Tag Archives: Islam

Atheist Shoots Young Muslims in North Carolina

Although how pertinent the perpetrator’s and victims’ religious identities are to the motive remains to be litigated.

I was reading an update on this story a few minutes ago, and I watched embedded video footage of Craig Hicks’s first hearing (the arraignment, I believe it’s called?), and as the video ended, I started crying a little. That’s not my usual horrified-yet-cerebral response to this kind of thing.

I didn’t know Deah Barakat, or Yusor or Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. But Deah was attending college at my last alma mater. I immediately recognized the Old Well in one of the photos of Yusor and Deah that accompanied early news stories. I’ve been in the apartment complex where this shooting occurred. I guess that all makes this more tangibly real to me–more shocking–than if it had happened in some locale I’ve never been and don’t identify with.

This story mentions that Richard Dawkins, who Hicks admired, has done a horrified/outraged tweet about the shooting.

My brain’s on hold. In shock.

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Duke Divinity School on the adhan controversy

In response to the controversy over Duke University granting, then rescinding, permission for their Muslim student group to make the traditional call for prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower, the head of Duke’s divinity school has issued a letter defending the university’s decision to rescind permission. Time magazine has reported on this. The letter itself can be read here.

In the interest of bringing clarity to the on-going discussion of this issue—that is to say, in the interest of shoveling aside the bullsh*t—I’m providing below a paraphrase of the dean’s letter. It’s admittedly a very loose paraphrase, but I’m confident I’ve accurately captured the heart of what the dean is saying. Again, you can read the original letter here.


Dear members and friends of the Duke Divinity School community—especially our valued donors:

First, let me make clear that this controversy has nothing to do with us. We at the Divinity School have no control over what happens at the Duke Chapel, a state of affairs that might strike you as ill-advised in retrospect, and perhaps the administration ought to rethink it. At any rate, if we had been in charge, I can assure you none of this would have happened. We have our own chapel here in the Divinity School, which is used strictly for Christian worship. “Faithful Trinitarian Christian worship,” I mean—no Unitarians, or Mormons, or Oneness Pentecostals, or anyone else heretical.

The fact that this controversy has nothing to do with the Divinity School isn’t going to prevent me from sounding off about it. But because I’m not responsible, please direct your outrage to the foolish administrator who is: Christie Lorr Sapp, the University’s Associate Dean for Religious Life, at christie.lorr@duke.edu. Fill her inbox with your hate mail. I’ve made damn sure not to put my email address anywhere on this letter.

Now, before we get to the points I’m most invested in making, let’s get the obligatory disclaimers out of the way: Obviously Duke University values diverse religious traditions—and we at the Divinity School go along with that, too, as long as those other religions keep to their own turf. Obviously, I’m appalled by the hateful and even threatening things people have been saying. No need to mention names, certainly no one nationally prominent headquartered here in North Carolina. But come on, people, you’re making Christians look bad! And obviously, Muslims at Duke should not be held responsible for the behavior of Muslims elsewhere in the world—their terrible, terrible behavior. Millions of Christians are being persecuted in Islamic societies today. They’re prohibited from practicing their faith. Did you know that? Millions. When is there going to be a rally on the quad protesting that?

But look, here’s the fundamentally important thing: The Duke Chapel is Christian turf. That’s what this issue boils down to. Plain and simple. The chapel is a “Christian place of worship.” Not a “neutral space” to be used for purposes of “interfaith hospitality.” Which could raise the question of why the Muslim students are being allowed to pray there at all . . . but I won’t raise that question here. Let’s just stay focused on the call to prayer. As long as the Muslim students worship in the basement, where no one can see them—or hear them—we at the Divinity School raise no objections. For now.

But letting the chapel’s bell tower be used as a minaret—that’s another matter. Because how will that be perceived in parts of the world where Muslims are persecuting Christians? You might as well hang a banner on the chapel that says, “Go, Islamic State!” I realize, of course, that Muslims here perceive the situation as communicating hostility toward them, and I lament that. Really, I’m tearing up about it as I write this. But it’s a question of priorities: How the situation is perceived by Muslims here is not as important as how it might be perceived by Christians on the other side of the globe. Nor as important as how it might be perceived by certain generous Divinity School donors (generous when it comes to money, at least).

Again, let me be clear. We’re not Islamophobes here at the Divinity School. We’ve hosted Muslim representatives for interfaith dialogue—Jews, too, for that matter. We even have a Muslim who teaches at the Divinity School. (Team-teaches, I mean; it’s not like we leave him alone with our students.) We’re proud to have on our faculty Davis Marschall, a leading specialist in Christian-Muslim relations, someone who would certainly know better—ahem—than to countenance anything that might give the appearance of blurring interfaith boundaries in a way that could trigger conservative Christian outrage. Regretfully, Professor Marschall was not consulted about the propriety of letting Muslims use the Duke Chapel for the call to prayer. He didn’t even know it was under consideration. Someone might expect that a specialist in Christian-Muslim relations would be in close enough touch with the university’s Muslim student group to stay apprized of such a development; but Professor Marschall has bigger fish to fry. Still, I can’t understand why no one thought to reach out to him about this.

I hope I’ve cleared up any misconceptions about the Divinity School’s responsibility for this sorry debacle. I hope, too, I’ve made clear that while we at the Divinity School bear no ill will toward Muslims (those millions of persecuted Christians notwithstanding), we firmly oppose allowing them to borrow Christian houses of worship. To our valued donors: Please keep those checks coming!

Grace and peace be with you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Richard P. Hayes

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Adhan at Duke . . . oops, nope

A couple days ago, former fellow UNC alums posted to Facebook the news that Duke (where many of us took classes) had granted permission for Muslim students to perform the adhan–the call of prayer–from atop the campus’s iconic chapel bell tower. (A weekly Friday prayer service is held in the chapel basement.) “How nice,” I thought. “Good for the Dukies.”

Now the word is out that the administration has rescinded permission. A key player in that abrupt reversal is Franklin Graham, who lambasted the adhan plan on Facebook, then elaborated to the news media as follows:

“As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism,” Graham wrote on Facebook.

In an interview Thursday before the reversal, Graham told The Charlotte Observer that Duke should not allow the chapel to be used for the call to prayer. “It’s wrong because it’s a different god,” he said. “Using the bell tower, that signifies worship of Jesus Christ. Using (it) as a minaret is wrong.”

Graham did say Muslim students should be allowed to worship on campus. “Let Duke donate the land and let Saudi Arabia build a mosque for them.”

And referencing the recent terrorist attacks in France, Graham added, “Islam is not a religion of peace.”

(Charlotte Observer, Jan. 15, 2015)

The inevitable irony: Omid Safi reports that threats of violence were made against people at Duke by opponents of the adhan plan.

And who says Duke is losing its historic Christian identity?

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Salat before boarding

I’m getting ready to board a flight to take me from the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, in San Diego, back to Ohio so I can be there to teach on Monday and Tuesday. (Yes, I am such a goody-goody, much to my students’ annoyance, no doubt.)

As I wait to board, I’m remembering something that happened… I think it was after last year’s AAR. I was waiting to board a flight, and I ran into an acquaintance from graduate school. He’s Sufi–he always smells like incense (which is pleasant). We chatted for a while. Then, once the airline personnel announced that they would start boarding the first zones soon, my friend got up and retreated to a relatively unobtrusive corner of the waiting area to perform salat.

I glanced around to see if anyone was reacting to the sight. No one did, that I could see.

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Halal at Walmart

The student newspaper announced today that our local Walmart will now be selling halal meat, sparing Muslim students a two-hour round trip to the nearest provider in Cincinnati. Store management made the choice in response to a student petition. Our local Kroger (the major supermarket chain, for those in other parts of the country) and the Moon Co-op (which caters to the locally grown, organic crowd) have not responded to the petition, according to the article.

