Is China’s atheist Communist Party trying to eradicate Islam?

As they have tried for other religions:

Green-domed mosques still dominate the skyline of China’s “Little Mecca”, but they have undergone a profound change – no longer do boys flit through their stone courtyards en route to classes and prayers.

In what locals said they fear is a deliberate move to eradicate Islam, the atheist ruling Communist Party has banned children under 16 from religious activity or study in Linxia, a deeply Islamic region in western China’s Gansu province that had offered a haven of comparative religious freedom for the ethnic Hui Muslims there.

China governs Xinjiang, another majority Muslim region in its far west, with an iron fist to weed out what it calls “religious extremism” and “separatism” in the wake of deadly unrest, throwing ethnic Uygurs into shadowy re-education camps without due process for minor infractions such as owning a Koran or even growing a beard.

Now, Hui Muslims fear similar surveillance and repression.

“The winds have shifted” in the past year, said a senior imam who requested anonymity. “Frankly, I’m very afraid they’re going to implement the Xinjiang model here.”

Local authorities have severely curtailed the number of people over 16 officially allowed to study in each mosque and limited certification processes for new imams.

They have also instructed mosques to display national flags and stop sounding the call to prayer to reduce “noise pollution” – with loudspeakers removed entirely from all 355 mosques in a neighbouring county.

“They want to secularise Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots,” the imam said, shaking with barely restrained emotion. “These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in communism and the party.”

More than 1,000 boys used to attend his mid-sized mosque to study Koranic basics during summer and winter school holidays but now they are banned from even entering the premises.

His classrooms are still full of huge Arabic books from Saudi Arabia, browned with age and bound in heavy leather. But only 20 officially registered pupils over the age of 16 are now allowed to use them.

Parents were told the ban on extracurricular Koranic study was for their children’s own good, so they could rest and focus on secular coursework. But most are utterly panicked.

“We’re scared, very scared. If it goes on like this, after a generation or two, our traditions will be gone,” said Ma Lan, a 45-year-old caretaker, tears dripping quietly into her uneaten bowl of beef noodle soup.

Inspectors checked her local mosque every few days during the last school holiday to ensure none of the 70 or so village boys were present.

Their imam initially tried holding lessons in secret before sunrise but soon gave up, fearing repercussions.

Instead of studying five hours a day at the mosque, her 10-year-old son stayed home watching television. She said he dreamed of being an imam, but his schoolteachers had encouraged him to make money and become a communist cadre.

The Hui number nearly 10 million, half the country’s Muslim population, according to 2012 government statistics.

In Linxia, they have historically been well integrated with the ethnic Han majority, able to openly express their devotion and centre their lives around their faith.

Women in headscarves dish out boiled lamb in mirror-panelled halal eateries while streams of white-hatted men meander into mosques for afternoon prayers, passing shops hawking rugs, incense and “eight treasure tea”, a local speciality including dates and dried chrysanthemum buds.

But in January, local officials signed a decree pledging to ensure that no individual or organisation would “support, permit, organise or guide minors towards entering mosques for Koranic study or religious activities”, or push them towards religious beliefs.

“I cannot act contrary to my beliefs. Islam requires education from cradle to grave. As soon as children are able to speak we should begin to teach them our truths,” he said.

“It feels like we are slowly moving back towards the repression of the Cultural Revolution,” he said, referring to a nationwide purge from 1966 until 1976 when local mosques were dismantled or turned into donkey sheds.

Other imams complained authorities were issuing fewer certificates required to practise or teach and now only to graduates of state-sanctioned institutions.

“For now, there are enough of us, but I fear for the future. Even if there are still students, there won’t be anyone of quality to teach them,” one imam said.

Local authorities failed to answer repeated calls seeking comment but Linxia’s youth ban comes as China rolls out its newly revised Religious Affairs Regulations.

The rules have intensified punishments for unsanctioned religious activities across all faiths and regions.

Beijing was targeting minors “as a way to ensure that faith traditions die out while also maintaining the government’s control over ideological affairs”, said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International.

Another imam said the tense situation in Xinjiang was at the root of changes in Linxia.

The government believed that “religious piety fosters fanaticism, which spawns extremism, which leads to terrorist acts – so they want to secularise us”, he said.

But many Hui are quick to distinguish themselves from Uygurs.

“They believe in Islam too, but they’re violent and bloodthirsty. We’re nothing like that,” said Muslim hairdresser Ma Jiancai, 40, drawing on common stereotypes.

Sitting under the elegant eaves of a Sufi shrine complex, a young scholar from Xinjiang said his family had sent him alone aged five to Linxia to study the Koran with a freedom not possible in his hometown.

“Things are very different here,” he said with knitted brows. “I hope to stay.”

Source: Is China’s atheist Communist Party trying to eradicate Islam?

ICYMI – The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam

Interesting:

Lurking in the background of a Saudi-Moroccan spat over World Cup hosting rights and the Gulf crisis is a more fundamental competition for the mantle of spearheading promotion of a moderate interpretation of Islam.

It’s a competition in which history and long-standing religious diplomacy gives Morocco a leg up compared to Saudi Arabia, long a citadel of Sunni Muslim intolerance and ultra-conservatism.

Saudi Arabia is the new, baggage-laden kid on the block with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asserting that he is returning the kingdom to a top-down, undefined form of moderate Islam.

To be sure, Prince Mohammed has dominated headlines in the last year with long-overdue social reforms such as lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening restrictions on cultural expression and entertainment.

The crown prince has further bolstered his projection of a kingdom that is putting ultra-conservative social and religious strictures behind it by relinquishing control of Brussels’ Saudi-managed Great Mosque and reports that he is severely cutting back on decades-long, global Saudi financial support for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative educational, cultural and religious institutions.

Yet, Prince Mohammed has also signalled the limits of his definition of moderate Islam. His recurrent rollbacks have often been in response to ultra-conservative protests not just from the ranks of the kingdom’s religious establishment but also segments of the youth that constitute the mainstay of his popularity.

Just this week, Prince Mohammed sacked Ahmad al-Khatib, the head of entertainment authority he had established. The government gave no reason for Mr. Al-Khatib’s dismissal, but it followed online protests against a controversial Russian circus performance in Riyadh, which included women wearing “indecent clothes.”

The protests were prompted by a video on social media that featured a female performer in a tight pink costume.

In a similar vein, the Saudi sports authority closed a female fitness centre in Riyadh in April over a contentious promotional video that appeared to show a woman working out in leggings and a tank-top. A spokesman for the royal court, Saud al-Qahtani, said the closure was in line with the kingdom’s pursuit of “moderation without moral breakdown.”

Saudi sports czar Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh said “the gym had its licence suspended over a deceitful video that circulated on social media promoting the gym disgracefully and breaching the kingdom’s code of conduct.”

Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sports authority moreover apologized recently for airing a promotional video of a World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., event that showed scantily clad female wrestlers drawing euphoric cheers from men and women alike.

To be sure, the United States, which repeatedly saw ultra-conservative Islam as a useful tool during the Cold War, was long supportive of Saudi propagation of Islamic puritanism that also sought to counter the post-1979 revolutionary Iranian zeal.

Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia’s more recent wrestle with what it defines as moderate and effort to rebrand itself contrasts starkly with long-standing perceptions of Morocco as an icon of more liberal interpretations of the faith.

While Saudi Islamic scholars have yet to convince the international community that they have had a genuine change of heart, Morocco has emerged as a focal point for the training of European and African imams in cooperation with national governments.

Established three years ago, Morocco’s Mohammed VI Institute for Imam Training has so far graduated 447 imams; 212 Malians, 37 Tunisians, 100 Guineans, 75 Ivorians, and 23 Frenchmen.

The institute has signed training agreements with Belgium, Russia and Libya and is negotiating understandings with Senegal.

Critics worry that Morocco’s promotion of its specific version of Islam, which fundamentally differs from the one that was long prevalent in Saudi Arabia, still risks Morocco curbing rather than promoting religious diversity.

Albeit on a smaller scale than the Saudi campaign, Morocco has in recent years launched a mosque building program in West Africa as part of its soft power policy and effort to broaden its focus that was long centred on Europe rather than its own continent.

On visits to Africa, King Mohammed VI makes a point of attending Friday prayers and distributing thousands of copies of the Qur’an.

In doing so Morocco benefits from the fact that its religious ties to West Africa date back to the 11th century when the Berber Almoravid dynast converted the region to Islam. King Mohammed, who prides himself on being a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, retains legitimacy as the region’s ‘Commander of the Faithful.’

West African Sufis continue to make annual pilgrimages to a religious complex in Fez that houses the grave of Sidi Ahmed Tijani, the 18thcentury founder of a Sufi order.

All of this is not to say that Morocco does not have an extremism problem of its own. Militants attacked multiple targets in Casablanca in 2003, killing 45 people. Another 17 died eight years later in an attack in Marrakech. Militants of Moroccan descent were prominent in a spate of incidents in Europe in recent years.

Nonetheless, protests in 2011 at the time of the popular Arab revolts and more recently have been persistent but largely non-violent.

Critics caution however that Morocco is experiencing accelerated conservatism as a result of social and economic grievances as well as an education system that has yet to wholeheartedly embrace more liberal values.

Extremism is gaining ground,” warned Mohamed Elboukili, an academic and human rights activist, pointing to an increasing number of young women who opt to cover their heads.

“You can say to me this scarf doesn’t mean anything. Yes, it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s isolating the girl from the boy. Now she’s wearing the scarf, but later on she’s not going to shake hands with the boy . . . Later on she’s not going to study in the same class with boys. Those are the mechanisms of an Islamist state, that’s how it works,” Mr. Elboukili said.

Mr. Elboukili’s observations notwithstanding, it is Morocco rather than Saudi Arabia that many look to for the promotion of forms of Islam that embrace tolerance and pluralism. Viewed from Riyadh, Morocco to boot has insisted on pursuing an independent course instead of bowing to Saudi dictates.

Morocco refused to support Saudi Arabia in its debilitating, one-year-old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar but recently broke off relations with Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of supporting Frente Polisario insurgents in the Western Sahara.

Moroccan rejection of Saudi tutelage poses a potential problem for a man like Prince Mohammed, whose country is the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities and who has been ruthless in attempting to impose his will on the Middle East and North Africa and position the kingdom as the region’s undisputed leader.

Yet, Saudi Arabia’s ability to compete for the mantle of moderate Islam is likely to be determined in the kingdom itself rather than on a regional stage. And that will take far more change than Prince Mohammed has been willing to entertain until now.

Source: The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam

Maryam’s daughters: Is Berkeley mosque changing the face of contemporary Islam or eroding the faith?

Interesting:

This story originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of San Francisco magazine. Read the rest of the issue’s content as it becomes available.

Inside Berkeley’s Qal’bu Maryam, Tuli Bennett-Bose was preparing for jummah, the Friday prayer service. At 18, Bennett-Bose was a recent convert to Islam, and still working out the intricacies of dress and ritual that come with being an observant Muslim. “I’m a half-jabi,” she joked as she rewrapped her rust-colored hijab to frame her face. Sometimes she prefers to let her head covering reveal some of her silver pixie cut. On this afternoon, she was covering all of her hair because of the service, and also because it was raining.

Qal’bu Maryam — Arabic for “Maryam’s heart” — opened in Berkeley in April 2017. The mosque represents a stark departure from orthodox Muslim tradition, welcoming LGBTQ congregants, allowing women to lead prayers and deliver sermons (called khutbahs), and encouraging all genders to pray shoulder to shoulder. Bennett-Bose stumbled upon the congregation online and was drawn to its inclusivity. “I know that I was meant to be Muslim,” she says. “But I also knew that I was gay before I converted.” Although many mainstream strains of Islam shun homosexuality, Bennett-Bose took the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. Soon after, she visited Qal’bu Maryam.

Neither Qal’bu Maryam nor its founder, Rabia Keeble, who converted to Islam 15 years ago, have been universally welcomed within the East Bay’s Muslim community. Some faith leaders criticize the congregation for its deviation from traditions that have been in place for millennia. Abdullah Ali, an assistant professor at nearby Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim undergraduate university in the country, has little love for Keeble’s “particular project.” Men and women praying side by side “is definitely not the instruction given by our prophet,” he says, referring to the hadith, or the sayings of Prophet Muhammad. “The instruction was very clear, and we know what prayer looked like at this time: Women pray behind men.”

More important, Ali says, Qal’bu Maryam was founded with the explicit intention of being “provocative” and, in particular, of antagonizing people who are committed to traditional Islamic teachings. “They want to challenge what they consider to be orthodoxy,” he says.

On that point, he won’t get much argument from Keeble. An Ohio-raised woman (she declines to share her age), Keeble came to the faith in 2003 and lives by a “no tolerance for bullshit” policy, doling out grand, confrontational statements that often rankle whomever she’s debating. “What I did started a conversation,” she tells me of Qal’bu Maryam’s founding. “Men and women need to learn together. This will end misogyny within the religious sphere.”

Keeble is a self-proclaimed “third-wave black feminist and womanist” whose daily getup includes hijab, eyeliner, and bright lipstick. Central to her mission is to reconcile Islam with contemporary feminism; it’s on this point that she encounters the most resistance. Both she and Ali believe the two worldviews can and do coexist. How they achieve it, however, is very much a point of contention.

Feminist Islam is not a new concept. While Europe suffered through the Dark Ages, women in Arabia benefited from inheritance, consent as a requirement for marriage, and education. Muslims frequently cite the Prophet’s wife, Khadija, an independent businesswoman, as evidence of the faith’s feminist principles in action.

“Feminists are not anti-Islam. We want the fulfillment of what the Prophet, peace be upon him, started before his death,” Keeble says. Ali agrees that Islam can be consistent with feminist ideology, but he points to liberation feminism, which “accepts that men and women are fundamentally different and that men have often belittled the importance of women.” “Equality feminism” of the type practiced by “people like Rabia Keeble” is not compatible with Islam, he says. “Equality feminism is focused on attempting to equalize the degree of influence and level of authority between men and women to the extent that we completely ignore biological differences.”

For Ali, the hadith was never to be taken as a sign of women’s inferiority, “just as leading the prayer was never taken as a sign of political power.” Instead, he says, the practice is rooted in principle: “The Prophet told the people, ‘Pray as you see me pray.’ And we know that the norm is that he was always leading prayer during his lifetime.” For that reason and others — for instance, the fact that Keeble thinks women can pray while on their periods, a practice considered taboo by Ali and others—he looks upon Qal’bu Maryam as a prayer space, not a mosque. It lacks the sanctity, he says, that a mosque deserves.

It’s exactly that inequality, in Keeble’s eyes, that has hurt Muslim women and caused them to have shallower relationships with their faith. Because of male dominance in mosques, “it is very difficult for women to approach the imam after sermons to ask questions,” she explains.

Fighting for her congregation has been draining for Keeble. Earlier this year, she took a month-long leave from the mosque to regroup; aside from dealing with “so-called volunteers who were all talk and no show,” she was “physically worn out” from handling outreach and logistics alone. She was also attending speaking engagements, creating and distributing weekly advertisements, and scheduling Friday speakers. During her period of reflection, she refocused on Qal’bu Maryam’s mission, paying particular attention to the sermons being delivered there. “I wanted to focus on the use of gendered language specifically. I have to ask myself, Is this language that honors women?”

….

Source: Maryam’s daughters: Is Berkeley mosque changing the face of contemporary Islam or eroding the faith?

Reuven Firestone: Muslims and Jews are ‘manipulated by fear’

Interesting and relevant historical and social context:

With attacks on Jews in Germany increasing, DW spoke with the renowned theologian Reuven Firestone, about the complex relations between Islam and Judaism, and how Muslims and Jews could be brought closer together.

Deutsche Welle: There are studies that claim that the religion of Islam is essentially against Judaism? Do you agree with this theological position?

Reuven Firestone: Islam emerged in an environment in which major religions already existed. The birth of a new religion is always seen as a critique of the old religions. Its very existence is a statement that says, “Well, the old religion is not good enough; otherwise why would God reveal a new scripture that corrects or nullifies what is currently practiced?” So the followers of established religions always resent the newcomer.

At the time of Islam’s birth in Arabia in the seventh century, all established religions resented it and attacked its prophet. The Quran records their criticisms and their attacks, and it replies with attacks of its own, criticizing Jews and Christians and believers of the local religions, whom it calls “mushrikun,” or “those who join” other deities with God — i.e., polytheists.

So, yes, the Quran does contain negative references to Jews, but not only about them. It talks negatively about other threatening communities (I should add that it also contains positive references to Jews and Christians, although not to polytheists). The important point is that the Quran and the early Muslims did not criticize Jews exclusively.

We must not forget that the same scenario played out with the emergence of Christianity. The Jews resented those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, and especially that he was God’s incarnation. And the New Testament criticizes Jews in response to attacks on the new community.

Similarly, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) slams the older religions that were clearly against the Israelites.

During the early phase of Islam, Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully. When did the rifts begin to appear, and were the reasons more political than theological?

As I said, there were always tensions between Muslims and Jews over the authority of their respective faiths. It was both a political matter and a theological issue. When Islam became the dominant power, like all pre-modern and non-democratic powers, it privileged the people it identified as its own over all others. Therefore, while Jews (and Christians) were considered citizens of the Muslim world and protected by the law of the land (including religious law, the Sharia), they were given a second-class status that was defined by restrictions in position, prestige and freedom. How this actually worked out in history varied from time to time and place to place. In some situations, Jews were treated essentially as equals, but in others they were persecuted severely.

Explanations such as mine should be understood in a context. Keep in mind that minority communities were not treated equally under law or custom in pre-modern, non-democratic regimes. All historians agree that, on average, Jews suffered more under Christian rule than they did under Muslim rule.

The Prophet Muhammad’s time in exile in the city of Medina provides some great examples of Muslim-Jew coexistence, but at the same time violent conflicts marred their ties. How do you see that phase of Islam, and do the events in Medina, in which the Jewish tribe of Qurayza was said to have betrayed Muhammad, shape present day “Muslim anti-Semitism”?

The tensions, and the violent conflict that eventually broke out between Muhammad and the Jews of Medina, have become points of heavy stereotyping on both sides. A separation between the two communities has grown over the years. Jews were accused of betraying their equal religious and civil status in Medina by trying to aid an enemy intent on destroying Muhammad, and even of trying to assassinate him. As a result, the Jewish communities of Medina were forcibly exiled, and one Jewish community was massacred.

Many Jews and Christians point to this period as a prime example of what they consider the fundamentally violent behavioral norms exhibited by Muhammad that are established in Islam. Many Muslims point to this as a prime example of how Jews are, by nature, deceitful, corrupt and can never be trusted.

There are mixed accounts of those events, and we have no Jewish versions of the story. What is tragic about this is that an incident a millennium and a half ago has become a tool for some radicals in both communities to try to vilify and defame the other.

Although both Judaism and Islam are Abrahamic religions, why do they appear to be so far apart?

Actually, Judaism and Islam are essentially quite close in many ways. In fact, most religious scholars consider them closer to one another than either is to Christianity. The theology of divine unity in Judaism and Islam is understood in Christianity through the Trinitarian nature of God. Jews and Muslims agree that this is simply impossible to accept. Even the theological terminology between Judaism and Islam is quite similar. For example, iḥūd in Hebrew and tawḥīd in Arabic are linguistically related terms that refer to the same essential nature of the absolute unity of God.

What needs to be done to bridge the gulf between Muslims and Jews? What inspirations can be taken from the religious texts?

The tension between Muslims and Jews today cannot be resolved simply by taking inspiration from the sacred texts. Both Judaism and Islam are great and complex religious civilizations. The sacred texts have been read in a variety of ways by people through the ages. One can cite texts that inspire fear and hatred in both religious traditions, and one can cite texts that inspire appreciation and love.

The core of the conflict between Muslims and Jews is a willingness to be manipulated by fear. Fear allows people to draw false conclusions that would not otherwise be possible. All people, with very few exceptions, strive to do good and avoid evil. We must check our impulse to draw negative conclusions based on fear and rumor. Both the Bible and the Quran emphasize that one should not succumb to the fear brought about by evil, but one should only fear God.

Reuven Firestone is the Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, which has campuses in Cincinnati, Ohio, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem. Firestone has written over one hundred scholarly chapters and articles and eight books, with translations into many languages. Having lived with his family in Israel, Egypt and Germany, he regularly lectures in universities and religious centers throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Source: Reuven Firestone: Muslims and Jews are ‘manipulated by fear’

Opinion | The Wrong Way for Germany to Debate Islam – The New York Times

Thoughtful commentary:

It was a warm June day in a northern German village, and I was talking to a Syrian friend outside a local shop. I had just bought some ice cream and offered to share it, but my friend refused. He was observing Ramadan: no food or drink until after sunset.

“If you had found asylum at the Arctic Circle instead of Germany,” I asked, “would you have starved by now?” It wasn’t an entirely academic question. In our village on Germany’s Baltic shore, the sun doesn’t set in summer until around 11 p.m.

My Syrian friend chuckled at the question about the Arctic Circle — where the summer sun never fully vanishes — but insisted: The law is the law; it’s what the Prophet Muhammad commands.

But wouldn’t the prophet be content if you observed, say, Damascus time? I wondered.

He chuckled again: No, this wouldn’t be what he had said.

The exchange left me with mixed feelings. I felt great respect for my friend’s willpower and the idea of Ramadan: to experience deprivation in order to stir empathy with the poor. What startled me, though, was his refusal to question religious commands and at least try to align them with reason without reducing their moral purpose.

This is an anodyne example, but it relates to a conundrum facing Germany as a country. To many non-Muslim Germans, the comparatively high significance that many Muslims attach to divine laws raises the question of to whom all the immigrants and refugees who have come to us in recent years would rather pledge allegiance and loyalty: the state that took them in, or Allah? Are the newcomers really convinced of the blessings of an open, liberal society, or are they just happy to seize its advantages?

The new German minister for the interior, Horst Seehofer, recently addressed this fear with a sentence that was meant as a reassurance to voters: “Islam does not belong to Germany.” With this Mr. Seehofer, who is also the chairman of the conservative Christian Social Union party, is rejecting an opposite claim made back in 2010 by Christian Wulff, then the president, and subsequently by Chancellor Angela Merkel. One of Mr. Seehofer’s party colleagues, Alexander Dobrindt, went even further: “Islam, no matter the form, does not belong to Germany.”

Their provocation is calculated to create a backlash against the naïveté and carelessness of those who have tried to make space for Islam as a part of German culture — a position conservatives think has been dominating public discourse for too long.

What a splendid idea: Counter leftist simplification with rightist crudeness! If there is one thing that doesn’t belong to a enlightened nation like Germany, it is a deliberate coarsening of a debate where a maximum of nuance is needed.

On the surface, of course, there’s an obvious tension between the largely secular, liberal traditions of German culture and those forms of Islam that, for example, place religious law over secular law. But that’s also a moot point: Muslims have been living here in large numbers since the 1960s, and now Germany’s six million Muslims make up roughly 6 percent of the population. The problem is that the way Germany has dealt with them is a history of mistakes.

The first mistake, the one conservatives made, was to believe that the early “guest workers” brought from Turkey in the 1960s, to make up for a labor shortage, would eventually go home again. The second mistake, the one the left made, was to embrace all foreigners, whatever their values. After Sept. 11, more or less all sides have made a third mistake, the failure to ask painful questions about how to reconcile Islam with an pluralist, secular democracy.

Apathy, illusions and false tolerance have left important issues unaddressed for half a century. That has now turned to hostility: Many Germans just don’t believe that Islam is compatible with Western values.

And yet the fact that there are many liberal observant Muslims living in Germany suggests the opposite. These are the people who speak out against false dogma, the overly literal reading of the Quran, and anti-Western teachings. The problem is their small number and the hostility they encounter from fellow Muslims here in Germany.

In a representative survey conducted by the University of Münster in 2016, 47 percent of Turkish immigrants and their descendants said that it was more important for them “to abide by religious commands than by the laws of the country I live in.” Some 32 percent said that Muslims should try to re-erect a social order like the one during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. And 50 percent said there was “only one true religion.”

These are troubling figures. While giving divine laws priority over worldly laws does not necessarily mean rejecting democracy (many Christians and Jews would subscribe to the same statement), the apparent longing of so many Muslims for an authoritarian rather than an open society is shocking. Their intolerance for those of other beliefs matches a political attitude that surprised this country one year ago: Of the roughly 700,000 Turkish Muslims in Germany who participated in the constitutional referendum in Turkey last April, 63 percent voted in favor of granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unilateral powers.

This contempt for liberalism is a real problem, but rhetoric like Mr. Seehofer’s will only make things worse. It will compound a feeling, already widespread among Muslims, of not belonging to Germany anyway. The sentence “Islam does not belong to Germany” is a gift to radicals who hold an obsessive, binary, West versus Islam worldview.

So how do we move on? Instead of prolonging the mistakes of the past, the secular majority in Germany should make clear two things to their fellow Muslim citizens. Yes, Muslims belong here — but belonging brings with it expectations. Being a citizen means, first and foremost, upholding the values and laws that make this country so attractive. The secular majority must learn how to convey this expectation in a clear yet civil manner.

Germans struggle with this because they are uncomfortable, for historical reasons, with making such demands of religious minorities. The problem, in other words, is not just politicians who wield stupid slogans. It is also the majority of nonpopulist Germans who are shy about expressing the terms of participation in a pluralist society.

via Opinion | The Wrong Way for Germany to Debate Islam – The New York Times

Debate On Role Of Islam Divides German Government : The Two-Way : NPR

Merkel has rebuked his comments (Merkel contradicts interior minister, saying ‘Islam belongs to Germany’):

Germany’s new minister of interior, Horst Seehofer, has stirred up debate about the role of Islam in Germany.

In an interview with the German newspaper BILD Seehofer said: “Islam is not a part of Germany. Germany has been influenced by Christianity. This includes free Sundays, church holidays and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. However, the Muslims living in Germany obviously do belong to Germany.”

This statement conflicted with the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel said, even though Germany has been influenced mainly by Christianity and Judaism, there are more than four million Muslims in the country, they “belong to Germany and so does their religion.”

Konstantin von Notz, member of the opposition Green party, protests, “The statement of Interior Minister Seehoher is complete nonsense. Germany cannot afford such behavior in the important questions of integration.”

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone by our constitution,” said Andreas Nick, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. “Individuals should be judged by their behavior which of course needs to comply with the laws of the land — no more, no less.”

Apart from members of Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, only the far-right Alternative for Germany, or the AfD, agreed with his statement. The AfD’s spokesman Jörg Meuthen told NPR that he himself had made similar statements many times before. He maintained that Seehofer was simply not credible on the subject, and the interior minister’s remarks should be viewed as “a populist attempt” by the CSU to take votes from the AfD “ahead of the Bavarian elections in October this year.”

“Islam is definitely part of Germany: millions of Muslims live in Germany and have become citizens of this country,” Mouhanad Khorchide, head of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Muenster, told NPR. “We cannot differentiate between Islam and Muslims. According to the German constitution there is no religion without the individual.”

Khorchide expressed concern about the consequences of Seehofer’s interview. “Such statements polarize the German society,” he said. “Instead of talking of a ‘we,’ which would include Muslims, the conversation now distinguishes between Germans and Muslims. For many Muslims this creates a feeling of being unwanted and unwelcomed. Many of them are second or third generation residents, and Germany is their home.”

An expert on Islamic law, Mathias Rohe, believes the whole debate to be meaningless. “Of course Germany has been influenced by Christianity – but no one ever doubted that,” he said. “No Muslim has ever questioned the Christian history of Germany or demanded a change in that understanding.”

It would make more sense, he said, for people to “concentrate on the considerable number of concrete issues” that will need to be addressed in Germany in the coming years.

via Debate On Role Of Islam Divides German Government : The Two-Way : NPR

HASSAN: Enough with the feminists who stay silent on Islam

Some valid points (e.g., on polygamy, FGM), less so with respect to the hijab:

The usual gusto accompanied International Women’s Day on March 8, with enlightened people of both sexes commending the strides we have made. Women debated our roles in this day and age, and how our lot can be further improved.

Needless to say, even after decades of public conversations on women’s rights, their plight in undeveloped nations has not changed much. In fact, in this politically correct era there are some nominal Western feminists who say too little about the suffering of third world women.

As always, developed countries have fared better. The biggest news is the #MeToo movement, which has prompted public conversations on sexual harassment faced by women in various settings, but especially the workplace. Actions bring reactions, however; while the movement has raised awareness on these issues, some employers may now fear to hire women because they anticipate sexual allegations.

There were already issues specific to Canadian women, such as workplace discrimination and lack of comparable wages — an issue our prime minister addressed at Davos. Accounting for missing and murdered aboriginal women is an enduring problem, as are violence and abuse in these communities.

Radical ideologies also turn many Muslim women into victims, even in Canada. This is most offensive to me, as a Muslim woman. Feminist groups, who usually expound a leftist worldview, have often defended discriminatory practices in the name of a “new feminism.”

An opinion piece by Nakita Valerio on the CBC website states that “New feminism is based on the understanding that there is nothing inherently liberating about one expression over another. Rather, the liberation is in a woman’s choice and part of modern gender equality rests on the acceptance of diverse womanhood on her own terms, regardless of one’s background.”

Really? So, by extension, there is nothing inherently constraining in any expression of womanhood. Therefore, a woman who is self-assured, economically independent and capable of making career choices is no more liberated than one who lives her entire life according to the whims of her husband? A woman who “chooses” to let her husband take a second wife because her religion permits it, and then suffers all the consequences of a polygamous union, is as liberated as one who rejects such an arrangement as repugnant?

Let’s extend this argument. Submission to the requirements of one brand of Islam has convinced some women to support the heinous practice of female genital mutilation. Their understanding of religion has brainwashed them into considering this beneficial. Such a procedure subjects them or their daughters to pain and poor health. Are they more liberated because they have defined their femininity in these terms?

Clothing matters less than mutilation. The niqab and hijab may be “mere” pieces of cloth, but the expectation that women will wear them remains an important issue. The requirement is rooted in patriarchy, and it is hard to accept that any woman who “chooses” to wear these garments has somehow defined her womanhood in a liberated way.

The new feminists have regressed if they do not call out such practices with the fervour of #MeToo. Their silence endorses a way of thinking which keeps countless women in permanent submission.

Next International Women’s Day it would be encouraging if the women’s movement redefined some of its goals as universal rather than relative. Culture can never be an excuse.

via HASSAN: Enough with the feminists who stay silent on Islam | Toronto Sun

Christie Blatchford: Depiction of nude on a prayer mat too provocative for Ontario art school

Over reaction by the students and administration:

The “safe space” people have struck again at another Ontario university campus.

Monday night, an untitled, anonymous piece of art hanging in a student show at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in downtown Toronto was quietly removed.

It was a green Islamic prayer mat with the black outline of a nude woman on it.

In its place is a notice, apparently from the curators and jurors of the show, saying that absent knowing “the intent of the work that was previously hanging in this space,” they had decided to “remove it temporarily … until a statement from the artist can accompany it.”

The notice referred to “the concerns of a number of OCAD University student groups” and offered a one-two apology if either the original inclusion of the piece or its removal “has caused anyone harm.”

The formal complaint came from the Muslim Student Association at the school, which over the weekend issued a statement with several demands — the immediate removal of the piece, an investigation into how it was approved and “whether this was done out of ignorance or not” and an official apology from the university “that this piece was approved for display.”

The controversial piece.

“As a Muslim community,” the statement said, “we feel greatly offended, concerned and disappointed.

“This has already provoked Muslims and has caused very upsetting reactions, and several students’ responses and behaviour towards this is extremely alarming and is starting to make some students feel unsafe at OCAD.

“This is serious and we do not take it lightly.”

In a private, members-only Facebook group for OCAD students, the piece was immediately a lightning rod for controversy after the show, titled Festival of the Body, opened last Friday.

It sparked a spirited debate, sharp rebukes (and much apparent after-the-fact deletion of controversial posts) from the group moderators, one of whom snapped at one point, “This group was doing fine until these recently violent posts by some of you.”

Members of the group say dozens upon dozens of comments were arbitrarily deleted if they weren’t supportive of the decision to remove the piece.

Of those that remain, only one could be remotely described as violent, and it comes from a supporter of removing the prayer mat artwork.

He is a student who works part-time as a cab driver and who asked, “why does someone need to disrespect a whole religion and the way of life of billions of people?” He said the “intent” of the artist didn’t matter.

“… The intent does not change the blatant disrespect to our Islamic faith and the objects, places and symbols we hold dear to our heart.

“Picking up customers in my taxi that swear I hate them and want to kill them simply because I am Muslim or having my mother or my sisters followed and abused for wearing the hijab makes me live a certain anxious and protective lifestyle.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, OCAD professor Natalie Majaba Waldburger, a co-curator of the show, appeared to try to distance the university from the short notice that now sits in place of the art.

She said the artist, whom she identified as a Muslim woman and “we understood she was speaking from within her own cultural practices and experiences,” originally had her name by the piece, but then removed it over the weekend.

Several other pieces — the show includes at least one full-frontal nude, of a male — had no artist statement.

“We didn’t feel we could put up the work without any information,” Waldburger told the National Post.

She said the artist wants to provide an artist’s statement — such statements can range from the direct to the hopelessly oblique — and that “we’ve been working with her the last couple of days. We’ve been in discussion.” Waldburger said she hopes it can be re-installed.

Some sort of authorship, whether the artist’s name or statement, is required, she said. “So for her, no name and no statement means the work has to come down.”

Waldburger said she’s aware of the controversy raging around the work, but “that doesn’t mean we’re shutting the dialogue down. The university supports the right to artistic expression.”

Christine Crosbie, OCAD’s media and communications manager, said the school is aware that freedom of speech issues are controversial on campus at the moment.

“We respect the Muslim Student Association has their opinions, and this is an important dialogue around this piece. It’s a matter of looking at both sides.”

Interestingly, one of the mandatory art history courses at the school covers an infamous piece of art called Immersion (Piss Christ).

A 1987 photograph by American photographer Andres Serrano, Piss Christ is a photo of a plastic crucifix submerged in a tank of Serrano’s own urine.

Just about every time it has been exhibited over the past three decades, Christians have denounced, vandalized or threatened the photograph or photographer.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris three years ago, sparked by the satirical magazine republishing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, the Associated Press removed an image of Piss Christ from its editorial archives.

Serrano wrote at that time, “We’ve seen the same impulse for self-censorship in the West before … Given the seriousness of the violence, such self-censorship is understandable; it’s also a step backward at a time when we need to reassert the importance of free expression by artists, activists, journalists and editors alike.”

Amin, as they say in Arabic.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Depiction of nude on a prayer mat too provocative for Ontario art school

In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence: Sheema Khan

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

As the #MeToo move­ment rico­chets through many parts of the world, it has yet to achieve high visi­bil­ity in Muslim cul­tures.

None­the­less, there have been a few laud­able ef­forts to bring sex­ual abuse to the fore­front.

Re­cent­ly, Mona Eltahawy lent her in­flu­en­tial voice to the dis­turbing oc­cur­rence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the Kaa­ba, (in Mecca), Islam’s hol­i­est site, through the hashtag #MosqueMeToo. One of the rit­uals of pil­grim­age (both the hajj and umrah) re­quires circ­ling the Kaa­ba sev­en times, while in sol­emn re­mem­brance of God. At times, it can get very crowded. Many women have ex­peri­enced hu­mili­a­tion by men who use the situ­a­tion to grope, poke and fon­dle. Ms. Eltahawy shared her awful ex­peri­ence, when at the age of 15, a guard at the Kaa­ba grabbed her breast. She wrote in sup­port of Sabica Khan, who dis­closed her re­cent hu­mili­a­tion at the Kaa­ba — and en­dured back­lash on so­cial media. Since then, many women have shared their own har­rowing en­coun­ters – for­cing the issue out into the open.

In Pak­istan, fol­lowing the grue­some rape and mur­der of 7-year-old Zainab An­sari, many women came for­ward to tell of their own stor­ies of sex­ual abuse as chil­dren. 73-year-old fash­ion de­sign­er Maheen Khan – a Pak­istani icon – tweeted about sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety by her Koran teach­er her when she was six. A nas­cent #MeToo move­ment is be­gin­ning to make in­roads in con­serv­a­tive Pak­istan, as cour­age­ous women break the chains of shame and si­lence.

There are a num­ber of chal­len­ges fa­cing Muslim women who seek to speak out. These in­clude cul­tur­al and in­sti­tu­tion­al bar­riers (with­in com­mun­ities), and anti-Muslim senti­ment.

Cul­tur­al­ly, pub­lic dis­cus­sion of sex is ta­boo. Yet this is at odds with scrip­tur­al foun­da­tions of the faith. For ex­ample, the Proph­et Mohammed em­pha­sized the right of women to ex­peri­ence sex­ual pleas­ure. In these sources, one finds dis­cus­sion about wet dreams, cli­max and for­bid­dance of inter­course dur­ing men­stru­a­tion and anal sex (at all times). The dis­course is not sal­acious, but in­stead pro­vides guid­ance to the faith­ful. It also builds a frame­work in which sex­ual re­la­tions are seen as nat­ural and a means to cul­ti­vate mercy, love and tranquility be­tween spouses.

Family and clergy are two power­ful in­sti­tu­tions that si­lence women. Rath­er than put­ting shame and re­spon­sibil­ity on sex­ual abus­ers, the onus is placed on the vic­tims to keep quiet, so that the fam­ily’s honour re­mains in­tact. In com­mun­ities in which inter­action be­tween gen­ders is pri­mar­i­ly with­in ex­tended fam­ilies, there are ample op­por­tun­ities for abuse by male rela­tives. When I used to give lec­tures about “women in Islam,” it was de­press­ing­ly com­mon to have a young woman ap­proach me after­ward to con­fide her pain­ful abuse by a cous­in or an uncle dur­ing child­hood. I stopped giv­ing these lec­tures after one young woman broke down about her own fath­er’s in­ces­tu­ous behaviour.

Muslim clergy, schol­ars and Koran teachers gar­ner rev­er­ence for their com­mit­ment to the faith. There­fore, im­pugning sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety against this group is met with stiff re­sist­ance, de­nial and back­lash. Yet, with­out mean­ing­ful ac­count­abil­ity, abuse does hap­pen. Now, women are speak­ing out. In 2016, a prom­in­ent Chicago-based schol­ar, Moham­med Sa­leem, pleaded guilty to sex­ual­ly abus­ing a for­mer stu­dent and an em­ploy­ee at the school he founded. More civil suits are pend­ing. Last year, re­nowned Ko­ran­ic schol­ar Nouman Ali Khan was found to have com­mit­ted spirit­ual abuse and un­ethical behaviour to­ward a num­ber of young women. Last month, Ox­ford University Pro­fes­sor Ta­riq Rama­dan was placed under ar­rest in France, and is awaiting trial against rape char­ges by two women. He de­nies any wrong­doing.

In addi­tion to fa­cing com­mun­ity back­lash for speak­ing out, Muslim women must also con­tend with haters who use their pain to ma­lign an en­tire com­mun­ity.

These hur­dles are not in­sur­mount­able. The time has come to ad­dress sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety head-on.

In Canada, se­cond “se­cret” mar­riages are oc­cur­ring, in which a man takes on a se­cond wife, often un­be­knownst to either wife. This is noth­ing but san­i­ti­za­tion of an extra­mari­tal af­fair. It is a sham, and needs to be called out by the Can­ad­ian Council of Imams.

Last fall, the group Fa­cing Abuse in Community En­viron­ments was launched to hold ac­count­able imams, schol­ars and lead­ers for un­ethical and/or crim­in­al behaviour. A num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions are under way, with ser­ious cases re­ferred to law en­force­ment for pros­ecu­tion.

In the end, we need to em­pow­er women to come forth with­out shame, and put the spot­light on men to take re­spon­sibil­ity for their behaviour.

via In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence – The Globe and Mail

Year of the Dog exposes growth of Islamic conservatism in Malaysia – CNN

More on Malaysia and Islamic fundamentalism and the impact on the Chinese minority:

With the Lunar New Year round the corner, Chinese around the world are preparing to welcome the Year of the Dog.

But in Malaysia, where people of ethnic Chinese descent make up almost a quarter of the population, images of the dog have been omitted from Lunar New Year decorations and merchandise for fear of offending the country’s Muslim majority.
The omission has raised hackles in the Chinese community and caused concern among Malaysians of all faiths, who see it as yet another symptom of the country’s growing Islamic conservatism, driven by the government’s flirtation with hardline Islamist policies and a cultural shift by religious students returning from the Middle East.

Backlash

Sunway Pyramid decided not to display dogs because they wanted to be respectful to what they perceive as Muslim sensitivities, but it suffered for its decision.
Sarah Chew, a communications officer for the mall, said her company has been the target of a backlash on social media for its decision not to display “contentious” cultural emblems, with calls for a boycott of its mall.
Ms Tan, a 40-year-old Malaysian-Chinese shopkeeper in the mall, who declined to give her full name, said: “This is a multiracial country, when they do something like that it shows disrespect to the Chinese race here.”
“If this is the case they should just make this only an Islamic country, but we have Buddhists, Hindus and other… (religions) as well here,” she added.
Several shops selling the customary red and gold new year decorations in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown have kept those featuring dogs inside rather than on display out front.
Last month, Reuters reported that Pavillion Mall, a shopping mall in the heart of Kuala Lumpur which gets about 3 million monthly visitors, also chose not to depict dogs in its decorations, citing religious and cultural sensitivities as a factor in their decision.
Earlier this year, a hypermarket chain around the country was embroiled in controversy when it emerged that Lunar New Year t-shirts being sold there depicted 10 animals in the Chinese zodiac, but not the dog or the pig.
The 2018 Lunar New Year isn’t the only time that animals considered taboo in Islam have caused public furor. There were outcries when Malaysia in 2016 ordered eateries and fast food chains such as Auntie Anne’s and A&W to change the name of dishes such as ‘Pretzel Dog’ and ‘Coney Dog’ to ‘Pretzel Sausage’ and ‘Beef Coney’ or ‘Chicken Coney’.
The reason? The country’s Islamic department said ‘dog’ would confuse Muslims.
Malaysia’s 30-million population is estimated to be 60% Malay Muslim, with prominent Chinese, Indian and other minorities.
Though Islam is Malaysia’s official religion and the country has Sharia courts for civil cases for Muslims, it is constitutionally secular.

Secularism disappearing

Maria Chin Abdullah, a prominent pro-democracy activist, says what’s happening with the Lunar New Year decorations are “just small signs” of growing Islamic conservatism.
“The secularism in our system that we enjoyed seems to be disappearing.”
As evidence, Chin pointed to the increasing frequency with which Malay women now wear the tudung, (headscarf), the Arabisation of Malay vocabulary — for example the word “Eid” being used for the Islamic religious holiday instead of the Malay “Hari Raya Puasa”, and books being banned for espousing moderate forms of Islam.
Other contentious recent issues include a beer festival in Kuala Lumpur that was canceled last year on security grounds, dress codes being imposed on international performers at pop concerts and Christians being prevented from erecting crosses on buildings.
“Schools have become less multi-racial and things are becoming scary,” said Chin.
“My own son will come back from school and tell me we can’t touch dogs and ask why I’m not wearing a headscarf.”
Other critics have pointed to the presence in Malaysia of hardline Indian Muslim televangelist Zakir Naik. He is banned in the UK and his views have sparked a criminal investigation in his native India.
Last year, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government confirmed it had given Naik permanent residency, a decision to which activists have mounted a legal challenge.
Najib’s support for more Islamist policies has grown since his ruling coalition lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election – its worst ever electoral performance – as he seeks to strengthen his hold on the ethnic Malay Muslim vote.
Malaysia’s evolution has raised alarm bells at the UN, which has urged the country to protect its tradition of tolerance from the rise of fundamentalism.
“I have heard worrying reports of attempts at Islamization spreading in many areas of society which could lead to cultural engineering,” said UN human rights expert Karima Bennoune last year following a 10-day fact-finding mission to the country.

‘Conservatism is becoming worse’

The government, which is widely expected to win elections due before August, drew criticism last year for allowing the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party to put forward a parliamentary bill calling for harsher punishments — including more flogging – for moral “crimes”.
Malaysia’s nine sultans, the official guardians of Islam in Malaysia, last year issued a call for religious harmony after what they described as excessive actions.
Ahmad Farouk Musa, founder of a moderate think-tank, Islamic Renaissance Front, is yet another who says Islamic conservatism is worsening.
“One of the reasons is that Malaysia sends thousands of students to Saudi Arabia, where they are indoctrinated with hardline intolerant forms of Islam like Salafism and Wahhabism.”
“They bring back intolerant ideas, for example, a hatred of Shias. That never existed in Malaysia before,” he added.
But there’s another fundamental problem that dates back to the birth of the country – its race-based political system.
Parties set up on ethnic lines originated under the country’s former colonial rulers, the British, who imported Chinese and Indian labor to Malaysia, largely keeping Malays in impoverished rural areas.
After Malaysia won independence in 1957, its new leaders granted privileges to Malays, including cheaper land, easier access to tertiary education and preference for civil service jobs, to try to help them reach economic parity with the Chinese community.
This policy was strengthened in 1969 after Malay animosity over increasing Chinese economic and political power boiled over into a race riot in Kuala Lumpur in which scores of people, mostly Chinese, were killed.
Reformists argue the system has made Malays dependent on handouts and has bred demagoguery that thrives on religious and ethnic tension.

via Year of the Dog exposes growth of Islamic conservatism in Malaysia – CNN