Islam-Muslims

NPR does well-rounded profile on dying leader who symbolizes 'California Islam'

NPR does well-rounded profile on dying leader who symbolizes 'California Islam'

Sometimes it’s tough as a journalist to get the meaty stories of what’s really happening inside a particular faith.

Islam is especially difficult because of the fear of participants in talking with media, plus it’s not a faith that many journalists know much about.

Which is why NPR’s story of Usama Canon, a Chicago imam who is dying of Lou Gehring’s disease, is so needed. It gets into the fine details of the life of a teacher who most non-Muslims would not have heard of and shows him to be a sympathetic figure that most of us can identify with.

I’m not sure what connections the reporter had to use to get this story, but there needs to more like it. It opens at a Muslim center in Chicago.

Canon, 40, gives off a laid-back, West Coast vibe. He wears a beanie and prayer beads wrapped around his right wrist like a thick bracelet. He is the founding director of this place, the Ta'leef Collective, with campuses in Fremont, Ca. and Chicago. In Arabic the name means "the coming together of many things." 
The Ta'leef Collective was envisioned as a "third place" between the mosque and home to provide Muslims, especially young or new Muslims, a space to explore their faith outside the confines of the traditional mosque. The nonprofit is part lecture hall, part gathering space, and part sanctuary. 
Participants ranging from former inmates to searching youths say Usama Canon's teachings have helped them understand Islam in their everyday lives. Those lessons feel essential to his students at a time of growing hostility toward the religion, which has more than 3.45 million U.S. adherents. 

That population figure, by the way, comes from the Pew Forum

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Friday Five: American-style Islam, Christmas in Bethlehem, $29.95 ordination, Hooters and more

Friday Five: American-style Islam, Christmas in Bethlehem, $29.95 ordination, Hooters and more

Here's something I betcha didn't know: I'm an ordained pastor, and it only cost me $29.95. (Apparently, I paid too much.)

More on that — and my strange clerical connection to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law — in a moment.

First, though, let's dive right into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly mentioned Emma Green's important contributions to 2017 religion reporting in a post earlier this week.

Here's another shout-out for Green, who ended the year with an in-depth piece on "How America Is Transforming Islam."

The article didn't please everyone, but like Rod Dreher — who praised Green's story on his American Conservative blog — I thought it made for compelling and thought-provoking reading.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: The No. 1 spot this week belongs to tmatt's post on the timing of Christmas in the ancient city of Bethlehem. The post's title: "Once again in Royal David's City: Journalists still confused about Christmas who, what, when, where ..."

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Wrapping up 2017: The Atlantic looks at big religion themes in Trump's foreign policy

Wrapping up 2017: The Atlantic looks at big religion themes in Trump's foreign policy

As always, the GetReligion team slows down a bit during the Holiday season (broadly defined).

We don't vanish. We don't stop reading or paying attention to our email. But we do have other things to do, like travel and welcoming guests (and in my case, celebrating a 40th wedding anniversary).

One thing we will be doing in the next week or so is noting some of the interesting 2017 yearender features focusing on religion-news events and trends. I don't know if we will do another "Parade of Yearenders" like last year, but we'll give you a few things to read.

We have already started in recent weeks. If you haven't tried one of our "Crossroads" podcasts, click here and give this one a try -- "Looking at top stories of 2017: Sometimes it seems like religion haunts everything." That post includes this years Top 10 stories from the Religion News Association, as well as my own take on the year's events in an "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate. Bobby Ross, Jr., also pointed to the RNA poll here.

It has, so far, been easy to spot a trend among the yearenders. Rather than doing lists of the major events, more and more journalists are producing lists of the top stories at their own websites (the kind of thing GetReligion does on this website's anniversary every year). That's interesting, and valid, but I always enjoyed contrasting the Top 10 news lists.

In other words: Hint, hint. Please send us URLS you spot for yearender pieces and the newsier the better. Top 10 lists? Yes, please.

