Posts Tagged ‘ Christian ’

My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.
At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam – beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.

Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often – truth be told – contain lots of downright lies.

For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents.” Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing” Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy “naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.

Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned. John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.

Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington” (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota,
promoted earlier this year.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians – and all Americans – in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.
Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.

The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point – a hitting bottom, if you will – in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia. If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.
It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian – beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.
Islamophobic evangelical Christians – and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late – must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.
The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.

Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.
To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.” The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.

Brian D. McLaren is author of “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World”

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Pakistan Should Abolish Overly-Abused Blasphemy Laws

By Arsalan Iftikhar for The Washington Post

My grandfather was one of the most well-known literary figures in Pakistan’s history and once famously told me that, “Anger is the most extravagant luxury in the world.” I am always reminded of my beloved grandfather’s poignant sentiment whenever I read stories about death sentences being meted out in accordance with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws; with the most recent example being the case of an 11-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan who is facing blasphemy charges for allegedly burning pages of the Koran in rural Pakistan.

The child was arrested last week in a Christian area of the capital Islamabad, after a crowd of people demanded that she be punished for allegedly desecrating pages of the Muslim holy book. According to BBC News, it is not clear whether she burned pages of the Koran or was just found to be carrying them in her bag. Additionally, the BBC reported that doctors in Pakistan have examined this young Christian to further determine her mental capacity (some unconfirmed reports stated that she has Down’s Syndrome), with the results due to be presented in a Pakistani court in the coming days.

Pakistan’s Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, has said she is innocent of the charges and should be released. Shortly after her arrest, Bhatti told BBC News that, “The police were initially reluctant to arrest her, but they came under a lot of pressure from a very large crowd who were threatening to burn down Christian homes.”

As an international human rights lawyer, it is my personal belief that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are one of the most obvious obstacles preventing the nation of Pakistan from protecting its religious minorities (including members of the Christian, Hindu and Ahmadiyya communities). According to Pakistan’s penal code, here are the primary sections dealing with blasphemy charges and their potential criminal punishments:

“Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

In recent times, these controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan have created major international headlines and generated debate across the globe. In November 2010, a Pakistani Christian female laborer named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death after a fellow worker accused her of insulting Islam. Her sentence is under appeal, and Bibi is still in jail. Only a few months after Bibi’s death sentence, provincial Gov. Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti – both prominent Pakistani politicians – were assassinated in cold blood after public calls to amend the blasphemy laws.

CNN also further reported that militants attacked two mosques in May 2010 and killed more than 90 worshipers of the Ahmadiya sect, a minority Muslim group often “viewed as heretics and blasphemers by hardline Sunnis” in Pakistan.

As a proud and practicing Muslim, I have written previously on “blasphemy” issues insulting Islam around the world and how modern Muslim societies should respond to such controversies. Most Muslims are aware of a well-known Islamic parable which tells the story of the prophet Muhammad and his daily interactions with an unruly female neighbor who used to curse him violently and then proceed to dump garbage onto him every day from her perch-top window each time he would ever walk by her house.

One day, prophet Muhammad noticed that the woman was not present to throw garbage outside of her window. In an act of true prophetic kindness, he actually went out of his way to inquire about her well-being and then proceeded to visit his hostile neighbor at her bedside inside of her own home when had found out that she had fallen sick.

This genteel act of prophetic kindness toward unfriendly (and overtly hostile) neighbors is the truly Muslim and Islamic standard that we should all use within our collective lives, not threats of violence and/or death sentences which disparately impact religious minorities in Muslim-majority nations. After all, if our prophet Muhammad treated those who cursed him with kindness, shouldn’t other Muslims do exactly the same?

Thus, although Pakistan has a very long way to go in terms of protecting religious minorities within their national borders, it can take a giant step in the right direction by abolishing its overly-abused blasphemy laws and show compassion to people of other religions, something that Islam’s prophet taught us over 1,400 years ago.

Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of “Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era.”

For US Muslims, a 9/11 Anniversary Like No Other

By Rachel Zoll for The Associated Press

American Muslims are boosting security at mosques, seeking help from leaders of other faiths and airing ads underscoring their loyalty to the United States — all ahead of a 9/11 anniversary they fear could bring more trouble for their communities.

Their goal is not only to protect Muslims, but also to prevent them from retaliating if provoked. One Sept. 11 protest in New York against the proposed mosque near ground zero is expected to feature Geert Wilders, the aggressively anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker. The same day in Gainesville, Fla., the Dove World Outreach Center plans to burn copies of the Quran.

