Who do you know?

Just last week I finished up reading Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. The book  is not new. It has been around since 2007/2008.

In short, it’s based on the Gallup World Poll data and is one of the largest data collection surveys in history. The goal is to let people speak for themselves, rather than the more typical portrayal that is given by pundits or pop culture. There’s a lot of value in it. So I’d commend it to you as a starting point for reflection and discussions.

But what I really wanted to get at it is something more basic than what’s in the book. I guess, in some sense, it is a replacement for the book. Rather than having some massive study representative of billions of people tell you what the world thinks, my question is this:

Who do you know? What do they think? 

There are many perceived conflicts in the world. Whether along religious lines or political or social issues or even theological issues, there are a whole host of opportunities to find some group of people with whom you are at odds.

I’m in no way dismissing the importance of any of these stands. Oftentimes disagreements are truly over serious issues. There are many weighty debates. Not every dispute is petty trifling. They often emerge because people hold sincere beliefs. They stand for something.

But I wonder what we know of those on the other side?

Or, as I asked above, who do you know?

Have you ever spent time with those with whom you disagree? Have you sat down for a conversation? Not a debate, but just talked about life? Have you ever “loved your neighbor” (to put it in Biblical terms)?

We can start by reading a book – to tell us “what a billion Muslims really think” – but maybe, just maybe, we’d all be better off we knew what even just one person thought.

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.  

Dissent Denied↓

Ambiguities of Apostasy and the Repression of Muslim Dissent by Abdullah Saeed

The fifth article from the Summer edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs.

Saeed, Abdullah. “Ambiguities of Apostasy and the Repression of Muslim Dissent.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Vol. 9 No. 2, Summer 2011): 31-38.

This article begins with a sketch of the historical background and the practice of Muhammad and some of the early followers in relation to those of other faiths. Saeed comes to the conclusion that though with a few exceptions

religious freedom came to be regarded as a fundamental principle of classical Islamic law and theology, particularly in relation to non-Muslims. (31)

The majority of the article deals not with the freedoms of non-Muslims in Muslim majority contexts but for Muslims within Muslim majority contexts. Saeed points that laws dealing with this topic emerged during a period of “imperial expansion and internal competition” (32). These laws were used to silence opponents in order to consolidate power. They were prone to abuse then and now.

Saeed breaks “dissent” down under five different headings: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Heresy, Hypocrisy, and Unbelief.

Apostasy: After having previously accepted Islam turns away and rejects it
Blasphemy: Foul language with regard initially to the prophet Muhammad and then extended to include God, angels, and other prophets.
Heresy: Teaching that becomes a danger to the state, freethinking, outward faithfulness while in practice remaining loyal to a former non-Islamic religion.
Hypocrisy: Outward profession to Islam while continuing inward devotion to non-Islamic beliefs. 
Unbelief: One who does not believe in core beliefs (oneness of God, prophethood of Muhammad) of Islam.

These categories cover the vast majority of the laws relating to division within the Muslim community. In the second and third centuries of the Islamic era lists began to be constructed. Today there are dozens of “apostasy lists” There is no consensus on which list is correct. Depending on the location and circumstances one list gains prominence over another. These become useful in silencing dissent especially when three conditions are present:

1. The laws are worded ambiguously and are therefore easily applied in a wide range of cases;

2. there is a dominant local orthodoxy and an overbearing religious establishment to oversee its implementation; and,

3.  there is a political elite willing to support the religious establishment. (Saeed 33)

The majority of the remaining pages of the article expands on each of these conditions. It is easy to see how when these three things come together there is no room for critical thinking. The author cites a number of cases in various countries that demonstrate what this looks like. At times it takes the form of academic censure, or eliminating a political challenger. Other times these laws have led to imprisonment or execution. Sometimes the suppression takes place through official channels, the police or military, legal proceedings, etc. Other times individuals are provoked to take action against someone who a leader feels is divisive or a challenge to their authority.

What are the most significant losses from this denial of dissent?

Obviously, when physical violence or execution is a major loss. Beyond that, it hinders an individuals personal expression of their faith. If they differ at all from the dominant orthodoxy they may face opposition. It forces minority religious groups into the background. Academics and intellectuals are denied the freedom to seriously study and share their findings with society. This is why a large number of the prominent voices calling for reform in Islamic thought live outside of Muslim majority countries. Within their home countries the academic freedom does not exist to seriously engage on topics that might be seen as a challenge to the existing structures.

Whenever religious freedom is suppressed something significant is lost. Not just when one religion silences another but within the same religion. The freedom to think and question and work towards greater understanding is a valuable freedom.

For Islamic thought to move forward, Muslims in Muslim-majority states need to rethink these laws that criminalize dissent and that suppress thought and debate. (37)

Monday Night Jihad by Jason Elam←

Monday Night Jihad

by Jason Elam and Steve Yohn

Product Description

After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Riley Covington is living his dream as a professional linebacker when he comes face-to-face with a radical terrorist group on his own home turf. Drawn into the nightmare around him, Riley returns to his former life as a member of a special ops team that crosses oceans in an attempt to stop the escalating attacks. But time is running out, and it soon becomes apparent that the terrorists are on the verge of achieving their goal: to strike at the very heart of America.

My Review

To be honest, I told myself that I wasn’t going to read this book. I first saw it this summer and kind of laughed at the title. I just thought it would be too cheesy. Also, if you look at my reading from the last year (reading list) I’ve read quite a few books in this genre. So I just wasn’t going to read it, but then I started it and about 3 days later I was finished.

Part of what was so compelling for me was that I think I am like THE demographic this book was written for. First, I have been a huge fan of Jason Elam since he started his career as kicker for the Denver Broncos when I was 6 and gave me lots of happy moments growing up. All of the areas he describes around Denver are my own stomping grounds. So it is always enjoyable to read about that. I could have been one of the characters in the book: carrying concessions up and down the stands at games, stopping at Chick-Fil-A for Dr. Pepper even more than the great chicken. It was a book that I just identify with! So that made it fun to read. I was also pleasantly surprised with how they handled some of the issues in the book.

This book is explicitly Christian fiction. The authors are both committed followers of Christ, I don’t know for sure but expect they would identify themselves as Evangelical Christians, and that informs their writing. Unfortunately, there have been some Evangelical Christians who have been extremely misguided in their understanding of and approach to Islam. I was afraid this book would fall into that category but I don’t think that it does. The author’s intentionally show the vast difference between the majority of Muslims and those who engage in terrorism under the banner of Islam. They also show some of the reasons why terrorism happens beyond “the Sword verses and Islam is about violence” explanation, there are often political reasons and personal loss that drive many to do what they do.

I was grateful for the way the authors handled this subject. While there are certainly major differences between Christianity and Islam and the authors do not shy away from them and attempt to articulate why it is they believe Christianity is true and Islam is false, they do not resort to the hate-mongering, Islamophopia that some have done.

As far as the plot and character development itself, the book is somewhat predictable. The characters are likable and I just genuinely enjoyed the book. The descriptions of PFL (not to be confused with the NFL *wink wink) life are great and knowing they are coming from a 17 year veteran gives it credibility (even still I wondered if there is really THAT much puking??). The descriptions of military and law enforcement are plausible at least.

If you are looking for Christian fiction for a teenage+ guy this would be a solid choice. It’s got a lot of the things guys love (football, guns, violence) and is plenty of fun. I got this for free a few months ago but there are now 4 books in the series so we’ll see if I am able to keep away from reading the rest of them!

If you need an example of why Jason Elam holds a special place in my heart, besides just always being a genuinely good guy, this is just one of the 436 FG’s he made in his career: