28 April 2011

An Arab Spring for Women

An Arab Spring for Women, by Shahin Cole and Juan Cole (Asia Times, 29 April 2011)

The "Arab Spring" has received copious attention in the American media, but one of its crucial elements has been largely overlooked: the striking role of women in the protests sweeping the Arab world. Despite inadequate media coverage of their role, women have been and often remain at the forefront of those protests.

As a start, women had a significant place in the Tunisian demonstrations that kicked off the Arab Spring, often marching up Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, the capital, with their husbands and children in tow. Then, the spark for the Egyptian uprising that forced president Hosni Mubarak out of office was a January 25th demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square called by an impassioned
young woman via a video posted on Facebook. In Yemen, columns of veiled women have come out in Sana'a and Taiz to force that country's autocrat from office, while in Syria, facing armed secret police, women have blockaded roads to demonstrate for the release of their husbands and sons from prison.
Link: An Arab Spring for Women

Dickensian Tragedy in India

Dickensian Tragedy in India, by Gautaman Bhaskaran (Asia Times, 29 April 2011)

The recent murder of 10-year-old Moin Khan in New Delhi by his employer-uncle once again highlights the terrible practice of child labor in India. Incredible as it may sound, child workforce is strictly banned by law in India. Yet, there are 60 million very young boys and girls toiling day and night for a pittance, while rightfully they ought to be at school.

It is very common, therefore, to see even eight-year-old children working all day long, in some of the most dangerous industries like firecracker and glass production. Here life is at peril during every working minute.
Link: Dickensian Tragedy in India

24 April 2011

Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules

Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules, by Carla Power (The Sunday Times [UK], 14 April 2007)

A Muslim scholar is rewriting history by revealing the extent of women’s influence on the formation of Sharia.
Mohammed Akram Nadwi is an unlikely champion for a Muslim gender-quake. Soft-spo-ken and shy, he is a graduate of madrassas in his native India, and an unabashed religious conservative. But the current work of this Oxford-based alim, or religious scholar, could shatter the stock notions of Muslim women’s roles, both in society and Islamic scholarship. Hunting through classical texts, Akram, 43, a researcher at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, has uncovered a tradition of female Muslim scholars dating back to the 7th century.

Muslim women’s religious scholarship is seen as sort of a cottage industry: if women study, it is pretty much in the purdah of their own homes or in segregated rooms in mosques or madrassas. If they teach, they usually teach only women. But trawling through centuries of biographical dictionaries, madrassa chronicles, letters and travel books, Akram has found evidence of thousands of muhaddithat, or female experts in Hadith, the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. He has found accounts of women teaching men and women in mosques and madrassas, touring Arabia and the Levant on lecture circuits, issuing fatwas, and making Islamic law. Who knew that in the 15th century, Fatimayah al-Bataihiyyah taught Hadith in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, and that the chief male scholars of the day, from as far afield as Fez, were her students? (Such was al-Bataihiyyah’s status that she taught at the grave of the Prophet, the mosque’s most prestigious spot.) Who knew that hundreds of girls in medieval Mauritania could recite al-Mudawwana, a key book of Islamic law, by heart? Or that Fatimah bint Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Samarqandi, a jurist in medieval Samarkand, used to issue fatwas and advised her far more famous husband on how to issue his?
Link: Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules

19 April 2011

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Forum)

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life)

An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details statistics on religion in America and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape. Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.

Link: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?

Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange? By George Clifford (Daily Episcopalian, 18 April 2011)

Ample evidence of the continuing numerical decline in The Episcopal Church (TEC) is widely available. The recent report, Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2010 Faith Communities Today Survey, provides the latest documentation:
  • Over half (52%) of all Episcopal congregations are in communities of 50,000 or fewer people and another 8% are in rural areas, a cause for concern given the steadily increasing urbanization of the U.S. population.
  • The median age of Episcopalians is 57; fewer and fewer young people identify with TEC.
  • Unless the median age drops significantly (or life expectancy increases very rapidly!), half of all Episcopalians will die in the next 18 years.
  • Only 3.1% of Episcopal congregations have an average Sunday attendance of 351 or greater; these large congregations are more likely to grow than are smaller ones.
The picture is deeply depressing for people who value TEC. Median attendance in Episcopal congregations was 66 in 2009, 72 in 2006, and 77 in 2003 (Episcopal Café: Numbers worth watching). If that rate of decline continues (i.e., median attendance declining by 5 people every 3 years), in 15 years the median attendance will be 31 and in 30 years attendance will average just 6 people on a Sunday per congregation.
Link: Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?

The Hidden Exodus: Catholics Becoming Protestants

The Hidden Exodus: Catholics Becoming Protestants, by Tom Reese (National Catholic Reporter, 18 April 2011).

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has put hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence: One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why. But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus. Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening. Thankfully, although the U.S. bishops have not supported research on people who have left the church, the Pew Center has.