“We can expect crazy people out there will do things, but we don’t want to create a hysteria,” among Muslims, said Victor Begg of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. “Americans, in general, they support pluralism. It’s just that there’s a lot of misinformation out there that has created confusion.”

On Tuesday, the Islamic Society of North America will hold a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington “to address the growing tide of fear and intolerance” in the furor over the planned New York mosque.

Islamic centers in many cities are intensifying surveillance and keeping closer contact with law enforcement. Adding to Muslim concern is a fluke of the lunar calendar: Eid al-Fitr, a joyous holiday marking the end of Ramadan, will fall around Sept. 11 this year. Muslim leaders fear festivities could be misinterpreted as celebrating the 2001 terror strikes.

“We’re telling everyone to keep their eyes open and report anything suspicious to authorities and call us,” said Ramzy Kilic of the Tampa, Fla., chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Other efforts around 9/11 aim to fight bigotry. Muslims will clean parks, feed the homeless, and give toys to sick children as part of Muslim Serve, a national campaign to demonstrate Islamic commitment to serving humanity.

Separately, groups are distributing ads to combat persistent suspicions about Islam. One spot, called “My Faith, My Voice,” features American Muslims saying, “I don’t want to take over this country.”

Sept. 11 anniversaries have always been challenging for U.S. Muslims, who have been under scrutiny since the attacks. This year, the commemoration follows a stunning summer in which opposition to a planned Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site escalated into a national uproar over Islam, extremism and religious freedom.

Islamic centers as far away as Tennessee and California faced protests and vandalism. In western New York, police said a group of teenagers recently yelled obscenities, set off a car alarm and fired a shotgun during two nights of drive-by harassment at a small-town mosque near Lake Ontario.

Usama Shami, board chairman for the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said a new mosque the congregation has been building for years drew little attention until recently, when some resistance emerged in the neighborhood and from some in city government. Recently, vandals broke into the new building, spilled paint on the floor and broke expensive windows.

Shami believes the ground zero dispute is partly to blame for the trouble, along with passions unleashed by Arizona’s strict new law that would require police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.

“All of these issues came at the same time,” Shami said. “When things like that happen, I think they bring out the worst in some people.”

On Sept. 11 in Chicago, Zeenat Rahman, a 34-year-old native of the city, will visit a local nursing home with Muslim and non-Muslim friends to spend time with residents and help serve a meal.

“This is when people are going to look at our community, and when they do, what are they going to see?” said Rahman, a policy director for the Interfaith Youth Core, which promotes pluralism. “Sometimes, saying `Islam means peace,’ feels a little defensive and apologetic, whereas service is really core to our faith.”

Unity Productions Foundation, a Washington-area group that specializes in films about Islam and Muslim Americans, will hold an interfaith talk on Sept. 11 at the Washington Jewish Community Center.

Speakers include Monem Salam, the subject of a Unity Productions film titled, “On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly.” Unity recently launched groundzerodialogue.org, where visitors can view films and use them for community discussion about Islam in the U.S.

Salam, 38, of Bellingham, Wash., usually spends the Eid weekend with his wife and three young children, but said he persuaded his wife he had to participate in the event.

“I have to leave them and go across the country to answer questions about Islam,” said Salam, a portfolio manager who was 4 years old when his family left Pakistan for the U.S. “It’s unfortunate. It’s the time that we live in.”

Slain American Volunteers Were Devoted to Service

By Laura King and Ashley Powers for The Los Angeles Times

They were a disparate group of American altruists who had long cared for the poor and ailing, thrown together on a mission to provide medical help in the most daunting and needy of places.

Last week, the six Americans were among 10 volunteers shot to death in a remote swath of Afghanistan while returning from an aid mission, a tragic end to their years of risk-laden service in the war-ravaged and impoverished nation.

Tom Little, for one, remained in Afghanistan through its brutal civil war in the 1990s, talking his way through checkpoints manned by various ethnic militias, and saving the lives of co-workers who might otherwise have been dragged from the car and killed.

Colorado dentist Thomas Grams often traveled with a bodyguard and told friends how he’d persuaded a tribal leader to bring his mother in for a dental exam by agreeing that she’d peel back as little of her burka as possible.

“He was just there out of kindness,” Katy Shaw, a friend of Grams, said Sunday, her voice catching. “I can’t get my arms around why someone would do that to a group of people trying to be helpful.”

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the ambush in a rugged, isolated valley, which also killed two Afghan men, a German woman and a British woman working with the International Assistance Mission. The Taliban accused the Christian group’s volunteers of proselytizing and spying for Western military forces, which the charity vehemently denied.

The charity team, which had been providing eye care and other health services to villagers, had hiked over a steep mountain pass into neighboring Nuristan province, where insurgents had been battling Afghan and Western forces. Police theorized that the assailants might have followed them back from there.

Two other Afghan members of the group escaped the massacre: an interpreter who had left before the ambush and a driver who told police he recited verses from the Koran as he pleaded for his life. Afghan authorities are still questioning the driver about his account of the incident, and police said it would take two days for investigators to reach the scene of the killings.

The Western military condemned the attack as part of a pattern of insurgent behavior that exacerbated the suffering of Afghan civilians.

“This is something the Afghan population has to face,” said Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. “Because of these brutal, indiscriminate and absolutely deranged tactics and activities of the Taliban, international aid workers and nongovernmental organizations can’t do their job, which is so necessary for this country.”

The bodies of the slain American volunteers were flown by helicopter to the Afghan capital on Sunday from Badakhshan province, in Afghanistan’s northeast, the U.S. Embassy said. FBI agents in Kabul helped identify the victims and aid groups released most of their names. One American had not yet been publicly identified.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of these heroic, generous people,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington.

Even before deplaning in Afghanistan, the team’s members had devoted themselves to helping the world’s most destitute. Grams, 51, was a prime example.

In 2001, he became the first dentist to join a volunteer group in Denver that whisks teams of dentists around the world. At weeklong clinics, they provided children free cleanings, fillings, extractions and tooth-brushing lessons — always without toothpaste, in case the villagers ran out.

Tall, blondish “Doctor Tom,” who usually manned the first of six chairs, stuck out among his thousands of Indian and Nepalese patients. But he’d put them at ease by pulling down his mask and sharing a toothy grin.

“In America, the view is that the dentist gives you pain,” said Laurie Mathews, Global Dental Relief’s director. “In these countries, he only relieves pain.”

Grams so enjoyed aid work that, a few years back, he gave up his dental practice. He’d also started traveling to Afghanistan periodically with other charity groups. It was no surprise to Mathews that Grams ended up in one of the country’s far-flung corners: Once, to treat patients on Mt. Everest, they’d hauled dental equipment to a Buddhist monastery on rented yaks.

“His life mattered,” Mathews said. “He is defined by more than how it ended.”

Another victim, Cheryl Beckett, 32, was a former senior class president in Ohio with a sharp sense of humor and a strong Christian faith, said her grandmother Jean Fink. Both characteristics helped the aid worker power through the last six years, with Beckett educating Afghan villagers in nutritional gardening and mother-child health, and herself in the local languages.

She had this love for the people and she immersed herself in their culture,” Fink said. “Cheryl was as beautiful inside as she was outside.”

Since 2008, Glen Lapp, a former nurse and real estate agent from Pennsylvania, had helped manage a program that delivered eye care to Afghanistan’s remote areas. In a report for the Christian aid group Mennonite Central Committee, he’d written that workers must continue “treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world.”

“He just had a real sense of peace … toward the Afghan people,” said John Williamson, a fellow relief worker who talked to Lapp last month. Lapp, 40, told Williamson that he believed the country’s security situation was improving, and that he had high hopes for peace.

The British victim, Karen Woo, had given up a private medical practice in London to work in Afghanistan on mother-child health.

The deaths rattled the tightknit world of Afghanistan aid groups, which had already been struggling to weigh a deteriorating security situation against enormous humanitarian needs.

“People would walk long distances, sometimes carrying the old and sick on their backs, to see the doctors, getting glasses, treatment and minor surgery,” Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network wrote in a eulogy for the victims. “And many considered blind, literally getting their sight back.”

Two of the victims — Little, a 61-year-old optometrist, and his longtime associate Dan Terry, 64 — were both fathers of three, and both had worked in Afghanistan for decades and were fluent in Dari. The men told friends that, over time, they’d made peace with the battle-scarred country’s inherent dangers.

In the dingy halls of the Kabul eye hospital where the bespectacled Little spent much of his working life, the sorrow was palpable. Co-workers and patients paid emotional tribute to a man they described as kind, caring and determined to aid Afghans whose eye ailments might otherwise have condemned them to a lifetime of misery and poverty.

“God only knows why anyone would hurt them,” said a woman named Bibi Sheerrin, who was recovering from cataract surgery. “They were trying to help us.”