Posts Tagged ‘ Baghdad ’

Pope Benedict Urges Pakistan to Repeal Blasphemy Law

By Elisabetta Povoledo for The New York Times

In a forceful appeal for religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI urged Pakistan on Monday to repeal contentious blasphemy laws as he called on governments around the world to do more to enable Christians to practice their faith without violence, intolerance or restriction.

The pope was speaking in an annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, a long-scheduled event. But this year, his words came after bomb attacks in Iraq and Egypt — the most recent in the Egyptian city of Alexandria less than two week ago — and the assassination last week of a leading Pakistani politician who had opposed his country’s law that makes blasphemy against Islam punishable by death.

The politician, Salman Taseer, had campaigned vigorously against the law and had petitioned the Pakistani government to re-examine the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who last November was sentenced to death under the legislation.

Mr. Taseer’s “tragic murder,” the pope said, “shows the urgent need to make progress in this direction: the worship of God furthers fraternity and love, not hatred and division.”

Referring to the attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt, Benedict called on the governments of those predominantly Muslim countries to adopt “effective measures” to better protect religious minorities. Urging Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy law, the pope said the legislation was being used “as a pretext for acts of injustice and violence against religious minorities.”

The pope has often spoken out against religious intolerance, but his condemnations have increased after recent attacks on Christian communities in several countries, including Nigeria and the Philippines, where churches were bombed during the recent holidays.

The plight of Christians in the Middle East has been of particular concern to the Vatican, which hosted a meeting of bishops in October to address the issue.

The concerns have deepened in recent months in the face of what clerics see as sustained violence. At a New Year’s Mass at a Coptic church in Alexandria, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and wounded nearly 100. Last October, a siege at a Baghdad church killed 53 people, prompting yet another exodus of Christians from the country.

On Monday, the pope cited a message to Christians in the Middle East that he delivered during the bishop’s synod in October. “It is natural,” he said, that “they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media.”

The pope also took Western nations to task for marginalizing religion and minimizing its role in contemporary society and called for dialogue between faiths to promote “a common commitment to recognizing and promoting the religious freedom of each person and community.”

 

Islam: A Religion of Love

By William C Chittick for The Huffington Post

In the field of religious studies, the word “religion” is commonly understood to designate a worldview along with the various cultural phenomena that embody it, such as doctrine, ritual and art. In this broad sense of the term, everyone has a “religion,” whether acknowledged or not.

By studying the religions of others we can hope to gain a bit of distance from the unquestioned worldviews that underlie our own thinking. Such study is much like learning a new language — we gradually come to see the strengths and weaknesses of our own way of talking and writing. So also each religion, including the atheistic versions, has its own genius and its own limitations.

It seems fairly clear that most thoughtful people nowadays think that we live in interesting times. Some look to other worldviews precisely to gain insight into their own lives. This is a major factor in the great popularity of religious studies in North American universities. The fact that Rumi has become a household name points in the same direction.

Part of Islam’s intellectual heritage is a vast literature exploring and elucidating the nature of love, that most precious of human experiences. Now that I have been offered this forum and told to write about anything I feel like, well, I feel like talking about love. My two previous posts and the responses to them have highlighted the fact that most people have already made up their minds as to the nature of “true Islam.” So let me turn to something that most people, Muslim or not, typically leave out of their understanding of Islam, not least because of their obsession with the world of politics and catastrophes.

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya was a famous theologian from Baghdad who died in 1350. Part of his fame lies in the fact that he was the leading disciple of one of the most cantankerous theologians of Islamic history, Ibn Taymiyya, a favorite of Sunni ideologues. Surprisingly for those who think that people of this ilk were narrow-minded bigots, Ibn Qayyim dedicated a large part of his prolific output to love, compassion, forgiveness and other such mild-mannered themes.

In one of his many books, written late in life — Ighathat al-lahfan, “Aid for the Sorrowful” — Ibn Qayyim says that the root of Islam is “love for God, intimacy with Him, and yearning to encounter Him.” He also says, “The revealed books of God, from the first to the last, revolve around the commandment to love.”

Remember that Muslim scholars traditionally spoke of “124,000 prophets,” beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad. What Ibn Qayyim is trying to say is that every true religion — that is, all the religions established by the 124,000 prophets — are founded on love. It makes no difference who these prophets were or where they lived. When Muslims settled down in China, for example, they soon recognized that Confucius had been a prophet.

Claiming that “love” is the heart of Islam or of religion generally is not unusual in the Islamic context. Another example is provided by the major Sunni scholar Rashid al-Din Maybudi, who completed the longest pre-modern Persian commentary on the Quran in 1126. In explaining why the Quran calls itself “a book from God” (verse 2:89), he says that the book deserves to be titled “the eternal love” and that its content is “the story of love and lovers.”

One hundred years after Maybudi and as many years before Ibn Qayyim, Rumi’s famous teacher, Shams-i Tabrizi (who disappeared in the year 1247), said that the Quran is “a book of love,” or “a love letter” from God. He explained that if lawyers, philosophers and theologians fail to see it this way, that is because they are too preoccupied with their own specialties. First, you need to love God rather than law or theology or philosophy (or politics). Then, you should read the book. It is worth noting here that Shams, despite his reputation as an unlearned rascal of spirituality, was a professional Quran-teacher.

No one is surprised to hear that Rumi saw the Quran as a book of love, but most seem to think that Rumi was out of kilter with the Islamic mainstream. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is no accident that his six-volume epic poem in celebration of love, the Mathnawi, has often been called “the Quran in the Persian language.”

Shams al-Din Muhammad, the greatest and most beloved of Persian poets, provides another example. He is known by his chosen pen name, “Hafiz,” a word that designates someone who has memorized the Quran. Anyone familiar with his poetry knows that it is permeated with love and beauty, so much so that native-speakers can become intoxicated simply by listening to it. Hafiz holds that all religion and indeed, all human striving, is rooted in love. One verse will have to suffice:

Everyone, sober or drunk, is seeking a beloved,
everywhere, mosque or synagogue, is the house of love.

Muslim scholars who talk about love as the heart of Islam and of religion generally take the position that God’s love and compassion motivated him to create human beings so that they could love him in return. The goal of creation is to bring lovers into existence, and the goal of lovers — that is, you, me and everyone else — is to escape false loves and return to what we really love. This, for them, is the key message of the Quran, “the story of love and lovers.”

William C. Chittick, is a Professor of Religious Studies, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, State University of New York, Stony Brook. For a survey of the role of love in religion generally, including his essay on Islam, see the volume edited by Jeff Levin and Stephen G. Post, Divine Love: Perspectives from the World’s Religious Traditions.

Sectarianism Has Poisoned Pakistan

By Basim Usmani for The Guardian

The recent attacks on a prominent shrine in Lahore demonstrate how the unrest in Pakistan is caused by a minority of few who cannot tolerate the plurality of beliefs in Pakistan. The Tehrik-e-Taliban are lying through their teeth when they claim that they do not attack public places. It’s becoming more and more apparent that these militants aren’t resisting American hegemony; this a war to determine Pakistan’s future and, by proxy, the future of Islam.

Whether the Tehrik-e-Taliban actually arranged the bombers’ suicide belts is irrelevant; they have created a domino effect that’s likely to spread from commercial capitals such as Lahore to cities with historic shrines and Pakistani historical sites, such as Multan, or Taxila.

Unlike Baghdad, where violence between Islamic sects is a product of the war America is waging, the onus of last Thursday’s blasts falls squarely on us, the citizens of Pakistan. We have been complacent about sectarianism for too long.

A good friend who works for a transportation company told me in 2007 that in villages along the highways to Waziristan where the Taliban had seized control were the bodies of butchered Shia Muslims. That year, Lahore’s public was too busy mobilising about the judiciary and President Musharraf to pay the violence any mind.

Sectarianism has a brutal history in Pakistan that existed long before militants in Afghanistan began calling themselves the Taliban. I remember as a child in Lahore the broadcasts of gun violence outside Shia houses of worship during the early 1990s.

Many Pakistanis feel that the attacks on two Ahmadiyya mosques last May, where gunmen unloaded bullets and grenades on Friday prayer-goers, were unprecedented. Certainly the Ahmadiyya community doesn’t think they are.

To have a Pakistani passport requires citizens to assert that they are not part of the Ahmadiyya community. In a sense, holding that passport also makes you complicit in the blasts that killed dozens in Lahore’s most famous Sufi shrine last week. Our inability to understand that this war is about national identity is rooted in the same complacency.

We are OK with the state deciding for us who is or isn’t Muslim. In this regard, the Pakistani government has the weakest moral fibre in taking on this growing strand of extremism. It is hypocritical to fight the Taliban in Waziristan if we are okay about denying citizenship to millions of Muslims born in Pakistan.

It may sound extreme of me, but we should be jailing clerics in Pakistan that give edicts declaring believers to be non-Muslim or anti-Pakistani. It may seem extreme to an American that writers who deny the Holocaust are imprisoned in Europe, but extreme contexts call for extreme measures.

Pakistanis must stress how being born or raised in their country is enough to be Pakistani; laws preventing Ahmadis from referring to themselves as Muslims were amended to the constitution by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s.

I remember being uneasy at my desk in middle school when I was studying at Aitchison College in Lahore, and some of my classmates were getting bullied for having marks on them after returning from Shia processions during Muharram. Pakistanis themselves are the only ones capable of stamping out this discriminatory culture.

Some proactiveness is necessary on our part to make it clear that mystics, Shias, Ahmadis and Christians are all fellow Pakistanis. When you are pulled over by street police in any major Pakistani city, the first bit of information the police ask for is your family name. From one name your caste, religious beliefs and affluence is determined.

This came as a shock to all of my family who have emigrated away: that collectively our stock in our own nationhood has plummeted so. In a sense, these problems are all accrued debt we’ve accumulated for being so complacent. In the light of our bigoted constitution and deterministic culture we have to – for ourselves – decide that being Pakistani is enough to make us all countrymen. Otherwise, we might as well just refer to ourselves as Taliban, Muslim extremists, Islamic militants, and so forth.

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