Wednesday 2.22.12

How to Boost Your Reading Comprehension – Do you find you have more to read than you can ever possibly finish? Do you actually take time to chew on what you read? There is a certain amount of value of being able to read and understand lots but it is easy to get lost in the flood and never profit from all you read. This article has some good tips for managing your reading work flow.

Five Thoughts on Vocation – A few brief thoughts on what the theology of vocation is and why it is so important that we see not just the “spiritual” acts of our life but all of life as before the face of God.

Finally, the theology of vocation is fundamentally about who we are created to be – both as human beings in general, and as specific creatures.

Review: Islam Without Extremes – a good overview of a book I’m really excited about Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty that summarizes some of its main arguments and shows why the book is valuable.

I honestly think it is one of the most important books of 2011; if you have any serious interest in Islam and its future, do make sure you read this.

Secularism: Its Content and Context – this is a pretty heavy article but makes some really interesting and strong points about what secularism should be and how it should be argued for. He, in a very interesting way, argues against relativism in a way that I really resonated with. While there are some areas of disagreement with the author I really liked the piece overall. (I’d recommend reading the full article, though a heavy 35 pages) because this excerpt just gets started on the good stuff!)

Re-Thinking Secularism Abstract

So one of the ways in which I’m hoping to profit from blogging this year is through sharing some of the work I’m doing other places and generating feedback and helping to develop ideas. In my articles that I plan to post on Thursday’s (or Friday’s!) I will often be drawing from reading and writing I’m doing for grad school. Today I sent in the last of my projects for the fall semester. So I am now officially done! I’m looking forward to a few weeks off. It was mildly anti-climactic though because I’m going to be continuing some of the same topics next semester as I work on my master’s thesis.

Below is the abstract for a paper that will form the basis for my thesis. Thoughts? Questions? Ideas?

Re-Thinking Secularism: Religion in Public Life in Turkey

Abstract:

What does it mean to be a secular state? Is there a universal understanding of the place religion should occupy in a democratic state? This paper considers the conceptions of secularism and the particular brand of secularism that Turkey has embraced throughout its history. It is argued that a variety of factors make it untenable for the state to continue in a path of strict secularism through the  control of religion but secularism should be reconceptualized in a way that assures the freedom of religion from the state and the state from religion. A theoretical model is proposed that is better suited to the current realities of the Turkish experience and identifies some of the unique issues of concern. As Turkey continues to develop a robust and stable democracy and desires to remain a leader in the implementation of democracy in the Muslim majority world it must continue to make progress in the place of religion and public life.  

Another Sad Story↑

So for those of you in the United States you have undoubtedly heard about the scandal currently being investigated at Penn State University. The football program is one of the most storied, the coach is already legendary, and the actions of one former assistant have tarnished the memory of all of that, and the lives of a number of young people were drastically impacted.

I don’t really want to add to the tons of articles being written about this. There is plenty out there if you want to find more details about it. What I do want to share is the mental journey that I went through as soon as I heard about this story. Actually the NBC Nightly News segment linked below also took a similar direction. NBC Nightly News

“The sexual abuse of young kids by a trusted authority figure”

Sounds terribly familiar, huh? Just within the United States over the past few decades we have had this or similar scenarios play out over and over again. From the Catholic Church, to the Boy Scouts, and within the most conservative and religious elements of our society as the 20/20 special from April covered. Now to a leader of a football program that was built on a code of honor.

I think for myself when I heard about these incidents as they occurred over the past 10 or 15 years I looked at the institution as lack having some unique dynamic that created this circumstance. But what really do a state university football program, conservative Evangelical Christianity, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Church have in common?

Human beings.

That’s about as far as the connections go. Yet, I think that is enough. I think all of these terrible scenarios expose the nature of man as a sinful being who when left to himself is capable of committing awful acts. As a Christian, I find the Bible describes this in a number of places and most notable in this scenario the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. I’m not going to turn “expositional” here but in that portion of his letter Paul is writing to show how all mankind is in need of a righteousness that can’t come from within.

The scandal at Penn State is another reminder to me of how the heart of man is corrupt and for righteousness to come from it can only be the result of something supernatural.

20/20 – “Shattered Faith”

The Minority Report↓

The Politics of Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority States: Old Challenges and New Trends by Ziya Meral

This is the fourth article from the Summer edition of The Review of Faith and International Affairs.

