Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mercy: The Understated Sign of Islam

By Louay Fatoohi
28 July, 2015
Article Reproduced on New Age Islam from the Author’s Blog by His Permission
About eighteen months ago, I wrote an article about the particular leadership qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that this beautiful verse reveals:
It is by some mercy from Allah that you have been gentle with them. Had you been rough and hard of heart they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon them, ask for forgiveness for them, and consult them. Then when you have resolved, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who trust Him. (3.159)
In summary, the verse commands the Prophet (PBUH) to treat those who were close to him, at least spatially, i.e. his Companions, with mercy and forgiveness and involve them in the decision making process. The reader may refer to the original article for further details.
But I would like here to further extend my interpretation of the verse, starting with these two critical observations from the verse:
1) By virtue of being close to the Prophet (PBUH), the Companions must have witnessed many of his miracles. In other words, the verse is talking about Muslims who were firm believers and whose faith was based on direct, powerful, and personal experiences.
2) This verse was revealed a few years after the migration of the Prophet (PBUH) to Medina. By then, a large part of the Qur’an had been revealed.
Yet despite this, the verse makes it absolutely clear that had the Messenger (PBUH) been rough and harsh, even his close Companions would have left him! Not even receiving the Qur’an and performing miracles, which further attested to his prophethood and nearness to Allah, would have been sufficient for him to fulfil the mission that Allah sent him for. He needed two critical virtuous personal qualities: mercy and forgiveness. This is mentioned in another verse that describes the Prophet (PBUH) as being “toward the faithful, kind, merciful” (9.128).
The Prophet (PBUH) had to be of great character to deliver the divine message. Allah would not have revealed the message of the Qur’an to someone who was rude, harsh, unforgiving, or had any such negative attributes. There are two reasons for this. First, the effectiveness of the message would have been greatly reduced, if it had any effect at all. For the message to have the utmost effectiveness, the Messenger (PBUH) had to be of outstanding character. Verse 3.159 tells us that even those who had strong faith would have walked away from the Prophet (PBUH), which means abandoning Islam, if he was of poor character.
Second, Islam is ultimately a way of life. It is about how to behave with Allah and how to treat people, other creatures, and the environment. Any behaviour that causes damage to the world is un-Islamic, as this verse shows: “Corruption has appeared in the land and sea by what the hands of people have earned” (30.41). In order for the behavioural teachings of the Qur’an to be conveyed as clearly and effectively as possible, the Prophet (PBUH) of the Qur’an had to live, reflect, and epitomize those teachings. He had to represent in every respect the ideal Muslim; the one to whom people point and say: “This is the person that we must aspire to be like.” The Prophet (PBUH) had to be of an ideal character because he was the example that Allah commanded every Muslim to try to emulate:
You have had a good example in the Messenger of Allah for whosoever hopes for Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah so often. (33.21)
The mercy of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was so great that when Allah wanted to describe His beloved Messenger (PBUH) with one attribute, He chose this very quality:
We have not sent you but as a mercy to all beings. (21.107)
The Prophet (PBUH) was many things to the world, but mercy is the attribute that Allah chose when He wanted to highlight one aspect of his excellent character.
Gentleness and kindness are so crucial to the character of every prophet that Allah starts inculcating them in the character of the prophet well before He commissions him and commands him to call people to his message. This, for example, is what He said about the prophet Moses:
So that you would be brought up under My eye. (20.39)
This special divine care continues throughout the prophet’s life, as we see in Allah’s following words to Muhammad (PBUH):
Be patient for the judgement of your Lord, for you are in Our eyes. (52.48)
The Qur’an also reveals the extremely high character standards that Allah set for the Prophet (PBUH) and demanded of him in these amazing verses:
He [Muhammad] frowned and turned away, (80.1) that the blind man came to him. (80.2) You [O Muhammad!] would not know, but he may purify himself? (80.3) Or he may remember and benefit from the remembrance? (80.4) As for he who considers himself to be in no need [to Us], (80.5) you attend to him, (80.6) though it is not your responsibility that he may not purify himself. (80.7) Yet for him who comes to you eagerly, (80.8) while being fearful [of Allah], (80.9) you busy yourself away from him. (80.10)
There is a very poignant story behind these verses. One day, the Prophet (PBUH) was busy trying to convince one of the chiefs of the tribe of Quraish to embrace Islam when a blind man called ʿAbd Allah bin Umm Maktūm came to see him. The blind man wanted the Prophet (PBUH) to listen to him read the Qur’an and to correct any mistakes he made. But as he was busy with a man whose conversion could give Islam a big boost, the Prophet (PBUH) felt annoyed by ʿAbd Allah’s repeated attempts to engage him, so he frowned and left. Chapter 80 was then revealed.
This story shows how Allah ensured that the Prophet (PBUH) developed and maintained the highest standards in the way he treated people. It is worth noting that Allah’s intervention in these verses concerned a blind man at a time when disabled people were mistreated and any disability was seen as something to be ashamed of. Just remember that this happened in the 7th century in Arabia! Allah instructed the Prophet (PBUH) to be kind, gentle, and generous with everyone, regardless of whether they were rich or poor, strong or weak, male or female.
The character of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was so outstanding that Allah dedicated a verse to praising it:
You have great character. (68.4)
Mercy, kindness, gentleness, forgivingness, and patience are among the qualities that gave the Prophet (PBUH) this unique character.
Therefore, the Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes the critical role of the character of every prophet for the success of his mission. Even when blessed with divine knowledge and miracles, the Prophet (PBUH) had to have those good qualities for his practice of Islam to be complete. This expounds a profound fact about Islam: Showing mercy and kindness and being willing to forgive are necessary characteristics of the Muslim.
The Qur’an starts with this verse: “In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful.” Of all His Beautiful Names, Allah chose two that remind us of His compassion and mercy. Every time a Muslim reads the Qur’an, they must start by reading this verse. So every time we read the Qur’an, we are reminded of Allah’s compassion and mercy before anything else. Realizing the significance of mercy in the Qur’an has become even more important in today’s world.
Two years ago, I wrote an article in which I explained that “fanaticism is a problem of arrogant self-belief not of faith.” No humble person can be fanatical about their faith. Any fanatic would have become so only after losing their humility, presuming they had any. The chief representative of arrogance in the Qur’an is Satan. He behaved arrogantly even with Allah. A fanatic can never understand why the prophet Joseph — who was already a prophet, a miracle worker, in possession of the special knowledge of interpreting dreams and signs, and a king — made this prayer to Allah: “Make me die as a Muslim and join me with the righteous” (12.101). The fanatical person cannot comprehend why the prophet Joseph would be uncertain about his end when he/she is certain about himself/herself.
The present article exposes another flaw and sign of fanaticism which is critical to recognize today as extremism flourishes. Fanatics not only lack humility, but they are also void of mercy. Their behaviours are characterized by cruelty. Their self-image as good Muslims reflects an obliviousness of the teaching of the Qur’an. It only would have taken recalling a few verses to clearly recognize that their perception of themselves is fundamentally flawed. As explained earlier, not even a prophet with divine revelation from Allah and spiritual powers to perform miracles can be a proper Muslim without having a merciful heart. Yet extremists are cruel, even to their own ranks. They are skeletons without substance, bodies without hearts, and claims without proof. So one way to test whether someone’s teachings are genuinely Islamic or not, is to see whether or not they reflect and are grounded in mercy.
Failing the test of mercifulness, regardless of one’s beliefs and its strength, is a certain sign that such a person is not a proper Muslim. They may pretend to advocate the cause of Islam, but in reality they use and abuse this great religion. This test can easily expose the un-Islamic nature of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremely cruel organizations. Those who are tricked by such extremist groups could have easily realized that these are not genuine Islamic groups, had they realized the role that the Qur’an gives to mercy.
Fanaticism and extremism should be fought in every way possible. But combating them with the argument of mercy is easier, clearer, and stronger than any doctrinal discourse. Everyone — educated and uneducated, young and old — understands mercy and recognizes it. Allah may have given us different degrees of knowledge, but He has made us all equally capable of feeling mercy and identifying cruelty. Any Muslim, or indeed non-Muslim, only needs to recognize the role of mercy in the Qur’an to be able to see that those who practice cruelty in the name of Islam have nothing to do with this heart-nurturing religion.
Source: http://www.louayfatoohi.com/2015/07/islam/mercy-the-understated-sign-of-islam/#comment-3893
Copyright © 2015 Louay Fatoohi

Gulf-US Ties A Mistake?

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
28 July 2015
The US administration’s deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program, which ends sanctions and paves way for openness with Iran, was viewed by some as a mean move by Washington against its old allies who were loyal for over five decades, while others considered that the deal requires a reconsideration of relations with Washington.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries with the US is not an ordinary one and is a prime example of what diplomacy can achieve in our region. Those who don’t know what it has achieved do not value it and do not have a deep understanding of politics. Relations are usually established within the context of mutual interests and based on the respect of charters, and they must not be viewed on the basis of mythical conspiracy theories nor endowed with more interpretation than can be tolerated or supported in terms of prior commitments. Relations are thus based on mutual interests and on respecting agreements, including non-written ones. The relationship with Washington is not based on nationalistic, religious or emotional ties. Its pillars are oil, commerce and political consensus over several issues, though not all affairs. There are differences between the two parties, the Gulf countries and Washington, and those differences will continue to exist. This relationship is not akin to that between Washington and Britain though it is still more solid than that of the US with some other Arab and Islamic countries.
The Americans have found Arab Gulf countries to be stable and respectful of their agreements, unlike others like Libya and Iran which are unsettled and hostile. They’ve agreed with the Arab Gulf states on most affairs and there’s a long list of examples of such occasions. Even when the Saudis disagreed with them over strategic issues, like ending the authority of American companies over the oil company Aramco, the dispute was resolved in a friendly manner that suited both parties. This is unlike the case with Iranian, Libyan and Iraqi oil-related affairs which remained controversial for decades due to the mismanagement of the dispute.
If we put the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Washington within context, formulated by leaders King Abdulaziz Al-Saud and Dwight Eisenhower in 1945 aboard cruiser Quincy, we’d realize its benefits in regards to all the crises we’ve faced since then. The relationship with Washington notably dates back to WW-I. However, at that time, the Americans refrained from getting involved in political and military endeavours outside their continent and left the arena open for European powers. Gulf countries, in cooperation with the US, overcame dangerous ordeals since the 1950’s, confronting the Nasserite tide in the 1960’s, the Iraqi Baathists and the southern Yemeni communists in the 1970’s, the Iranian developments in the 1980’s and the Iraqi invasion in the 1990’s, and they have also addressed Iranian threats since 2000. Without major alliances, it’s difficult for countries to overcome such threats, which were also linked to major international alliances during the Cold War. It’s no coincidence that countries which are still standing on their feet actually have similar policies and alliances — this includes Gulf countries, Jordan and Morocco. The economic situation is similar to the political one.
It’s no coincidence that Gulf countries produce 15 million barrels of oil per day while Iran has been incapable of producing more than three million barrels a day despite all its attempts and the help it received from the Russians and Chinese for the last 30 years. Iran failed because the US refused to grant it the technology and expertise to develop its production, and it failed even though Iranian topography is similar to its Gulf neighbours. Iran owns the second largest oil reserve in the Middle East, right after Saudi Arabia. Iraq comes in third, some even say first, but due to its struggles with the West and its alliances in the region, it has failed to develop a domestic oil industry.
This is the result of political relations and not of specific business deals.
Of course, there have always been disagreements between the two parties (the Gulf and Washington) in regards to several cases, most notably Palestine. Palestine was highly problematic but it was not allowed to sabotage the entire relation because the Arab Gulf states were aware that Arabs who allied themselves with the Soviet Union did not achieve any gains, rights or victories nor retrieve any land for the Palestinian people. There were other disputes but most of them were temporary. For example, there was an occasion when Saudi Arabia refused to grant Washington the right to use its territory to attack Afghanistan in 2001, while Iran accepted. At the same time, Saudi Arabia provided the Americans with information in their hunt for Al-Qaeda over the past decade.
Now, there is a dispute between the Gulf countries and the US, in regards to the western agreement with Iran. This represents the worst disagreement in the history of both sides. However, it will most likely not lead to the rupture or alteration of alliances, at least this is what I think. Those who wrote articles gloating about what happened or condemning the relationship altogether do not see beyond this crisis which will certainly require huge diplomatic efforts to be fixed. This is not the first time the US government has taken decisions in the region which contradict Riyadh’s opinion, however, this is normal considering each country has its own interests.
Source: http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/782821

Less Religion, More Religion: Western Countries Are Confused About How to Accommodate Religion in Their Counter Extremism Strategies


By Muhammad Amir Rana
26 July, 2015
STATES and societies are struggling to find ways to deal with religion — or religious thought, to be precise. While most states see religion as a challenge, for the common man the attraction of religion is increasing. However, this attraction is not uniform as religion is also losing appeal in many parts of the world.
The question of religion is more critical for Muslim societies which account for about 24pc of the world population. In many Muslim countries, religion has taken over policy discourse and religiosity is increasing among the masses. Religion has also become an important question for Western countries, especially for those that have sizable Muslim populations.
There are two aspects of the religion of Islam that worry the West: the so-called militant Islam and political Islam. The power elites and the majority of the intelligentsia in Muslim countries have little concern in terms of the rise of religious power in their countries. The West, too, seems ready to compromise on the narratives of political Islam as long as it helps control or counter militant tendencies among Muslim communities living there. Many Western countries see no harm if a few hundred among the tiny Muslim minorities hold radical political views.
However, they see political Islam as a problem in Muslim countries, mainly on two accounts. First, they think, radical political tendencies can easily transform into militant tendencies in Muslim majority states. Second, the West does not feel comfortable in dealing with Islamists when they come into power. The latest example was the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.
The real concern of the West is violent religious extremism. These countries are confused about how to accommodate religion in their counter extremism strategies. ‘Less religion or more religion’ remains a critical question in the processes of policy formation in Western countries, which have so far failed to understand the dynamics of religious as well as extremist tendencies among Muslim immigrant communities.
The worry is that that these Western approaches, which have a completely different context, inspire power and social elites in Muslim countries and in many cases the latter blindly follow such approaches. The nature and challenge of violent extremism in Muslim countries are different from those facing the West.
For Muslim societies, the major challenge is the increasing influence of religion among the common people. This influence, or religiosity, may not necessarily lead individuals to violence or make them vulnerable to political Islam. Religion is mainly transforming Muslim societies, and a religious-socialisation process is shaping the behaviour of Muslim urban classes. Religiosity always connects a person with a broader religious discourse. Religiosity itself is a neutral phenomenon but within religious discourse, certain actors exploit the religious sentiments of the people for their individual or group interests. Managing these actors is a major challenge in Muslim societies. These religious actors could be radical or non-radical, but both could be the exploiters of religiosity.
In Pakistan, the power elites are scared of touching religious issues. Religious actors are largely considered part of the problem, but they should also be considered part of the solution. The power elites do not have connectivity with moderate religious scholars in society, and their views about religious communities and narratives are based on their interaction and working relationship with the leaderships of religious political parties. These parties do not necessarily represent moderate voices in religious discourse. A few such moderate voices might be found in religious political parties, but they do not have a major impact on party policies.
The religious elites are not responding to the challenges state and society are facing. As a result, radical narratives are strengthened, and constitutional, legal, and educational issues are becoming more and more complex. Pakistan and other Muslim countries cannot afford the subversion of their respective constitutions as the social imbalances and rise of violent and non-violent radicalism can completely transform the situation, which the radicals have shown they can achieve without paying a high price.
Many of the counter extremism programmes in the West also focus on the countries of origin of immigrant communities, with the assumption that fixing extremism in immigrants’ native lands will help prevent extremism in host societies. Western nations try to export their models to Muslim countries and think these will be effective in Muslim majority countries as well. The Western nations engage the religious scholars of immigrants’ native countries. It has been witnessed that those who have been engaged by the West were part of the religious elites. The engagement further empowers them, and they make religious discourse more complex.
For the West it is a community issue, but for Muslim countries it becomes a bigger challenge, as the religious elite wants to transform the whole system, the socio-cultural pattern, in a way which helps to make them stakeholders in power-sharing.
How can Muslim countries deal with religion and religious actors? Egypt is trying to manage political Islamists through making an alliance with the Salafis. Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing the most dangerous game: both countries are exploiting sectarian tendencies and trying to achieve their strategic objectives through proxies here and there. Interestingly, most of the Arab states feel more comfortable with the militants’ forces, as compared to the Islamists. It’s an easy choice for Muslim rulers, who want to maintain the status quo, as the militants demand only resources while the Islamists want regime change.
Muhammad Amir Rana is a security analyst.
Source: http://www.dawn.com/news/1196383/less-religion-more-religion

Rethinking the War on Daesh

By Ramzy Baroud
28 July 2015
As much of the Middle East sinks deeper into division between competing political camps, the terror outfit, Daesh, continues its unhindered march toward a twisted version of a Muslim caliphate. Thousands have lost their lives, some in the most torturous ways.
Violence meted out by Daesh is hardly an anomaly, considering that the group was spawned in a predominantly violent environment. It is difficult to imagine, for example, that, if the Syrian regime and its opposition had sought a political solution from the early days of the uprising, Daesh would have found a stable foothold for itself in Syria.
It was during the emergence of violence by the Syrian regime that Daesh, a dark force that neither believes in democracy, civil rights nor co-existence, appeared. The same scenario was repeated in Iraq and a host of other countries. In an article in the Independent newspaper, Patrick Cockburn highlighted seven countries where the influence of Daesh is great or growing: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north-east Nigeria.
The group’s “successes have been possible because it is opposed by feeble, corrupt or non-existent governments and armies,” he wrote.
However, very little emphasis has been placed on the root cause of the problem and its resulting violence. Western governments and media are not the only ones guilty of discussing the brutality of Daesh outside proper political or socio-economic contexts; Arab countries’ media often misinterpret each crisis in the region.
Yemen, which has undergone several stages of political crises is a case in point. Daesh bombs targeting mostly houses of worship, are now another staple in Yemen’s bloody conflict.
This terror group thrives on conflicts and calamities that are rooted in poor, fragmented societies, where youth are disenchanted with their governments and where they have little or no hope for the future due to corruption and the protracted violence. Such embitterment is a perfect recruiting ground for Daesh, which enjoys multiple revenue strems and a self-sufficient economy.
Of course, more violence is seldom the solution, as the ‘Arab Spring’ amply demonstrated. In fact, the ferocity and ruthlessness of the many conflicts currently under way in the region have achieved little, aside from setting the stage for extreme polarization in political, ideological and sectarian discourses.
While sectarianism in the region dates back many years, its current expressions are mostly political, with unambiguous agendas and goals. Initially, sectarianism distracted from the genuine push for reforms and meaningful political changes as sought by various Arab collectives.
Regardless of its ideological or religious claims, it is evident that the violent vision of Daesh, if allowed to endure, would constantly translate into greater death tolls from all sides — Sunni, Shiite, Christians, and other minority groups.
With Turkey entering the fray now by bombing Daesh targets in Syria, in supposed retaliation for the militant group’s attack in the Kilis Province, the landscape of the war is stretching beyond its usual confines and methods, into whole new territories.
After resisting pressure to join the US-led coalition against the terror outfit, Turkey has now also agreed to allow the coalition access to its Incirlik Airbase. Meanwhile, Turkish F-16 continued to pound Daesh targets, while Turkish security reportedly rounded up hundreds of suspected militants, not only of Daesh supporters, but also Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other radical groups.
The local dimension in Turkey’s newly started war on Daesh should be of particular interest. While Daesh is a common denominator among various Middle East countries, each country seems to have a local component that serves as a native host for the terror group, as was the case in Libya following the NATO-led war, and of course, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and elsewhere.
The Egyptian case is also telling. The chaos that preceded the Daesh entry into Sinai was mostly related to internal Egyptian affairs. The Sinai Peninsula is poor and neglected. For decades, it has been a testament to unfair distribution of wealth. The Bedouin tribes in Sinai, which were once at the forefront of the fight to liberate the Peninsula from Israel, grew rebellious over time. The desert became rife with drug and human trafficking. The celebrations in Sinai, following the Egyptian revolt in January 2011, were short-lived and were quickly replaced by an armed revolt, when hope turned into anger.
Until recently, the Sinai violence was largely a local affair. Mauritanian journalist, Sidiahmed Tfeil, argues that Egypt’s militant factions, such as ‘Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis’, resisted calls to join Al-Qaeda ranks. But their need for alliances and support finally pushed them into the arms of Daesh, which now considers the war in Sinai, led by the ‘Sinai Province,’ another extension of its regional fight.
Tfeil lists countries where Daesh is moving in full force, flushing out Al-Qaeda influence and competing with local actors there. They include Yemen and Libya, but also Algeria, Mali, Somalia and others.
Aside from Algeria, the same malaise of internal conflict, external meddling and intervention seems to unite the rest, which have either become — or teeter at the edge of being — failed states.
In other words, the success of Daesh has worked in tandem with the failures of regional governments to offer road maps out of security chaos, economic crises and chronic corruption. With access to massive funds, Daesh is able to latch on to local militant groups which were formed as a result of real grievances, buying leverage and loyalty, as they have done in Libya, Syria and Sinai.
Another weapon in the Daesh arsenal that also proved effective is the fact that there is not one single united fight aimed at eliminating or, at least, slowing down the progress of Daesh armies in the Middle East. While military camps of the terror group are reportedly targeted in Syria, other regional conflicts, especially in Yemen, are facilitating the expansion of Daesh.
The war on Daesh and other extremist groups cannot possibly be won if the region remains divided.
It is the lack of political prospects, and the smothering of any attempt at freedom and fair economic opportunity, that lead to extremist violence in the first place. As long as this reality remains intact, Daesh will tragically find new recruits, latch on to local militant groups, and continue to expand into new borders — and even darker horizons.
Source: http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/782826

Remembering Fearless Salmaan Taseer

 By Pervez Hoodbhoy

January 1, 2012

Governor Salmaan Taseer died at the hands of a religious fanatic on January 4 last year. Fearlessly championing a deeply unpopular cause, this brave man had sought to revisit the country’s blasphemy law which, as he saw it, was yet another means of intimidating Pakistan’s embattled religious minorities. This law — which is unique in having death as the minimum penalty — would have sent to the gallows an illiterate Christian peasant woman, Aasia Bibi, who stood accused by her Muslim neighbours after a noisy dispute. Taseer’s publicly-voiced concern for human life earned him 26 high-velocity bullets from one of his security guards, Malik Mumtaz Quadri. The other guards watched silently.
In this long, sad, year more has followed. Justice Pervez Ali Shah, the brave judge who ultimately sentenced Taseer’s murderer in spite of receiving death threats, has fled the country. Aasia Bibi is rotting away in jail, reportedly in solitary confinement and in acute psychological distress. Shahbaz Taseer, the governor’s son, was abducted in late August — presumably by Qadri’s sympathisers. He remains untraceable. Shahbaz Bhatti, another vocal voice against the blasphemy law, was assassinated weeks later on March 2.
Political assassinations occur everywhere. But the Pakistani public reaction to Taseer’s assassination horrified the world. As the news hit the national media, spontaneous celebrations erupted in places; a murderous unrepentant mutineer had been instantly transformed into a national hero. Glib-tongued television anchors sought to convince viewers that Taseer had brought ill unto himself. Religious political parties did not conceal their satisfaction, and the imam of Lahore’s Badshahi Masjid declined the government’s request to lead the funeral prayers. Rehman Malik, the interior minister, sought to curry favour with religious forces by declaring that, if need be, he would “kill a blasphemer with my own hands”.
In psychological terms, the reaction of a substantial part of Pakistan’s lawyers’ community was still more disturbing. Once again, they made history. Earlier it had been for their Black Coat Revolution, apparently welcome evidence that Pakistani civil society was well and thriving. But this time it was for something far less positive. Television screens around the world showed the nauseating spectacle of hundreds of lawyers feting a murderer, showering rose petals upon him, and pledging to defend him pro-bono.
Another phalanx of lawyers, headed by Khawaja Sharif, former Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, rose up to constitute Qadri’s defence team. In his court testimony, a smugly-defiant assassin declared that he had executed Allah’s will. Justice Sharif agreed, saying that Quadri had “merely done his duty as a security guard”. He said it was actually Taseer who had broken the law of the land by attempting to defend a person convicted of blasphemy and, in doing so, had “hurt the feelings of crores of Muslims”.
Taseer’s was a high-profile episode, but there are countless other equally tragic ones which receive little public attention. Surely it is time to reflect on what makes so many Pakistanis disposed towards celebrating murder, lawlessness, and intolerance. To understand the kind of psychological conditioning that has turned us into nasty brutes, cruel both to ourselves and to others, I suggest that the reader sample some of the Friday Khutbas (sermons) delivered across the country’s estimated 250,000 mosques.
It is surely impossible to hear all Khutbas, but a few hundred ones have been recorded on tape by researchers, transcribed into Urdu, translated into English, and categorised by subject at www.mashalbooks.org. Since there was no conscious bias in selecting the mosques, they can be reasonably assumed to be representative examples.
Often using abusive language, the mullahs excoriate their enemies: America, India, Israel, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Shias, and Qadianis. Before appreciative crowds, they breathe fire against the enemies of Islam and modernity. Music is condemned to be evil, together with life insurance and bank interest. In frenzied speeches they put women at the centre of all ills, demand that they be confined to the home, covered in Purdah, and forbidden to use lipstick or go to beauty parlours.
But the harshest words are reserved for the countless “deviant” Muslims. Governor Taseer was considered one. The former minister for foreign affairs, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, is another. In a foul-mouthed speech that the reader can hear on the above website, Qureshi is denounced as “Haramzada” by Maulana Altaf ur Rehman Shah of Muhammadi Masjid in Gujarat and described as a “keeper [mujawar] of graves”. Quoting Nawa-e-Waqt, this Maulana of the Ahl-e-Hadith school calls Qureshi a lapdog who stands with his “cheek on the cheek of Hillary Clinton”. What, he asks, could be a matter of greater shame? Parliamentarian Jamshed Dasti, also accused of grave worship, is harshly condemned for being unable to name the first five verses of the Holy Quran.
One presumes that most listeners have enough intelligence to ignore such violent fulminations. But at times their effects are deadly. One such sermon, according to Qadri’s recorded testimony, was the turning point for him. He had heard a fiery cleric, Qari Haneef, at a religious gathering in his neighbourhood, Colonel Yousuf Colony, on December 31, 2010. It is then, says Quadri, that he made up his mind to kill his boss. Quadri had participated in the gathering in his official uniform, reciting the Naat in praise of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). His official gun had been slung around his shoulder at the meeting. Four days later, he fulfilled his goal.
To be sure, not all Khutbas are ugly and violent. But even if 10 percent are — and the data suggests this is an underestimate — that still makes for roughly 25,000 dangerous ones every week. A civilised society cannot sustain this for too long. Surely, the Pakistani state will sooner or later have to come up with a mechanism for regulating what can be said at religious gatherings. A possible model might be that of Egypt, where Khutbas are pre-recorded and approved by the Ulema of Jamia Al-Azhar. Without some agreed form of control, Pakistan shall sink ever deeper into religious anarchy and fanaticism.
Source: http://tribune.com.pk/story/315079/remembering-salmaan-taseer/

Of Dogs, Faith and Imams

By Mohammed Hanif
July 24, 2015
When I take my dog for a walk on the beach near my house in Karachi, this is how people react: Mothers tell their kids, look, a dog; kids ask me the dog’s name and if they can touch him; most grown men either recoil or ask me about the price and the breed. Sometimes when I see someone heading to the neighbourhood mosque, I cross to the other side of the street. There is a popular belief among the pious that if they come in contact with a dog, they become unclean. You have to take a ritual bath before you can offer your prayers.
Worshipers are usually in a hurry in Karachi. These are perilous times, and I don’t want to come between men of God and God by delaying their prayers. They are, after all, fulfilling their obligation as I am trying to do.
I grew up in a very religious household where dogs weren’t exactly loved, but our faith wasn’t threatened every time a dog appeared on our doorstep. As a teenager in our village in central Punjab, I saw our local imam, who led the prayers, playing with his Russian poodle. His grandsons, who were visiting one summer, brought it and left it behind. I would see the imam with his poodle out on the street, petting her, cuddling her. His long snow-white beard and the poodle’s electric shiny curls sometimes touched. In almost a decade of devoutness that I prayed behind him, I never saw anybody object to his coming into physical contact with a dog. Maybe it was the imam’s authority. Maybe the poodle looked cleaner than some of us peasant worshipers. Maybe people thought a man as old and as pious as he knew what he was doing.
Today, if someone in his position tried to cuddle a dog in public, he would surely lose his status as imam, if not his head. Like Muslims everywhere in the world, we also yearn for more innocent times, when we could stay pure by keeping dogs at bay. There are many more worshipers in the mosques now than there were in my childhood, but there are no imams to tell the religious stories about dog love.
If you go by the Fatwas issued by today’s religious scholars, some dogs are allowed in Islam and other dogs are not. At best, they make it sound as if Islam were not the second-largest religion in the world — comprising various cultural histories, ancient myths and thousands of ways of relating to animals — but a posh kennel club.
Sometimes I wish I could ask our neighbourhood imam to tell us the story that, as children, we heard in many Friday sermons. It’s an Islamic fable about compassion and forgiveness and dogs. Since most religions use a woman’s virtue to teach us about morality, this one happens to be about a prostitute who had lived all her life in sin. One day she stopped by a well to have a drink of water and spotted a dog, a very thirsty dog panting at the edge of the well. She lowered a shoe into the well to draw water and quenched the dog’s thirst. As a result of this single act of mercy, Allah forgave all her sins. The fable is about sinners getting a chance at redemption, but it’s the image of a thirsty dog panting by a well that stuck with me. In some versions of the story, the dog is so thirsty that he tries to eat mud.
The Quran itself is mostly silent on the subject of dogs. The only real dog that appears in the text is a companion of the People of the Cave, a small group of young men who, threatened by an ancient king after refusing to abandon their faith, hide in a cave and take a 309-year-long nap. During these three centuries of hiding, their dog lay stretched out at the entrance of the cave to keep any intruders at bay. The fable evokes not revulsion but time travel and companionship. The Quran’s other significant mention of the dog is in a story about a man in lust with earthly desires, of whom it is said, “If thou attackest him, lolleth out his tongue; and if thou leavest him alone, lolleth out his tongue.”
Most of Muslims’ dog hate comes to us via the Hadith, a collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. There are various, often contradictory hadiths about whether or not you are allowed to keep a dog as a pet. Dogs are allowed for security, says one. Their fur is fine but their saliva is unclean, says another. But if the fur gets wet, it becomes unclean. You can pet dogs, but you may not kiss them. You can keep them if they are not allowed inside the house. You can have them as long as you use them for hunting. What about the saliva they leave on the hunted animals? That’s fine.
A popular Hadith about dogs says that angels won’t enter your abode if there is a dog in the house. Apparently, the angels don’t mind if the dog is out on the lawn or playing in the courtyard. Which basically leads you to the conclusion that angels don’t much care for believers living in small apartments or houses without big lawns?
The Hadith warning us about the angels’ revulsion for dogs is sometimes said to have been narrated by one of the Prophet Muhammad’s close companions and the most prolific of his scribes. His name was Abu Huraira. He was also the most famous cat lover in Islamic history. In fact, his name means Father of the Cats. Some competing scribes from the era have called him an unreliable narrator, but nobody can call him out on any perceived bias against dogs: He tells the story about the forgiven prostitute.
Many other stories support the fact that caring about dogs doesn’t automatically make you a heathen. In one story, the Prophet Muhammad was leading his army into a battle when he came upon a female dog with a litter of puppies. He posted a companion to protect them. Umar, the second caliph, stated that he would be personally responsible if even a stray dog went to sleep hungry under his administration.
There are lots of people who hate dogs but care about the human condition; they care about children begging on the streets, or transgender people not getting jobs. Like them, I worry if it’s O.K. to care about a mutt when the world around us is falling apart. Then I tell myself it’s exactly when the world is falling apart that you should care about mutts. After all, our prophet cared about the safety of dogs in the middle of a battle.
Our classical poetry, religious and romantic, heretic and Sufi, is full of verses where a lover wants to be a stray dog living on the street corner of his beloved’s home. Sufi poets have held dogs as a symbol of devotion and superhuman dedication. But even when the pious ones are crooning away about their desire to be a dog in the holy city of Medina, they can’t stand a real dog when it happens to pass by.
I have had to drag my dog away from speeches and recitals because he gets excited and starts barking. He probably wants to join in, but poets and protesters — religious or godless — don’t want dogs joining in their celebrations. I am reminded of the Arabic proverb: The dogs bark and the caravan moves on. Sometimes it’s the caravan that barks and the dogs that have to keep moving.
Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.”
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/opinion/sunday/mohammed-hanif-of-dogs-faith-and-imams.html?emc=edit_ty_20150727&nl=opinion&nlid=71783194

The Religious Have Gone Insane: The Separation of Church and State — and Scalia from His Mind

By Jeffrey Tayler
JUL 26, 2015
The headline on the News Nerd was almost too good to be true: “American Psychological Association to Classify Belief in God As a Mental Illness.”  A study, the story beneath it read, had led the APA to conclude that “a strong and passionate belief in a deity or higher power, to the point where it impairs one’s ability to make conscientious decisions about common sense matters, will now be classified as a mental illness.”  Faith’s recurrent lethality was adduced: “Every year thousands of people die after refusing life-saving treatment on religious grounds.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, said the article, refuse lifesaving transfusions (on account of biblical prohibitions against the drinking of blood).
Most gratifyingly, for a rationalist, the author quoted a certain Dr. Lillian Andrews, who opined that, “Religious belief and the angry God phenomenon has caused chaos, destruction, death, and wars for centuries.  The time for evolving into a modern society and classifying these archaic beliefs as a mental disorder has been long overdue.”
Finally, I thought, the educated elite is beginning to awaken to the threat that accepting, without evidence, the truth of comprehensive propositions about our cosmos (that is, religion, in all its inglorious  permutations), poses to the mental health of our society!
A “strong and passionate belief” in a (nonexistent) God does our world immeasurable harm: look no further than ISIS or al-Qaida.  In fact, look no further than the damage religion causes to progressive causes of every sort (and thus to our psychological well-being) in the United States, from women’s reproductive rights to same-sex marriage to teaching science in schools to depriving federal coffers of $82.5 billion a year (in tax exemptions).  Consider the enrichment of all sorts of faith-charlatans who thrive off the gullibility of millions of Americans.  Recall the sick “purity movements” that allow meddlesome parents to ruin the lives of their daughters.
I could go on.  In any case, it was to be expected that sooner or later psychologists would catch on to the quasi-psychotic elements (including detachment from reality, belief in spirits, hearing “the voice of the Lord, and so on) inherent in religion.
But no!  I was wrong!  The fine-print disclaimer at the foot of the News Nerd’s page ruthlessly dispelled my elation: The story, like the others the site publishes, was “for entertainment purposes only,” and “purely satirical.”  In other words, a spoof.  The hour was not nigh; psychologists were not yet ready to diagnose firm belief in God as what it is: an unhealthy delusion.  Men in white jumpsuits won’t be forcing the faithful into straightjackets any time soon.
(Yet would that it were so!  Imagine, so many Supreme Court justices and Republican politicians, from Antonin Scalia to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, disqualified in one fell swoop on mental health grounds from holding public office!)
In fact, religion, so potentially dangerous that the Founding Fathers established a “wall of separation” to keep it clear of our affairs of state, continues to enjoy an entirely unmerited imprimatur of respectability.  Yet the satire in the News Nerd’s piece derives its efficacy from an obvious truth: belief in a deity motivates people to behave in all sorts of ways — some childish and pathetic, others harmful, a few outright criminal — most of which, to the nonbeliever at least, mimic symptoms of an all-encompassing mental illness, if of widely varying severity.
Why childish?  A majority of adults in one of the most developed countries on Earth believe, in all seriousness, that an invisible, inaudible, undetectable “father” exercises parental supervision over them, protecting them from evil (except when he doesn’t), and, for the mere price of surrendering their faculty of reason and behaving in ways spelled out in various magic books, will ensure their post-mortem survival.  Wishful thinking characterizes childhood, yes, but, where the religious are concerned, not only.  That is childish.
True, belief, say the polls, is waning, but that it persists at all, given the advances of science in the past couple of centuries, and especially since Darwin published “The Origin of Species” in 1859, does nothing if not lead a rationalist to despair.  Americans, by and large, cling to their religion (and, yes, their guns).  To have all the resources to begin reliably fathoming the mysteries of the universe, and yet to cast them aside for slavish fidelity to primitive fables (most of which deserve no more “reverence” than tales from the Brothers Grimm) that no one past the age of six or seven should believe . . .   well, such is the very definition of pathetic.
Harmful?  Let’s leave aside the mass-market mega church “God of Love” finding little or no textual support in the Old or New Testament, and take the terrifying deity as the sacred canon depicts Him.  One Bible verse alone (Nahum 1:2) describes Him as vengeful, jealous, wrathful, and furious. Or let’s take His supposedly more clement son, who orders us (says Matthew 25:41) cast into everlasting hellfire for trivial transgressions.  Who benefits from the misconception that a permanent, inescapable, unimpeachable tyrant oversees our thoughts and deeds, including those of a most intimate nature?  The life- and society-damaging neuroses generated by this crazed delusion afflict many of those around us.  That is harmful.
But the harm is greater than that.  All in all, the most pernicious constellation of rubbish misbelieves forming the core of the Abrahamic faiths concerns women, blamed for sin itself (the “original sin”), and the Fall of all mankind.  Every mainstream misogynistic superstition stems from the rotten old myth of Genesis: woman as made not in God’s image, but from one of Adam’s spare parts, and thus inferior to man.  Woman as temptress, woman as unreliable, woman as “unclean.”  The rest of the Old and New Testaments inculcate an array of injurious ideas: that, women depreciate after their initial sexual encounter, and serve only to bear children and satisfy the lust of their mates.  That they must submit to their husbands “as unto the Lord,” keep silent in church, cover their (shameful) bodies and heads, and never have authority over men.  It goes without saying that none of this fosters mental health.
Source: http://www.salon.com/2015/07/26/the_religious_have_gone_insane_the_separation_of_church_and_state_and_scalia_from_his_mind/

Iran at Crossroad: Past Dreams or Future Building?

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
28 July 2015
MANY foreign analysts thought the Saudi response to the nuclear agreement with Iran is resentful or, at best, ambiguous. Perhaps the reason for this confusion is coming from the “unofficial” statements about the future of the Saudi-Iranian relations.
Some Saudi analysts fear that the agreement would free the destructive hand of Iran in an unprecedented way, because nothing in the agreement discourages Iran’s from intervening in its neighbors’ affairs.
n the other hand, the “official” statements have welcomed the agreement, as long as it limits Iran's ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction, imposes transparency on its nuclear energy projects, and allows it to get safer technologies for the dangerously outdated nuclear reactors.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir warned Iran not to play with fire, and called on the international community to monitor the irresponsible acts of the Iranian government, represented by the Revolutionary Guards and intelligence agencies.
I do not see any ambiguity or contradiction between the two positions. Saudis are welcoming the nuclear deal with some reservation about its monitoring mechanism.
Iran has proven in many cases its ability to cheat in its agreements. Therefore we need a foolproof system that won’t allow any cheating, with strict punishment if it ever happened.
At the same time, we have shown our dissatisfaction with the absence of conditions in the agreements that would force Iran to change its irresponsible policies and practices in the region.
They have so far ignited sectarian, religious and national strife in Arab countries, and sponsored militias coups and destructive civil wars.
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen stand witnesses to these acts. Iranians have managed to do so under strict international embargo and sanctions, so imagine what they could do after the release of frozen funds, estimated at $100 to $150 billion in America alone.
We are dealing here with a rogue state that has, for three decades, disregarded international law, fostered terrorism, and insisted on expansion and intervention in the affairs of its neighbors.
It is a justified concern to expect the worse from an Iran freed from restrictions. Of course there is a glimmer of hope that the Iranians would get back their senses and take advantage of this acceptance into the civilized world and the enormous funds they will receive from Western banks and commercial interests that will follow the lifting of economic sanctions.
This is a golden opportunity to develop a country still using the same infrastructure built before the revolution by the overthrown Shah government, to achieve the aspirations of its people, half of them living below the poverty line, and to meet the needs of the new generation who chanted in rallies (not for Gaza nor Lebanon … my soul is for Iran).
It is their chance to rebuild the economic, trade, cultural and security bridges with its neighbors and to become their ally and partner in peace, enlightenment, development and security.
In this case, Iranians will find extended hands and open hearts welcoming and inviting them to take leadership position in a new Islamic world that preaches tolerance, cooperation and construction among its members and with the rest of the world.
Iran unfortunately is not unified. The great Iranian people are weary of war and rivalries with neighbors, and tired of interference in the affairs of others.
They yearn for a new phase where the construction, restoration and renewal of the great civilization of Persia within its current borders take priority.
An important part of the leadership seems to share this hope and seeks to achieve that dream. However, there are those who live in the past, led by superstition, moved by imperial ambitions, and follow one and only dream — re-establishing the Sassanian empire, (224 AD to 651 AD) which extended as far east as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and west to Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt; and to the east and south of the Arabian Peninsula. Ironically, they exploited religion to achieve their pre-Islam dream.
The problem is that the upper hand today belongs to those Farsi extremists, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and supported by his henchmen in the House of Parliament, the Expediency Discernment Council, the Revolutionary Guards and intelligence agencies.
They keep disrupting the “reformist” president’s plans and hamper attempts to implement his electoral promises, in the hope that in the next elections, the Iranians would elect a hard-line government like that of Ahmadinejad.
Let’s hope and pray that the next legislative elections will bring more reformists in the House of Parliament and the Expediency Discernment Council, strengthening the hands of the President and his ability to make the right strategic decisions, in answer to Allah, and the expectations of Iran’s people, neighbors and the civilized world.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah.
Source: http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20150728251600

Dying For Christianity: Millions at Risk amid Rise in Persecution across the Globe

By Harriet Sherwood
27 July 2015

Christians are scanned with a metal detector outside the Our Lady of Consolation church, in Garissa, Kenya which was attacked with grenades by militants. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Christians are facing growing persecution around the world, fuelled mainly by Islamic extremism and repressive governments, leading the pope to warn of “a form of genocide” and for campaigners to speak of “religio-ethnic cleansing”.
The scale of attacks on Christians in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America has alarmed organisations that monitor religious persecution, with most reporting a significant deterioration in recent years.
On his recent trip to Latin America, Pope Francis said he was dismayed “to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus”. He went on: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”
At Easter, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the leader of the Anglican church, spoke of Christian “martyrs”. Christians were living under persecution in almost half of the 38 Anglican provinces worldwide, he said this month. “They fear for their lives every day.”
The Prince of Wales has described threats to Christians in the Middle East as “an indescribable tragedy”.
According to David Alton, a crossbench peer who campaigns on religious freedom, “some assessments claim that as many as 200 million Christians in over 60 countries around the world face some degree of restriction, discrimination or outright persecution”. That is about one in 10 of the 2.2 billion Christians in the world. Christianity remains the faith with the most adherents.
“Whatever the real figures the scale is enormous. From Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt to North Korea, China, Vietnam and Laos, from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, from Cuba, Colombia and Mexico to Eritrea, Nigeria and Sudan, Christians face serious violations of religious freedom,” Alton said. Persecution ranged from murder, rape and torture to repressive laws, discrimination and social exclusion.
One consequence was “a form of religio-ethnic cleansing of Christian communities”, said John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic campaign group that monitors persecution. “The persecution of Christians is at a level we’ve not seen for many, many years and the main impact is the migration of Christian people. There are huge swaths of the world which are now experiencing a very sharp decline in the number of Christians.”
In the past 15 months, a number of egregious attacks have highlighted the targeting of Christians by Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Africa. They include:
•      the abduction of more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls;
•      the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, and other attacks by Isis militants in Iraq and Syria;
•      the killing of 147 people on a university campus in Garissa, northern Kenya.
In addition, a heavily pregnant woman, Meriam Ibrahim, was sentenced to death in Sudan for alleged apostasy, triggering worldwide protests. She was later allowed to leave the country.
But monitoring groups say the persecution of Christians goes far beyond high-profile cases. According to the Pew Research Center, Christians face harassment in 102 countries – more than any other religion. The US government advisory body the Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), recommended this year that eight countries – the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam – be added to the State Department’s existing list of nine “countries of particular concern”.
The 2014 report on religious freedom in the world by ACN said conditions had deteriorated in 55 countries, and significantly so in six countries: Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria. Although Muslims “also face terrible and systematic persecution … and Jewish communities have also suffered increased threats and violence”, Christians were by far the most persecuted faith group, the report said.
Open Doors, a global organisation monitoring Christian persecution, conservatively estimates that 4,344 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in 12 months up to November 2014, and 1,062 churches were attacked. It says persecution increased in 24 countries last year, with Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria entering the top 10 of its country-by-country league table. North Korea has headed the list for the past 13 years; up to 70,000 Christians are held in gulags, with “tens of thousands of people banished, arrested, tortured and/or killed”, it says.
In general, persecution of Christians is increasing, “and the rate of increase is accelerating”, said Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland. The nature of persecution was also changing, she added. “It used to mean several years in a forced labour camp. Now it means watching your loved ones being beheaded.”
The rise of Islamic extremism is driving much of the increase in Christian persecution, said campaigners and church leaders who point to militant groups such as Isis, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. “One of the 21st century’s major challenges to freedom of religion or belief [is] the actions of non-state actors in failing or failed states,” said USCIRF’s 2015 annual report.
Lee Marsden, professor of international relations, specialising in religion and security, at the University of East Anglia, said the collapse of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East during the Arab spring was a significant factor. “They had many downsides, but they did protect minority faiths. Take them away, and it becomes open season on minorities – that was one of the unforeseen consequences of toppling these people. And the Arab spring was hijacked by Islamists, which was bad news for religious minorities.”
Social media has allowed religious extremists to push their message beyond geographical boundaries. Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi, speaking in a recent debate on religious freedom in the House of Lords, said the internet was “to radical political religions what printing was to Martin Luther. It allows them to circumvent and outflank all existing structures of power. The result has been the politicisation of religion and the religionising of politics, which, throughout history, has been a deadly combination.”
Other forces driving persecution include authoritarian regimes restricting the activities of particular faith groups, tensions between groups coming into contact as a result of migration and displacement, and declining tolerance and pluralism in some parts of the world. Christian leaders this week protested against a campaign to remove crosses from churches in eastern China.
And there are some unexpected pockets of persecution. In 2014, five Catholic priests were killed in Mexico, prompting the Vatican to say it was the most dangerous country in Latin America for its followers. Powerful criminal groups see the church as a target for extortion and money laundering, and view some priests as standing in the way of their own influence. Attacks on priests in Mexico increased by 80% between 2012 and 2014, local organisations reported.
Some campaigners and church leaders acknowledged the danger of religious persecution being seen as a modern-day clash of civilisations, a titanic struggle between Islam and Christianity, carrying the risk of polarising people of different faiths.
“It is not about Islam and Christianity. It is about the right for everyone to have the freedom to choose, practise, share non-coercively, and change their religion or belief – and it includes the right not to believe as well as the right for adherents of all religions to follow their beliefs,” said Lord Alton.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said: “It would be a serious mistake to cast this as a Muslim-Christian conflict.” He cited a bishop in northern Nigeria, who had told him the most recent killing in his diocese was of 39 Muslims by Boko Haram. “The extremist groups are certainly perpetrating violence, against anyone who does not share their world view. That includes Christians, but it’s not exclusively Christians by any means.”
According to Marsden, there could be an element of Islamophobia in some Christian campaign organisations, “but there is also an element of victimhood – a view that the church has always been persecuted, which feeds into the martyrdom narrative”.
And, in the House of Lords, the archbishop of Canterbury alluded to Christianity’s own historical record of persecuting others, saying “the church’s sporadic record of compelling obedience to its teachings through violence and coercion is a cause for humility and shame”.
In the same debate, Sacks – along with others – pointed to the increasing threat faced by “people of all faiths, and of none”. He said: “Christians are being persecuted throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Jews are facing a new and resurgent anti-Semitism. Muslims who stand on the wrong side of the Sunni-Shia divide are being killed in great numbers. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Bahá’í and others face persecution in some parts of the world. Religious freedom is about our common humanity, and we must fight for it if we are not to lose it. This, I believe, is the issue of our time.”
Not all agreed with the pope’s use of the word genocide. But, said Pearce, “if you look at what’s happening in the Middle East, it’s being purged of Christians, and there are definitely elements of religious cleansing. So I can see where the pope got that word from.”
She drew a distinction between “smash” – extreme violence – and “squeeze”, where “life as a Christian becomes inexorably harder. The squeeze inevitably makes the church more vulnerable to the smash when it comes.” The groups that were the most violent were not necessarily the worst persecutors, she added.
Campaigners have suggested action such as increased governmental pressure, legal help where there is a functioning judicial system, providing havens for refugees, and supporting NGOs on the ground. Alton would like the prime minister, David Cameron, to appoint a special envoy for religious freedom, as the US and Canada have done.
The archbishop of Canterbury said that attacks on religious freedom were often linked to economic, social and historical circumstances. “If we want to defend religious freedom around the world ... do not sell guns to people who oppress religious freedom; do not launder their money; restrict trade with them; confine the way we deal with them,” he told his fellow peers. In addition, said Nichols, “for people of faith, the promise and pattern of prayer is very important; to say you are not forgotten is a crucial and sustaining gift.”
Pearce said Open Doors constantly wrestled with how to “make clear we’re talking about the impact of extremism, that it’s not only Christians that are persecuted, and that the overall goal is to create an environment where people are free to follow any religion, or none. This is not an issue just for Christians, but a human rights issue that affects us all. It’s not a problem for the church, but much wider than that.”
Under Attack
Garissa University – Kenya
On 2 April this year, gunmen from the militant Islamic group al-Shabaab attacked Garissa University in Kenya, killing 147 people and injuring 79. The gunmen released Muslim students and shot those who identified themselves as Christians, in some cases telling the students to call their parents and talk to them as they died. The gunmen held the university in a state of siege for 15 hours, with more than 700 students trapped inside. The siege ended when four of the gunmen were shot by police; the fifth was able to detonate his suicide vest, killing himself and injuring Kenyan commandos. It was the deadliest attack in Kenya since the bombing of the US embassy in 1998 and one in a series of al-Shabaab attacks on the country, which the terrorist group claimed were carried out in retribution for the “unspeakable atrocities against the Muslims of East Africa by the Kenyan security forces”.
Pregnant Woman Sentenced To Death For Apostasy – Sudan
Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian, was sentenced to death for adultery and apostasy after marrying a Christian man, with whom she had a young son. Ibrahim was raised as a Christian by her Christian mother after her Muslim father left the family when she was a young child. The Sudanese court said she should have followed the religion of her absent father, which would have prohibited her from marrying a Christian, and found her guilty of abandoning her Muslim faith. Ibrahim was arrested when she was eight months pregnant and held in a Sudanese prison with her 21-month-old son to await hanging after the birth of her second child. She was denied medical care and prison staff refused to take her to hospital when she went into labour; she gave birth to a daughter in prison with her legs shackled. Amid international outrage, Ibrahim was released on the order of the Sudanese appeal court, but was rearrested as she was boarding a plane with her husband and two children the next day. After intense diplomatic negotiations the whole family were allowed to leave and they are now living in the US.
Attacks on Christians by Isis – Iraq, Syria, Libya
Iraq’s Christian population has decreased dramatically since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, as large numbers have fled because of escalating persecution. Christians, as well as other minority groups, have been targeted by Isis in the large parts of Iraq and Syria under its control. It is believed that more than 100,000 people, many of them Christians, fled Qaraqosh, Mosul and the Nineveh plain in 2014 as Isis swept through. The Islamic extremists present Christians with the choice of converting to Islam, paying a very high tax or being murdered. In February 2015, Isis posted a video purporting to show 21 Coptic Christians being beheaded on a beach in Libya. Two months later, a second Isis video apparently showed another 30 Ethiopian Christians being shot or beheaded.
Kidnapping Of Schoolgirls by Boko Haram – Nigeria
A group of Boko Haram militants attacked a school in Chibok, a primarily Christian village in Nigeria, on the night of 14 April 2014. They kidnapped schoolgirls who had returned to the school to sit their final physics exam. It is uncertain how many girls were kidnapped, but estimates put it at between 276 and 329 girls, with 53 escaping in the few weeks following the attack. The girls were taken to Boko Haram strongholds and attempts by the Nigerian government and the girls’ families to rescue them have been unsuccessful. Less than a month after the kidnapping, Boko Haram released a video showing 130 of the kidnapped girls, all wearing Islamic dress. It is believed they are being held as sex slaves and have been forced to convert to Islam. Kate Lyons
Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/27/dying-for-christianity-millions-at-risk-amid-rise-in-persecution-across-the-globe