Read the story here: Walmart to sell halal meat option

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Homosexuality vs. Polygamy

This past July, I attended a luncheon in Salt Lake City–I’ve referred to this before–where I rubbed elbows with foreign scholars who were in the U.S. for a seminar on religion in American society. I was there as an expert on Mormonism, and the conversation turned for a while to Mormon polygamy, historical and contemporary. An Egyptian scholar asked me: If Americans accept gay marriage, why don’t they accept polygamy? I replied that, actually, there does appear to be some measure of increasing sympathy for contemporary Mormon polygamists, as indicated by their positive treatment on TV (Big Love, Sister Wives, Polygamy USA) and by states’ general reluctance to prosecute polygamists for polygamy per se. If, I hypothesized, the Supreme Court ended up ruling in favor of gay marriage, Mormon polygamists would look very closely at that decision to see if its principles could be applied to their case.

In retrospect, I realize that I probably missed the point of the scholar’s question. I suspect, now, that the point of his question was to register surprise that Americans are proving more tolerant of homosexuality than of heterosexual polygamy. Which, when I think about, is certainly not a self-evident state of affairs. Until I started reflecting on this outsider’s question, I had taken for granted, as an American cultural insider, that social acceptance of polygamous relationships represents a “next step” beyond social acceptance of homosexual relationships. But why is that? Why isn’t it the other way around? Why aren’t heterosexual polygamous relationships–because they’re heterosexual–more acceptable than homosexual couplings? I presume that for my Egyptian interlocutor, that last is the more logical way to think about the issue.

I guess what this shows is that for Americans, monogamy is a more fundamental cultural value than heteronormativity. Increasing numbers of Americans–I think polls indicate it’s a narrow majority at this point, yes?–are prepared to re-imagine marriage as the union of two women or two men. But a greater number of us are still inclined to think that a marriage should consist of just two people. Presumably this has a lot to do with the popularization of romantic, companionate models of marriage during the 19th century, which is itself related to the slower shift toward equality for women in modernized Western societies, which in turn is related to the West’s self-perception of its superiority over peoples whom it had or was colonizing–Egyptian Muslims, for example. Eventually, the romantic, companionate model of marriage was expanded to include gay/lesian couples. It’s taking more work to stretch the model to include polygamous couples.

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Ramadan etiquette?

I encountered an etiquette issue yesterday which for me, at least, was a first: Should you eat in front of someone who’s fasting during Ramadan?

The situation arose because I was at a luncheon being held as part of the Study of the U.S. Institutes, a State Department-sponsored program that brings foreign scholars to the US to learn, in this case, about religion in American society. I found myself seated next to two Muslim scholars. Because of the Ramadan fast, they weren’t partaking of the luncheon, but they were sitting with me because I was supposed to be fielding questions they had about American religion.

As soon as I realized that they weren’t eating, and why, I didn’t feel comfortable eating while we talked–so I just talked. Eventually a server started removing untouched salad plates. I told him to leave mine–I’d eat it later. At that point, my conversation partners urged me to go ahead and eat. So I took some bites of salad and drank a little bit, but I left the main plate alone when it arrived. The server brought it to me boxed, actually, unsolicited.

After a while, the Muslims in the group left to attend Friday prayers at a local masjid, at which point I ate my boxed-up meal while chatting with folks who had remained behind.

A different religion-and-food etiquette question that’s poked at me periodically for a few years: Was it wrong of me to order an entree with bacon when I was taken out to eat on the tab of a Jewish studies seminar I used to work for?

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American Protestant Work Ethic Compared to Islam and Japanese Culture

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).

American Protestant Work Ethic: As Compared to Islam and Japanese Culture
By Ian Marker

America has become a business icon leading the way in production and entrepreneurship. The Protestant theory called the Protestant Work Ethic and is widely believed to be the start of how work has been conducted in America through its years. This stems from that of the countries work ethic, which, traditionally, is known to be based upon Protestant Christian ideas. Humans in other area of the world have a work ethic as well, whose background has not been traditionally Protestant. It is these comparisons and contrasts that will be discussed in the content of this article.

The differences presented between each culture provide contrast to that which is not American. Through this article, we will look at how the history of Protestant Work Ethic has affected America working culture today. Then, We will compare this ethic to that of countries which are not historically Christian such as Japan and Turkey.

American Working Background

The American work ethic is based on that of the original theories of how protestant should spend their money. The grounds for Protestant work ethic strain from theological perspectives based on Scripture, mostly the book of Genesis, and Calvinists views of work.. Weber contributed the theory of Protestant work ethic, which brought about development of capitalism and industrialization.

The Calvinists who first inhabited the North East area of the country were escaping religious tension from within the English Kingdom. The Calvinists called themselves Puritans when settled in America. Calvinists believed that money was something that was good when used to drive work. It was right to go to work, work hard, and make money based on the work done. They thought that this act was good in moderation and paved the way for a natural capitalism.

Portrait Of Max WeberA man by the name of Max Weber wrote on his accounts of how the Protestant groups viewed work and money. He saw how money was being used to stimulate the economy inside small communities in groups such as the Calvinists. He was on the side that believed Calvin and Martins’ theories about capitalism was a positive attribute to man.

The Protestant work ethic, over the decades had degraded along with the overwhelming sense of American secularism. This notion of can be seen as a change to that of the “American Dream” which includes working hard to be successful and prosperous in life. This dynamic of Protestant capitalism has been somewhat degraded into a more socialized union while in parallel; America has become a more secular nation.

The main points in what consist of the Protestant work ethic in American culture is that one works to fulfill the work for their family. It is good to earn money and make a modest pay. This system fits into the capitalist society that the American market is based on. The Bible makes reference however, that Man should not get greedy or exceed that of what they may need in life. This stresses the idea of moderation and its goodness in society.

Islamic View of Work

In the Middle East, Islam is an intrinsic part of life and has played a significant role in establishing a religious work ethic. While Muslims share the hard ethic of Protestant culture, there are some differences to their beliefs that differentiate them from the Christians. Though both traditions emphasize a hard work ethic, Islam encourages a life of individual struggle, while Protestants believe God will provide for you regardless of your situation.

Like Protestant beliefs, Islamic work ethic prides individual effort. The Quran states that “man can have nothing but what he strives for” Those who work hard receive approval of Allah and are viewed as successful members of society. The Quran also states that humans should search across the globe for their livelihood. If the place where they reside does not offer enough opportunities for work, they should move elsewhere to seek their fortune.

In Turkey, Islam is a major aspect of culture and has influenced the work ethic of many people. A 2002 study done in Turkey presented data based on work ethic and how it was improved based on religion. The study showed that the people who were more religious were seen to have more ethical work practice that those who had no religious affiliation.   This is because Islam provides an all-encompassing structure on how one should live their life. Like Christianity, it provides a set of morals that can easily be applied to the business setting to create a productive environment.

Where Protestantism and Christianity differ is their acceptance of assistance.   Christians generally believe God will provide those who are suffering for. Muslims, on the other hand, reject the idea of relying of Allah for sustenance. While good work will receive praise, they are expected to achieve that success by their own means. Muslims do not view accepting charity in a positive way. Though it is one of the five pillars of Islam that all Muslims must donate a portion of their income to charity, those who accept help for others are viewed to be of a lower status and begging is not considered a means of livelihood.

The Quran talks of how those who are employed are to be only the best in their work. There is also dignity in labor as stated in the Quran 40:13. The idea of the Islamic jihad suggests that life is perpetual struggle. By this reasoning, then, Muslims must continue to work all their lives. While Protestants generally accept it is enough to provide for their family, Muslims will never truly achieve success, as they must continue to work on order to fulfill their duty to jihad.

Buddhists’ Views on Work

Japan is a country where Buddhism is the most prevalent religion in their society. Besides this however, there are also many spirits that are spoken of to encourage work ethic. An article on Japanese workers provided information on how ethic was based off of a Japanese spirit. This spirit focused in on: Hard work, happiness, and mature social identity. Through these points a worker could know that they were working hard and bettering themselves in the process. Also, they want to do the best they can for their bosses.

In an article from Christena Turner explains how great it is to have a job. These workers come straight from high school to work in the industry they are recruited from. There is one account where a worker is so incredibly hard on herself about working to the best of her ability and beyond. In the same account, it is said that two of the girls quite because the hard and long work process. The worker who saw the others leave wrote in her journal about the two quitting and she felt that it were her duty to make up for their slack. This mind set towards work ethic is incredible and works well to involve workers to better their individual selves. The Spirit told to the worker is a significant cause to what ethic is needed to keep working in their environment. It produces a very large amount of output by many individuals creating a work ethic that is very strong.