Meral, Ziya. “The Politics of Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority States: Old Challenges and New Trends.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Vol. 9 Summer 2011): 25-30.

Map of the Muslim Population by Percentage in ...
Map of the Muslim Population by Percentage

This was the shortest of the articles thus far. It is also much more historically-orientated and does not provide as much analysis as laying out the historical record. It concludes with a few challenges and applications for the present, but on the whole is basically a historical framework of the treatment of religious minorities in Muslim-Majority states.

In this article Ziya divides the history into four different eras. (1) The Early Era (2) The Powerful Era (3) The Modern Era (4) The Contemporary Era.

The Early Era 610-660 AD

At the very beginning of its founding Islam itself was the minority religion. One of the Prophet Muhammad’s burdens was the polytheism of his people. So when he begins teaching a monotheism that will undercut the idol-worship it was not well received. This led the early Muslims to go from Mecca to Medina. There the message was more openly received and the community was able to consolidate.

During Muhammad’s time in Medina and triumphal return to Mecca, the Prophet emerged as a skillful political leader uniting tribes and demonstrating increasing political and ultimately military power. Thereafter, more domineering and harsher attitudes began to emerge. – Meral, 26.

While not a comprehensive Islamic history this statement provides some oversight to the importance that Muhammad had in the community. He was the religious leader, but was also the political and military leader as well. All the facets of the community were wrapped up in this one man. This helps to understand the vacuum that was created after his death in 632.

The state of non-Muslims during this period is described mostly as ambiguous. Some were friends= and some were foes. There are some instances of forced conversions and others where this was not the case. For really the first 50 years of Islam there was no real coherent framework.

The Powerful Era 661-1924

This second era is by far the longest and in many ways spans too much of a time period to be fully consistent. It stretches from the Ummayyad Dynasty in 661 all the way to the fall of the Ottoman and Qajar dynasties in 1923 and 1924 respectively. Over this extensive period a number of different schools emerged.

The principles of sharia as preached by the Prophet, recorded in the Qur’an, and demonstrated in the Hadith developed into various schools of thought and produced the texts which formulated Islamic jurisprudence. – Meral, 26.

As Islam and Islamic empires spread the desire for non-Muslims was for them to convert. This however was not the case in every instance. So the relations can eventually be summarized in this way:

Hence, generally speaking non-Muslims could dwell in Muslim lands and in theory could be exempted from sharia laws and any coercion to convert to Islam. In return, non-Muslims had to accept a heavy burden of taxation and accept that they had not political rights and were not citizens but merely denizens. The most sophisticated and well regulated version of this was seen in the millet  system in the Ottoman Empire. – Meral, 26.

This, in the general sense, was the state of affairs for most minorities under the various Islamic empires. Certainly there were instances of more freedoms and rights. There were also times of harsher treatments as well. Meral indicates that there is a battle of “revisionist history” taking place. Some camps try to portray a “golden era” from pre-colonialism when non-Muslim minorities and Muslim governments were on good terms. On the other hand some have advocated abuses on the other extreme to buttress arguments of incompatibility between Islam and modern ideas of human rights. Both sides are prone to overstating the reality.

Yet, the actual historical reality shows neither a golden era nor the dark age. Non-Muslims enjoyed relative freedoms but also serious restrictions and persecution at the hands of their Muslim rulers, depending on where and when and with whom they lived. – Meral, 26.

This is the summary of roughly 1300 years of history. A far from simple task.

The Modern Era 1900-1989

This is again a rather ambitious project to tackle without broad-brushing so much so as to really be unhelpful. Meral divides the modern era into two parts 1900-1967 and 1967-1989. During the first section most of the Muslim world was seeking independence and attempting to create some sort of unified state. In some instances Islam was viewed as a defining factor and non-Muslims were forced to assimilate or else faced persecution or elimination. In other instances ethnicity was the common bond and so an Arab could be either Christian or Muslim but by nature of being an Arab was a viable part of the community. Most of the nation-states at this time were built on a secular notion of the state and many flirted with ideas of socialism. However, Meral points to the Six Day War – and the defeat of multiple states and seizure of land by Israel – as a defining moment that signaled the failure of the secular state. This shifted the balance of power away from the secular and toward the Islamists.

At this point many of the Islamist leaders claimed that the Muslim world was the way it was because these nations had forgotten Islam. In this new world the biggest losers were the non-Muslims. While unlike Muslims of the Powerful era the minorities had equal rights on paper they still faced harsh exclusion in day to day living, with only a few exceptions.

In the end this era is “summarized by assimilation, exodus, marginalization, and fatal persecution of religious minorities across Muslim-majority countries.”

The Contemporary Era

In this era, as a result of the previous conditions, the number of non-Muslims has drastically diminished in the Middle East and North Africa. However, at the same time there has been a small but increasing community of non-Muslims emerging in the region. Some of the examples given include more than 35,000 Christians in Algeria. Even Iran has a growing number of conversions. What does this mean?

First, it challenges the homogenized narratives of the nation-states and now these groups have found themselves at odds with the state. In some instances this is viewed as a rejection of national identity.

Second, these conversions challenge the Islamist groups and have created an anomaly in the “us” versus “them” battle they use to explain the world. For Muslim background believers to become followers of another faith it raises a whole series of questions. These converts – apostates – share all of the moral, cultural, and political opinions  yet they differ only in religion. Some have imagined this as a subtle advancement of a “unified Christian West” to corrupt and destroy the social order. While modern conceptions of human rights have helped to limit violent persecution, subtler forms still exist in daily life. In some cases, as is being demonstrated presently in Iran, conversion may be cause for execution. The present case for religious minorities is bleak in most cases.

Conclusion

This historical survey has attempted to show both the good and the bad for religious minorities. There is the potential for minority religious views to co-exist alongside of a Muslim majority. The democratic uprisings of the Middle East have re-introduced the question of what is the place of minorities in these societies. Perhaps the future will offer a more meaningful level of freedoms for those of any faith.

Let us hope and pray that we have all learned our lesson in allowing xenophobia, racism and religious demonization to run free in the 20th century and do not repeat the same mistakes in the 21st century. – Meral, 29.

Part 4 of my review of the Summer 2011 edition of The Review of Faith and International Affairs. Read the introduction to the series here.

Part 1: Forced Faith↓

Part 2: Compelled to Tell↓

Part 3: Religiously Arguing for Religion↓

Reading Today’s Stories…9/16

So it has been a few days since I’ve posted links to news stories around the political-theological-cultural-historical world (at least the part that I’m reading in) so here are a few interesting links I’ve found.

Nancy Fuchs Kreimer: The Good News About American Islamophobia http://huff.to/p6lolR

So I have mentioned a few of the studies referenced in this article before. But this is a summary of a few reports put out that chart the attitudes of American’s toward those of a different religion: specifically Islam. As a country that purports to advance freedom this is a major question we have to face. Read the whole story here.

Why the Kabul Embassy Attack Is Really A Disaster — Registan.net http://bit.ly/qIFrrp

American Embassy in Kabul
American Embassy in Kabul

One of the major news stories from a few days ago was the attack on the American embassy in Kabul. This attack was the first that was able to last until a second day. However, that is not the only reason why this is a significant attack. Though the weapons and tactics were not really significant enough to produce serious damage  on a hardened target like the embassy they do carry a significant message.

As 2011 has ground on, the attacks in Kabul have become more intense, lasted longer, demonstrated better intelligence and tactics on the part of the insurgency, and struck ever more supposedly-secure targets. It is part of a years-old trend in the Taliban insurgency: by engaging in high-profile attacks on targets we assume to be safe, they are engaging in propaganda of the deed, of using their assaults to send a very deliberate message to the Afghan people: you are not safe, you are not secure, and the West cannot protect you. This has gone on for years now. It is not a secret.

Read the whole story here.

Video: Bloodlines Trailer | Crossway http://bit.ly/rbcTbU

I am very excited for this new book to be released later this month. It is written by a prominent pastor and gives his story of growing up within the religious but deeply racist south. It is an extremely important book and I think will be a great help to the church in combating some of the issues in our country today. It has application to how you treat your neighbors who only speak Spanish or how you treat the new family in your kid’s school who pray in a mosque on Friday. What does your faith as a Christian and the Gospel have to say about that situation?  Watch the short trailer below: