Islam

How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

The 4,600-word story that ran this weekend in the New York Times about how ISIS is -- or was -- recruiting a confused 20-something woman in rural Washington state was so gripping, I read it several times. So much was disturbing: The cluelessness of this young woman; the vapid response by her pastor and the details describing the 24/7 worldwide network of online ISIS recruiters working to get people like this woman to join up.

The article starts off with an eight-minute video that shows “Alex,” her face shaded to remain anonymous.

“The first thing they told me,” she begins, “was I was not allowed to listen to music.” Then her online friends love-bombed her with Tweets, Skype conversations and CARE packages of Islamic literature, head scarves, money and chocolate. These folks don’t want her involved in a local mosque. They want her involved with them. In Syria. Start here:

Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.
For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online -- the most attentive she had ever had -- who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.
One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.
But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

You have to hand it to Al Jazeera America; they have the guts to send reporters to one of Pakistan's most backward districts to investigate one of the diciest topics you can bring up in polite conversation there: its draconian blasphemy law, the subject of a two-part package.

Published late last week, the first piece talks about the six years that have passed since Aasia Bibi, a Christian from the Punjab province, was thrown into prison. She is the only woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, and in spite of international appeals to release her, she’s essentially rotting there. When Al Jazeera sent a reporter to Aasia's hometown for an update, some of the interviewees were so hostile, she fled the area in fear for her life. A second piece, also based in Punjab, talks about the killing of a Christian couple last November by a mob that falsely claimed they were burning pages of the Quran. The headline brings up echoes of the American South by calling the murders “lynchings” although the couple in question were actually burned to death in a kiln.  It starts thus:

KOT RADHA KISHAN, Pakistan -- Walking through the quiet, empty streets of Chak 59, patrolled by stray dogs and the odd buffalo, one finds it difficult to tell whether the village is inhabited at all.
It is striking how silence can envelope a life, so as to all but erase it. Or, in this case, two lives: Shama and Shahzad Masih, a young Christian couple accused of blasphemy in this hamlet 31 miles from the big city of Lahore, but deep in the wilderness that dominates Pakistan’s Punjabi heartland.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Shama and Shahzad (most Christians in Pakistan are known only by their first name) were killed by a mob, stirred up by false allegations that the couple had desecrated the Holy Quran, at the brick kiln where they lived and worked for the previous 18 years.
The mob first beat them with sticks and fists before dragging them to the kiln furnace to set them on fire. Witnesses say one or both of them were still alive as they burned.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What's a progressive Muslim? Don't ask, just read and nod

What's a progressive Muslim? Don't ask, just read and nod

Reading the Associated Press's recent article on so-called progressive American Muslims is like a game of fill-in-the-blanks. Except that the blanks are never filled.

With its usual broad strokes, AP paints a broad mural of younger American Muslims who are getting more comfortable as Americans and less so as Muslims.  It starts with the tried-and-true anecdotal lede: Omar Akersim of Los Angeles, who prayed and fasted for Ramadan and is (shock alert!) openly gay.

The story then opens the nut graphs:

Akersim, 26, is part of a small but growing number of American Muslims challenging the long-standing interpretations of Islam that defined their parents' world. They believe that one can be gay and Muslim; that the sexes can pray shoulder-to-shoulder; that females can preach and that Muslim women can marry outside the faith — and they point to Quran passages to back them up.

The shift comes as young American Muslims work to reshape the faith they grew up with so it fits better with their complex, dual identity, with one foot in the world of their parents' immigrant beliefs and one foot in the ever-shifting cultural landscape of America. The result has been a growing internal dialogue about what it means to be Muslim, as well as a scholarly effort to re-examine the Quran for new interpretations that challenge rules that had seemed set in stone.

"Islam in America is being forced to kind of change and to reevaluate its positions on things like homosexuality because of how we're moving forward culturally as a nation. It's striving to make itself seen and known in the cultural fabric and to do that, it does have to evolve," said Akersim, who leads a Los Angeles-based support group for gay Muslims. "Ten or 15 years ago, this would have been impossible."

All of that is so eloquent, it's easy to forget some difficult questions. But we'll ask anyway.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

No ghosts in this SI look at Wooden, Alcindor/Abdul Jabbar

Week after week, month after month, year after year, I write GetReligion posts in which I fault mainstream sportswriters for looking the other way when they encounter religious facts and themes related to the lives of amateur and professional athletes. Some reporters ignore or radically downplay the religious elements in the lives of important athletes and coaches (hello, Ravens-beat editors at The Baltimore Sun). Then there are journalists who allow athletes to flash the God-card in the language of a story, but then never follow up on those faith claims (hello Michael Vick) when it comes to digging out the facts (follow the money, follow the hours on the clock) about their lives in the real world. Where’s the basic journalism?

Often, after the publication of one of these God-and-sports posts, I hear from people who say that I am constantly pointing out the bad, without showing positive examples of coverage that gets the faith element of one of these stories right, combining religious symbolism, facts, etc., into one A-plus package.

Well, here’s one. The other day Sports Illustrated offered a long-read drawn from the biography of UCLA hoops legend John Wooden (“Wooden: A Coach’s Life“) written by veteran reporter Seth Davis. This particular chunk of the book was summed up in the headline, “The Wizard and the Giant.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Praying Jews flock to the Temple Mount; world notices

If there is a “Ground Zero” for the world’s three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — it would be the Temple Mount, or “Haram Al-Sharif” (“Noble Sanctuary”) in the center of Jerusalem.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Married 60 times before age 18 in Egypt

The Washington Post had a religion news blog item last week headlined, horrifyingly, “‘Some girls have been married 60 times by the time they turn 18′.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

NPR's curiously biased quest for the historical Jesus

Did you know that Jesus wasn’t really God? Despite what his disciples claim, he never believed he was the Messiah, much less God incarnate. He was a merely a Jewish revolutionary that was crucified by the Roman Empire and later deified (quite literally) by people who really didn’t know him.

Please respect our Commenting Policy