Buddhist views also affect the Japanese working community. Buddhist views are against materialistic gain in a way to enter Nirvana with oneself. Through this, business culture takes the form of a simple and non-violent arena where economy and businesses stay small. This ethic encourages a form much different from that of Protestants because of how each view what they are working for. It is clear that Japan utilizes the idea of having a strong faith is important to all aspects of work. It progresses the working process and more is accomplished because of it. It is also driven by the Buddhist and rich cultural histories views of money and materialism. Compared to Protestants, Japanese work to provide only enough to survive in the world as simplicity is key. Protestants see earning money as something they have personally earned because of their hard work. The contrasts in this being that the Japanese are working to survive and are driven by their spirit.


Although there is work ethic present in each of the three examples of religion presented in this comparison, yet the differences between that of Protestants, Muslims, and Buddhists are significant and unique to each section. Protestants work for their families to live happily and praise God’s giving nature with capitalist backgrounds as seen in Weber’s theories. Muslims work from a sense of needing to work out of morality. They feel it is required of men to struggle and ben challenged while they work. This is different still as compared to the Japanese culture of work, where simplicity and strong spirit drives work ethic. The Protestant work ethic is a highly debated and reviewed topic. Religion scholars along with sociologist have spent over a century trying to uncover where and if it still exists in America. With all of this focus on the Protestant work ethic other nations are focused on less but can be argued to have a more interesting reason behind their meanings.

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Muslim Punk

The_TaqwacoresLast week, the Comparative Religion Student Association at my university showed the documentary Taqwacore, about Muslim punk bands. My understanding–i.e., this is the impression the documentary gives–is that these bands were inspired by an imagined Muslim punk subculture created by writer Michael Muhammad Knight in his novel The Taqwacores, which has also now become a film (not to be confused with the documentary). Both films are, for the moment, available on YouTube; click the hyperlinks.

Watching the documentary–which you should see for the segment where the bands crash open-mic night at the annual ISNA convention–I found myself wishing that the filmmakers would tell us more about the grounds on which these young people identify themselves as Muslim. It’s a variation on a question I explored in one of my first AAR presentations: How do people with unconventional religious identities go about persuading people to ascribe the desired religious label to them? I examined that question in the context of gay Mormons: If people are going to call themselves gay Mormons, what do they need to do–or what do they think they need to do–to convince people that they are, in fact, entitled to the label “Mormon”? By the same token, I wondered: If you were to ask these self-identifying punk Muslims on what grounds they can be considered “Muslim,” what would they say? What, in their minds, defines “Muslim” identity?

I’ve begun watching the fictional film The Taqwacores, which does more with the “What makes you a Muslim?” question than the documentary did.

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Religion Out Loud

9780814708071_FullToday I’m plugging the work of a colleague: Religion Out Loud, a new book by Isaac Weiner, who was in my doctoral program at UNC Chapel Hill. This book is an outgrowth of his dissertation, which examined a controversy around a mosque in Michigan being allowed by the city to broadcast the call to prayer. For those not in the academic loop: Weiner’s work is part of a recent trend to think theoretically about religion and the senses. Most of that work thus far has paid attention to religion and sight, or religion and visual culture–i.e., the use of imagery in religion. Weiner is interested in sound as a feature of religions. More specifically, he’s interested in sound as a feature of religions that becomes the occasion for interreligious conflict and negotiation.

I hope I’m not embarrassing him by saying this, but I remember talking with Isaac some years back about an early version of his dissertation project, which at that point was going to be a study of legal controversies around religion in the U.S., chosen to represent all five senses. In retrospect that sounds gimmicky–which no doubt has a lot to do with why the project evolved in a more narrowly defined direction–but I thought then, and still think, that such a study would have been an interesting way to help make students more conscious of religion as an embodied reality, not just a question of “what X group believes.” It would make for an interesting class discussion anyway: What does religion, or a given religion, sound like? Smell like? Taste like? What are its textures?

Isaac’s book is potentially useful for multiple classes I teach related to the experience of religious minorities in America, so I’ve ordered away for an exam copy–which I am eagerly awaiting, NYU Press.

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