Pew’s data shows that those leaving the church are not homogenous. They can be divided into two major groups: those who become unaffiliated and those who become Protestant. Almost half of those leaving the church become unaffiliated and almost half become Protestant. Only about 10 percent of ex-Catholics join non-Christian religions. This article will focus on Catholics who have become Protestant.
Link: The Hidden Exodus: Catholics Becoming Protestants

Related Link: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life) -- this is the study that provides the data for Fr. Tom Reese's article above.

Woe to You, Legislators!

Woe to You, Legislators! by Jim Wallis (Huffington Post, 14 April 2011)

It is reported that Congressman Paul Ryan makes every member of his staff read philosopher Ayn Rand, the shameless promoter of the gospel of aggressive self-interest. This makes sense to me as I read Congressman Ryan's new budget proposal. I wish he had his staff reading the Bible instead.

While widely lauded by conservatives, Congressman Ryan's budget isn't really about deficit reduction. It's about choices -- choices that will determine what kind of a country we become. And Paul Ryan has made the choice to hurt people who don't have the political clout to defend themselves. Two-thirds of the long term budget cuts that Ryan proposed are directed at modest and low-income people, as well as the poorest of the poor at home and abroad. At the same time, he proposed tax cuts up to 30 percent for some of our country's wealthiest corporations. Let me say that again: Two-thirds of the cuts come at the expense of already struggling people and families, while corporations posting record profits get tax breaks. In short, the most vulnerable members of society are being attacked by Ryan and his supporters. This makes them bullies.

In dramatic contrast, Ryan has chosen to help the people who need help the least. Wealthy individuals and companies reap a windfall of benefits in Ryan's plan -- with tax cuts and breaks, continued subsidies and loopholes for every powerful special interest, and increased corporate welfare payments from the government. Congressman Ryan and his supporters have carefully and faithfully rewarded the rich people who make their campaign contributions, and, in most cases, have also rewarded themselves as rich people. This makes them corrupt.

And, as self-professed budget hawks, they have completely ignored the most consistently egregious, wasteful, and morally compromised area of the whole federal budget -- our endless and unaccountable military spending. Paul Ryan and the Republicans would cut nothing from the Pentagon profligacy. This makes them hypocrites.

You may think that my language sounds too strong: "bullies", "corrupt", "hypocrites." But listen to the prophet Isaiah:

"Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims -- laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you?" (Isaiah 10:1-3, The Message)
Link: Woe to You, Legislators!

The Gospel according to Ayn Rand

The Gospel according to Ayn Rand, by Susan Brooks Thislethwaite (Washington Post, 18 April 2011)

“Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 6:20) According to Ayn Rand, the novelist and atheist philosopher so beloved of influential American conservatives today, that’s where Jesus got off track.

“There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus,” Rand writes. She argues that when Jesus teaches about “the salvation of one’s soul,” that’s individualism and therefore good. But when it comes to ethics, Jesus goes off the rails. Jesus’ mistake, per Rand, is the idea that, “in order to save one’s soul, one must love or help or live for others.” And that, Rand concludes, leads to Christianity’s “failure.” Rand, of course, “is noteworthy for her atheism and uncompromising opposition to religion.”
Link: The Gospel according to Ayn Rand

15 April 2011

Death Warrant of Ancient Christianity

Death Warrant of Ancient Christianity, by Philip Jenkins (Real Clear Religion, 11 April 2011)

Ever since the wave of popular movements started sweeping the Middle East, Western media have rarely found much good to say about the authoritarian regimes under attack. Few observers deny that the last generation or so of Arab rulers were indeed greedy despots, and it seems desirable for Western powers to intervene as forcefully as they can on behalf of what are commonly billed as pro-democracy movements. The arguments against intervention are obvious enough, most obviously that it is much easier to begin a military intervention than to end it, while we rarely have much idea about the political character of the supposed democrats we are trying to aid. But in one case above all, namely Syria, debates over intervention have missed one overwhelming argument, which is the likely religious catastrophe that would follow the overthrow of the admittedly dictatorial government. Any Western intervention in Syria would likely supply the death warrant for the ancient Christianity of the Middle East. For anyone concerned about Christians worldwide -- even if you believe firmly in democracy and human rights -- it's hard to avoid this prayer: Lord, bring democracy to Syria, but not in my lifetime.
Link: Death Warrant of Ancient Christianity

10 April 2011

Coming Out on a Christian Campus, Then and Now

Coming Out on a Christian Campus, Then and Now, by Ed Madden (Religious Dispatches, 31 March 2011)

Last month a pair of emails took me back to my roots in Christian fundamentalism, to a world I have tried, unsuccessfully, to escape. One message was from a friend, a link to a story about the death of the Rev. Peter Gomes, a man who spoke out against intolerance and specifically against the biblical literalism so often used to ground it. The other, from an address I didn’t recognize, was about a webzine by gay and lesbian students from my alma mater, Harding University—a Christian college that made news for censoring the publication and shutting down the very dialogue it was intended to encourage.

A conversation is happening—at other Christian colleges if not at Harding. In February, gay and lesbian alumni of Westmont College in Montecito, CA, wrote an open letter describing the loneliness and fear they felt there; a letter that prompted calls for campus dialogue. Baylor University, a Baptist-affiliated university in Waco, Texas, has blocked the formation of a campus “Sexual Identity Forum,” but Belmont College in Nashville has officially recognized a gay and lesbian student group.
Link: Coming Out on a Christian Campus, Then and Now, by Ed Madden

Czechoslovakia's Secret Church

Czechoslovakia's Secret Church, by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt (The Tablet)

It was at a moving ceremony at Vienna’s UN-City Church on Saturday last week, 21 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, that the largest and best-known underground circle in the former Czechoslovakia – called “Koinótés” and founded by the late Bishop Felix Maria Davidek – received the Herbert-Haag-Foundation Award for Freedom in the Church, which is bestowed annually on persons and institutions “for courageous actions within Christianity”.

Although a disputed and controversial figure, Felix Maria Davidek’s charisma and his extraordinary gifts have since been recognised by many Catholic churchmen, including bishops and cardinals. Davidek recognised the signs of the times and his response was prophetic.

Desperate situations, in this case severe persecution by one of the most relentless atheist regimes, merit desperate remedies and Davidek ordained married men and women to the Catholic priesthood. The survival strategies he undertook illuminate the Church’s potential for reform, which never ends with the death of the reformers.
Link: Czechoslovakia's Secret Church

Why an Observant Jew Should Follow a Plant-based (Vegan) Diet

Why an Observant Jew Should Follow a Plant-based (Vegan) Diet, by Rabbi Simchah Roth

In this day and age, a vegan diet is to be highly commended, especially in the case of a Torah observant Jew. Since this statement will come to many as a surprise (and perhaps a shock), it demands of me a full and reasoned response, particularly since many do not know what veganism is or how it is different from vegetarianism. Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products and honey. A healthy and varied vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

We live, today, thank God, in an era in which more and more Jews are seeking greater spiritual fulfillment. This is probably a reaction to the moral laxity and vacuousness of much of modern society. Modern society has brought many blessings to our world. People today are more knowledgeable and more affluent. This is due to the enormous development of scientific knowledge over the past five hundred years. Modern man's scientific capabilities have been developing at an ever increasing rate; and the exponential increase in the speed of innovation today is incredible. But this great blessing also nurtures a curse. Sometimes we surge ahead with the innovations of the industrial and post-industrial age without realising that we may inadvertently be causing a greater harm to our terrestrial environment than the blessing that we hope to bring to our material comfort.

It is now accepted by the greater part of the scientific community that climate change is upon us. And it is generally accepted now that human activity probably contributes to a very large extent to this ecological change – a change that will inevitably affect the life of every human being on God's Earth. One way in which each and every one of us can help heal our world is by switching to a plant-based diet. However, most religiously motivated Jews will reject this change outright, mainly because it seems to run counter to their accepted lifestyle which, they feel, has acquired an aura of sanctity.

It is my intention in this article to demonstrate that, if an observant Jew switches to a plant-based diet, he or she will be fulfilling some very great religious precepts [mitzvot], some of which have been ignored in recent times. I hope to detail four important and ethical precepts of Judaism that prompt the modern observant Jew to adopt a vegan diet. Since the article is quite long you might find it easier to read its four sections separately. You can click on one of these links to access the section that you wish to read. (I do suggest that you read them in sequential order.)
Link: Why an Observant Jew Should Follow a Plant-based (Vegan) Diet

The Eco-Halal Revolution

The Eco-Halal Revolution, by Nadia Arumugam (AltMuslim Comment, 4 December 2009)

On a brisk November day, Zaid Kurdieh is busy ensuring his chickens are comfortable. With temperatures well below freezing and snow on its way, Kurdieh — an organic farmer in the upstate New York town of Norwich — is moving his flock from open pasture to a heated greenhouse.

“They will simply collapse under the weight of the snow,” he says, with the concern of a worried father.

Raised on organic feed supplemented with organic vegetables, greens, and what they find scurrying through the pasture, the chickens may miss the bountiful surroundings of warmer months. But with the icy spell and frozen ground, they no doubt appreciate the toasty environment of their new home.
Link: The Eco-Halal Revolution, by Nadia Arumugam

Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook & Art Gallery

Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook & Art Gallery, by Kathleen Seidel

A cookbook with essays & anecdotes on the historic & contemporary role of food, eating, meals & hospitality in Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam
Link: Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook & Art Gallery

02 April 2011

Five Myths about Muslims in America

Five Myths about Muslims in America, by Feisal Abdul Rauf (Washington Post, 1 April 2011)

I founded the multi-faith Cordoba Initiative to fight the misunderstandings that broaden the divide between Islam and the West — each perceived as harmful by the other. Millions of American Muslims, who see no contradiction between being American and being Muslim, are working hard to bridge this gap. It is therefore not surprising that they have become the target of attacks by those who would rather burn bridges than build them, and the subject of recent congressional hearings exploring their “radicalization.” What myths are behind the entrenched beliefs that Muslims simply do not belong in the United States and that they threaten its security?
Link: Five Myths about Muslims in America