Islam

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

At first glance, there would seem to be little connection between the two items that I want to spotlight in this post. The connecting thread is that, every now and then, people in the public square (including journalists) need to be more careful when assigning labels to some of the key players.

So what happened in the Breitbart headline pictured above -- since taken down -- linked to the speech by Sen. Ted Cruz at the recent "In Defense of Christians" conference, an event focusing, in particular, on the brutally oppressed ancient churches of the Holy Land. Surf a few links in this online search to catch up on this media storm on the political and cultural right.

It's a complicated news story, one that hits home for me because of the years I spent in a majority-Arab Eastern Orthodox parish. Trust me when I say that I understand that some Arab Christians are anti-Israel and I have met some who sometimes veer all the way into anti-Semitism. I understand that some focus their anger on Israel, since it's hopeless to curse the radical forms of Islam that have, over decades and centuries, have inflicted so much pain on their families and communities. I understand that some of the Christians who heard Cruz praise Israel, in the bluntest possible terms, were offended. Read the details and make up your own mind.

Now look at that headline. 

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Female imams in China: Detail-rich report reveals a little-known Muslim community

Female imams in China: Detail-rich report reveals a little-known Muslim community

Non-mainstream media often live with a compromise: fewer facts and less-professional writing in exchange for promoting their own viewpoint.

Not so with ChinaFile, a project of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. Its  detail-rich, faith-related, enterprising feature story on a little-reporting topic: women's mosques in China that are led by other women.

The work of veteran China writer Kathleen McLaughlin, the story centers on the Hui, an ethnic group in the inland. McLaughlin delivers both a broad overview and personal anecdotes alike. She offers a taste of its three centuries of custom, and even tries to assess its precarious prospects.

And she adds plenty of color, making us almost feel part of the land and the communities. Check this out:

Sangpo, a dusty hamlet about two hours from the capital of China’s landlocked Henan province, is home to about 5,000 people, some 95 percent of whom are Hui Muslims. The Hui, China’s third-largest ethnic minority, number nearly 10 million followers of Islam in China. Many are direct descendants of Arab traders on the Silk Road who married local Chinese women, but the Hui today are mainly identified through their religion rather than by ethnic characteristics.
Packed into this town are six mosques run by women, whose congregants are all female, and only five headed by men—an imbalance the women point out with pride, and a rarity among Muslim communities in China, let alone the rest of the world.

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Radical militants and religion: Obama says ISIL is not 'Islamic,' but not everyone agrees

Radical militants and religion: Obama says ISIL is not 'Islamic,' but not everyone agrees

In his prime-time address to the nation Wednesday night on fighting the Islamic State militant group — also called ISIS and ISIL — President Barack Obama declared:

Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not "Islamic." No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria's civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

Noting what Obama said, CNN suggested:

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama was trying to make a broader point when he uttered "ISIL is not Islamic," but the four-word phrase could still come back to haunt him.
Critics on Twitter quickly fired off on the President for making the assertion, with many noting that ISIL in fact stands for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." (CNN refers to the group by the acronym ISIS in its news reports. The group recently started calling itself the Islamic State).

Religion reporter G. Jeffrey MacDonald posed relevant questions that may be helpful for Godbeat pros and other journalists.

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Why did WaPo run a vague musician profile? It's, well, complicated

Why did WaPo run a vague musician profile? It's, well, complicated

Musician Michael Taylor has a "complicated faith," the Washington Post says. He can slide chords and sing about quests for meaning. Just don’t pin him down.

And the Post's  profile feature on him doesn't try. It collects a lot on the music, family and lifestyle of the indie artist who calls himself Hiss Golden Messenger. His spiritual beliefs, not so much, even though the newspaper headline it "Complicated faith: Searching for God in the songs of Hiss Golden Messenger."

The story reads rather fast despite its 1,600 words. It tells of Taylor's journey from a Southern California upbringing to his current home in Durham, N.C. -- a musical trek from punk to folk-rock to "still-water folk" (a term, however, that isn't defined).

Richards praises Taylor's new album, Lateness of Dancers, though he has trouble pinning down its virtues: "The songs on it feel both ambiguously sweet and deeply personal, but ultimately confident in their own vagueness."

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As Lebanese Christians re-arm themselves, AP writes a powerful account

As Lebanese Christians re-arm themselves, AP writes a powerful account

Finally, tragically, the jihad of the so-called Islamic State and other groups is approaching Lebanon. And a masterful Associated Press newsfeature captures the facts and feelings with admirable sweep.

News of conflicts and atrocities has spread almost as fast as the jihadis themselves, filling Christians in Lebanon with "dread," as AP aptly terms their reaction. "If they come, they will slit our throats for no reason," a rifle-toting villager tells AP.

As the Christians buy guns and take defensive positions, Reporters Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam present intense snapshots and broad brushstrokes alike in this indepth, which reads fast despite its 1,200+ words. Here's an example:

Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria are now sheltering in Lebanon, sensing safety in a pluralistic country which has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. Lebanon is also the only Arab country with a Christian head of state.
But the fear has spread to Lebanon as well. This week, after a video was posted online showing a group of boys burning an Islamic State flag in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut, vandals spray-painted the outer walls of several churches in northern Lebanon with the words: "The Islamic State is coming."
In Qaa and Ras Baalbek, two Christian villages in the northeast, on the border with Syria, the anxiety is palpable. Many of the thousands of expatriates who used to spend the summer here stayed away this year. Restaurants and the villages' main squares were deserted on a recent day.

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What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

From time to time, I receive private emails from readers who think this website's insistence that mainstream journalists need to cover both sides of doctrinal debates between Muslims is, to be blunt, just a clever way of bashing Islam.

Why else should journalists, for example, need to listen to and then quote what Islamic State leaders have to say about the role of women or the need for tough blasphemy laws in the modern world? We already know the radicals are wrong, so why be guilty of "false balance" and accurately quote what they are saying?

Why indeed? I would argue that journalists cannot cover the facts in these stories -- such as the gruesome executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- without quoting the religious language in these religious debates. The bottom line: It is not prejudice against Islam to cover both sides of crucial debates between Muslims.

This brings me to the end of that stunning column today by David Brooks of The New York Times, the one about the powerful theological symbolism involved in beheading someone.

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Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Patience, boss. The mainstream press got to the story on day two.

GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, questioned Wednesday why major media outlets seemed to be ignoring the Jewish faith of Steven Sotloff, the latest journalist executed by Islamic State militants.

While tmatt said he could understand withholding that incendiary detail while radical Islamists held Sotloff, he asked:

However, why — now — is the faith element of this tragedy not relevant to editors at CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.? Why isn't this part of the basic factual material at the foundation of this tragic story?

But it didn't take long for that basic factual material to start making its way into mainstream news accounts. Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein was among those who jumped on the story.

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What is this? The Daily Beast rolls on with its 'bedroom' jihad updates

What is this? The Daily Beast rolls on with its 'bedroom' jihad updates

Here is a question that your GetReligionistas have often debated among ourselves in the past: When it comes to basic questions about journalism, what is The Daily Beast? Is it an openly progressive advocacy publication, something along the lines of Rolling Stone or Salon (or The New York Times on issues of moral theology)?

Part of the problem is a matter of labeling. There are advocacy sites, on the political right as well as the left, that do plenty of valid work when it comes to reporting news. But when readers call up these sites, it's hard to know what is what. Maybe editors should color code the graphics? Something like blue graphics for advocacy and red for news at liberal sites and the other way around at conservatives sites?

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately because of the ongoing Beast coverage of the issue of Islamic State leaders openly recruiting women from the West to join in what some have called "bedroom radicalism" or even "bedroom jihad." The latest report along these lines is pretty straightforward, when it comes to describing the case of 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood of suburban Glasgow:

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