. Republicans — who have long embraced Christian expressions in their political functions and where an aggressive form of Christian nationalism has become more mainstream — include 69% Protestants, 25% Catholics and 5% other Christians (such as Mormon and Orthodox).

Democrats have more religious diversity, at about 76% Christian (including 44% Protestant, 31% Catholic and 1.5% Orthodox) and 12% Jewish. They have about 1% each of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Unitarian Universalist representation.

But Democrats’ paucity of openly non-affiliated members contrasts starkly with a constituency to which it owes much.

Religiously unaffiliated voters opted overwhelmingly for Democrats candidates in the 2022 midterms. They voted for Democrats over Republicans by more than a 2 to 1 margin in House races, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 94,000 voters nationwide. And in some bellwether races, the unaffiliated went as high as 4 to 1 for Democrats.

“The fact that the (Democratic) leadership doesn’t reflect an open, secular identity is paradoxical, but I think it’s the nature of realpolitik,” said Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He said Democrats know that non-religious voters align with them on the issues, but party leaders also don’t want to alienate other, more religious parts of the party’s base, particularly Black Protestants.

Party leaders “speak to the politics of secular people but don’t want to take on the identity,” he said.

Zuckerman added that conservative Christians face the “branding problem” similar to what atheists once faced. Many voters, he said, have reacted against Christian nationalism, and young voters in particular are alienated by conservative Christian stances against LGBTQ people, while many voters of all ages have reacted against Christian nationalism.

He cited a prominent incident in 2020 when authorities forcibly cleared Black Lives Matter protesters in Lafayette Park in Washington, after which President Donald Trump walked to a nearby church and held up a Bible.

“When Trump held up that Bible in front of that church in D.C., he did more damage to the Christian brand than Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris combined,” Zuckerman said, referring to popular atheist authors.

In 2018, Huffman helped found the Congressional Freethought Caucus. It had a roster of about 15 members in the previous Congress.

“It’s people of different religious perspectives, but what brings us together is a common belief that there should be a bright line of separation between church and state and that we should make public policy based on facts and reason and science, and not religion,” he said.

He predicted that in time, more members of Congress would identify with secular values.

“It’s going to be a trailing reflection of this change that has been happening for a couple of decades now,” he said. ”It takes a while for politicians to figure out that it’s OK to do things like this.”

The Pew report analyzed one short of Congress’ capacity of 535 because one member, Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., died in November after being re-elected

Source: Survey: Religiously, Congress doesn’t reflect America

ICYMI – Khan: Banning education for Afghan women runs counter to Islamic teachings

Of note:

Soon after the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan last year, they issued a “temporary” policy requiring all Afghan women to stay at home until their fighters could be trained to respect women. During the 20 years it had taken to reforge an army, the Taliban had failed to instill this basic notion among its troops. And they had no shame in admitting it.

That policy has since become permanent and, clearly, there was never any real intention to develop respect for women within the Taliban’s ranks. The group has gradually reverted to the oppressive policies of its previous rule during the late 1990s, including reneging on its promise to provide education to girls and women, among other rights.

In the fall of 2021, the Taliban allowed women to attend university courses in gender-segregated classrooms, with instructors who were either female or old men. A dress code requiring loose-fitting clothing and a hijab was imposed. Then last spring, it rescinded a promise to allow girls to attend high school. Soon after, all Afghan women were ordered to wear a niqab in public, told to not leave their homes unless “necessary,” and banned from travelling without a male relative.

This past August in Kabul, women protested these draconian rules, chanting “bread, work and freedom,” as many had been relegated to poverty because of the imposed mobility restrictions. They, along with journalists who covered the protests, were beaten by Taliban fighters. In November, parks, gyms, public baths and theme parks were declared off-limits to women at all times.

The latest salvo in female erasure: Women have been “suspended” from attending university entirely, in order to preserve the “national interest” and “women’s honour,” according to the Taliban. There have been heartbreaking scenes of female students sobbing as they are turned away from university gates by Taliban guards. Dreams of getting an education, and hopes of serving their country, have been shattered. The Taliban have also banned women from working with NGOs, leading some to suspend operations.

There is no theological basis for the outrageous ban on female education in Afghanistan – the only country where such a prohibition exists. The Quran’s first revelation was the command, “Read!” It exhorts followers to reflect, to study the natural world, and to offer the prayer: “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” Islamic history is replete with female scholars and judges. The world’s oldest university, according to UNESCO, is Al Quaraouiyine in Fez, Morocco, which was initially built in the 9th century by Fatima al-Fihri, who was highly educated in Islamic jurisprudence.

It is clear that the Taliban see nothing honourable in women, nor have any interest in their historical role or contemporary presence. Rather, they are viewed through the lens of misogyny, and seen as being troublesome and a source of fitnah (temptation). The Taliban believe that women should be removed from the public sphere, confined to their homes and kept illiterate.

International criticism of the women’s education ban has been swift and damning, especially from Muslim countries. Turkey’s government called the university ban “neither Islamic nor humane,” while Saudi Arabia has expressed “astonishment and regret” over the decree, joining Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in calling for the Taliban to reverse their decision.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), on behalf of its 57 member states, expressed “deep frustration.” The Gulf Cooperation Council not only condemned the decision as a clear violation of human rights, but also pointed out the obvious: that denying women’s education can “doom the economic future of Afghanistan, relegating half of its people to a life of poverty and ignorance.” There is no “national interest” – only national disaster – in banning education for women and girls.

Afghans are courageously standing up to this oppression. Male students walked out of their exams at several universities, in solidarity with their female counterparts. Protests have broken out in Kabul and Herat, as women, armed with their voices and moral conviction, demand a reversal of the ban. They have been met with arrests and water cannons.

Here in Canada, Muslim leaders can do their part by reminding communities that education is a right for all, that seeking knowledge is a duty, and that banning such opportunities for women is antithetical to Islamic teachings.

We must support all efforts to overturn the Taliban’s education ban while providing Afghan girls and women with online educational opportunities or even university placements until their full rights are restored. We must also support the women of Iran in their struggle. Once again, I say to the ruling elites, be they religious or secular: Leave Muslim women alone.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.

Source: Opinion: Banning education for Afghan women runs counter to …

Khan: The downfall of Quebec’s Bill 21 could come thanks to women

We will see:

The notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter is no longer an obscure legal term. Thanks to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent use of Section 33 to prevent job action by education workers – he has invoked the clause, or threatened to do so, three times in four years – ordinary Canadians now know that their basic human rights can be suspended at any time. We aren’t talking about emergency measures here, nor are we discussing reasonable limits through democratic mechanisms; ours is the only constitutional democracy that potentially allows for the gutting of basic rights in the name of what a parliamentary majority deems a matter of governance.

Who could have foreseen the consequences of this clause?

Well, Canadian women, for one.

When the Charter was being drafted, women demanded equality rights – but they were derided at committee hearings for doing so. In 1980, Senator Harry Hays derisively countered by suggesting special rights for babies and children, since “all you girls will be out working and we’re not going to have anybody to look after them.” A year later, more than 1,300 women descended on Parliament Hill to assert equality rights in the Constitution, by affirming Section 15 on general equality and proposing Section 28, on gender equality rights.

Initially, the notwithstanding clause could have been used on Section 28, too. But women fought for its exclusion, having had the foresight to ensure that gender equality rights could not be denied by the potential whims of future governments. We owe them a great deal.

And yet, today, we see the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause leading to disproportionate damage to Muslim women in Quebec.

François Legault’s government has pre-emptively used the notwithstanding clause twice since 2019, to ensure the passage of two bills. One of them, Bill 21, bans some public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols, but lawyers have provided evidence at the Quebec Court of Appeal – which heard a legal challenge to the bill this month – that only Muslim women who wear the hijab have lost their jobs as a result of it.

Indeed, Quebec’s religious minorities have felt increased alienation and despair in recent years, according to the Association for Canadian Studies. Its survey found that the situation is particularly dire for Muslim women: 73 per cent of them said they’ve felt less safe in public since 2019, while 83 per cent said their confidence in their children’s future has worsened.

The Quebec government touted Bill 21 as a “feminist” law, but it has only reinforced prejudices, and given license to bigots. I know this firsthand: During a visit to Montreal, I was berated by a middle-aged francophone Uber driver for wearing the hijab. At the end of the ride, he asked me not to file a complaint. (Of course, I did the opposite.)

This all illustrates Bill 21′s egregious violation of Section 28 of the Charter – namely, that the law disproportionately affects women, and thus violates gender equality. Since the notwithstanding clause cannot override Section 28, Bill 21 could be seen by the courts as invalid – an argument that University of New Brunswick law professor Kerri Froc raised years ago, and is now gaining traction.

Quebec Muslim women are not wilting. They have protested alongside allies who believe in a Quebec where all individuals can thrive. Take, for example, Institut F, a Montreal-based organization that seeks to ensure Muslim women’s personal agency. Its programs provide resources so that each woman knows that she belongs, her voice matters and she is a valued member of society – even if the Quebec government thinks otherwise. At a recent Institut event, I met talented Muslim women in STEM fields such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and data science – talent that Quebec needs to remain economically competitive. Yet, many of those women expressed doubts about thriving in a society that overtly discriminates against religious minorities.

Something may have to give on this front, too. The labour shortage is so acute in Quebec that the town of Hérouxville – infamous for issuing a code of conduct for immigrants warning them not to stone or burn women alive – is now actively courting newcomers. Today, neighbouring towns are helping migrants find halal food. Economic reality will force the realization that attracting workers means making all feel welcome – not just a select few.

Bill 21’s damage has been done – abetted by the notwithstanding clause. The women who fought to exclude Section 28 from the clause knew its dangers. As Canadians, we must continue that fight to guarantee basic rights for all, be they religious and linguistic minorities in Quebec, education workers in Ontario, or anyone threatened by the notwithstanding clause.

Source: The downfall of Quebec’s Bill 21 could come thanks to women

USA: Religious groups with immigrant members grew fastest over past decade

Similar as in Canada as Douglas Todd has reported on:

A decennial study of U.S. religious life shows what many demographers and others have long known: Participation in congregational services has not kept up with overall population growth. However, religious groups drawing large numbers of immigrants have seen steady growth.

The U.S. Religion Census, conducted every 10 years by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, concluded there were 356,739 religious congregations across the nation, and 161 million adherents, including children, in 2020. (Adherents is the formula researchers used to count those with an affiliation to a congregation, including children and people who attend but may not belong.)

Unlike polling, which asks questions from a small sample of the population and extrapolates to the general population, the religion census gathers information from denominations and other religious bodies and maps out the number of congregations and adherents on a county-wide basis. In the 2020 study, researchers collected data from 372 religious bodies, mostly denominations, but also 44,000 independent nondenominational churches. The count included synagogues, mosques and temples of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Jain traditions

Courtesy Chart

Courtesy Chart

The study finds that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is the largest religious body, with 61 million adherents in more than 19,000 churches, comprising close to 19% of the U.S. population. That’s a modest growth of 2 million adherents from 2010, when the church had nearly 59 million adherents.

Sociologist who worked on the census said growth is almost entirely made up of Hispanic immigrants.

“If you took away the Hispanic population in the Catholic Church, it would look as bad as mainline denominations,” said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, who counted independent churches for the census. (Mainline denominations, such as Episcopalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian, have been declining for more than 50 years.)

Perhaps the most striking growth was among Muslims. The number of Muslims who participate in mosque prayer increased from 2.6 million in 2010 to 4.5 million in 2020, a 75% increase. (Pew Research estimates there were 3.85 million Muslims in the U.S. in 2020, but those numbers do not include children.)

That growth is due mainly to immigration, said Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky, who collected the data for Muslims. Higher birth rates may be a secondary reason.

Bagby estimated the number of U.S. mosques at 2,771, a jump of 871 mosques in just a decade.

He suggested Muslims may be in a kind of golden age in the U.S. They are younger than the American population overall, and the Boomers among them are financially well off and able to contribute to the construction of new mosques. (First-generation mosques were often in retrofitted churches or warehouses.)

Mosques, Bagby said, “have mellowed and matured and become more moderate in their understanding of Islam and that has also been an attraction,” he said. “Many Muslims who had kept away feel more comfortable coming.”

Courtesy Chart

Courtesy Chart

U.S. mosques, like those overseas, do not typically keep memberships. Bagby said he arrived at his estimates by asking for information on weekly Jumah prayers as well as holiday or Eid prayers. (Muslims make up about 2.8% of all religious adherents and about 1.3% of the total population, the study estimates.)

Much of the value of the census is its county-level aggregation, which corresponds to how researchers in other fields, such as population studies and public health, collect and analyze data, said Rich Houseal, secretary-treasurer of the sociological group that conducted the study.

Houseal said the data is also useful to businesses, too. Walmart, he said, has contacted him to help determine what books to stock in their stores based on the dominant religious group in a county.

Among other interesting data points in the study:

  • Southern Baptists have the most churches of any religious group: 51,379.

  • There are some 44,319 nondenominational churches, a jump of nearly 9,000 over 10 years ago, and about 9 million adherents. Still, overall, they account for only 13% of the total number of religious adherents in the U.S.
  • Southern Baptists and United Methodists each lost 2 million members from 2010 to 2020.

“Denominational brands have weakened, and divisions have increased over issues such as female clergy or sexual orientation, Thumma said. “This likely led some adherents to seek or even start new nondenominational churches.”

Source: Religious groups with immigrant members grew fastest over past decade

The Canadian census: A rich portrait of the country’s religious and ethnocultural diversity

More highlights from the StatsCan daily:

More than 450 ethnic or cultural origins were reported in the 2021 Census. The top origins reported by Canada’s population, alone or with other origins, were “Canadian” (5.7 million people), “English” (5.3 million), “Irish” (4.4 million), “Scottish” (4.4 million) and “French” (4.0 million).

In 2021, over 19.3 million people reported a Christian religion, representing just over half of the Canadian population (53.3%). However, this proportion is down from 67.3% in 2011 and 77.1% in 2001.

Approximately 12.6 million people, or more than one-third of Canada’s population, reported having no religious affiliation. The proportion of this population has more than doubled in 20 years, going from 16.5% in 2001 to 34.6% in 2021.

While small, the proportion of Canada’s population who reported being Muslim, Hindu or Sikh has more than doubled in 20 years. From 2001 to 2021, these shares rose from 2.0% to 4.9% for Muslims, from 1.0% to 2.3% for Hindus and from 0.9% to 2.1% for Sikhs.

Racialized groups in Canada are all experiencing growth. In 2021, South Asian (7.1%), Chinese (4.7%) and Black (4.3%) people together represented 16.1% of Canada’s total population.

The portrait of racialized groups varies across regions. For example, the South Asian, Chinese and Black populations are the largest groups in Ontario, while the largest groups are Black and Arab people in Quebec, Chinese and South Asians in British Columbia, and South Asians and Filipinos in the Prairies.

Source: The Canadian census: A rich portrait of the country’s religious and ethnocultural diversity

ICYMI: Douglas Todd: Hate crimes against Catholics almost tripled. Do Canadians care?

The Canadian Catholic church and its members, many of whom are Indigenous or immigrants, were last year buffeted by a horrendous 260 per cent spike in hate crimes.
Of note, from a small base of 42 in 2020 to 155 in 2021. Suspect largely due to the discovery of possible unmarked graves and greater attention to the Catholic Church’s involvement in residential schools:
Catholics were subject to a far higher escalation in police-reported hate incidents than any other religious or racial group, according to a Statistics Canada study.

Source: Douglas Todd: Hate crimes against Catholics almost tripled. Do Canadians care?