It would be impossible to sum up the religion-news coverage in the year without mentioning the work of Emma Green at The Atlantic. While her work is written in an analysis style suited to magazine features, during 2017 she often focused on important religion-news topics -- especially church-state conflicts -- before hard-news operations took them on. Here's how I described that process back in September:

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Unexpected happy ending: A vandalized Arkansas mosque becomes an inspirational tale

Unexpected happy ending: A vandalized Arkansas mosque becomes an inspirational tale

Every so often, the New York Times revisits some of their most popular or most-read stories. Earlier in December, they returned to the story of a bunch of white kids who vandalized a mosque in Fort Smith, Ark., last August. At the time, the story of how the mosque leaders reached out and forgave Abraham Davis was amazing to read and I commented on it for this blog. 

The reporter, Sabrina Tavernise, continued to follow the story for months, especially since Davis was ordered by a court to repay some $3,200 in fines and restitution; an amount that was nearly impossible for him to save. He had finally gotten a job at a convenience store, but it paid very little.

Then –- in one of those happy endings every reporter wishes for -– the mosque got an unexpected grant from a foundation. One of the things its leaders chose to do was pay off Davis’ fine. When the reporter broke the news to him, he was speechless for a time. She tells that story here:

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Abraham Davis had his mouth open, but no words were coming out. We were sitting together on his mother’s couch near her Christmas tree earlier this month and I had just played him a short recording of the president of Fort Smith’s Al Salam mosque.
Abraham had vandalized the mosque with two friends more than a year before. It was an act of bigotry that he deeply regretted. His expression of remorse — written in a letter from jail — and the mosque’s forgiveness and subsequent advocacy for him, inspired my Aug. 26 article, “The Two Americans.”…
But most of the debt still remained to be paid. It was one of his life’s daily stresses: If he stopped making monthly payments, he could end up in prison for six years.

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The absolute, very last word on Trump and Jerusalem -- for the moment, at least

The absolute, very last word on Trump and Jerusalem -- for the moment, at least

The copy keeps coming, the pundits keep pontificating and the repercussions -- both serious and superficial, real and imaginary -- continue to pile up since President Donald Trump’s pronouncement that the United States was shifting course and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s political capital.

None of that is surprising, of course. That’s how media and politics work.

Here’s something I do find surprising, however.

Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- is that still his job? -- said it would be at least three years before the American embassy in Israel actually moves from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Get that? At least three years. Thats’s an eternity, given the whirlwind pace of political change these days both in the United States and the Middle East. And yet Tillerson’s statement, delivered during a speech to State Department employees and reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, went decidedly under appreciated.

(To be fair, Tillerson and others in the Trump White House, plus some outside political defenders, noted previously that an embassy move would take some time. But I believe  this was Tillerson’s, and the administration’s, clearest statement to date concerning the time frame.)

Here’s the top of the Times story.

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Tuesday that it is unlikely that the American Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem before 2020.
“It’s not going to be anything that happens right away,” Mr. Tillerson said, adding, “Probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious.”
President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem last week as the Israeli capital, but he nevertheless signed a national security waiver, which will allow him to delay the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv for an additional six months. Administration officials have said there are functional and logistical reasons the United States cannot open a new embassy any time in the near future.

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One story to watch: Will 2018 see notable decline in the Middle East's hardline Islam?

One story to watch: Will 2018 see notable decline in the Middle East's hardline Islam?

Looking at Muslim culture in the Mideast apart from ongoing terrorism problems, The Economist’s fat “The World in 2018” special includes two articles that anticipate secularization and decline for religious hardliners in Sunni lands. You can click here to read, "Roll Over Religion."

The key factor is a “disenchanted” younger generation that no longer accepts claims that “Islam is the solution” to socio-economic woe.  Such unrest is obvious, but The Religion Guy is hesitant about claims of sweeping decline. Nonetheless, U.S.-based reporters should pay heed, since correspondents Roger McShane and Nicolas Pelham are on the ground and we’re not.

“Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates will seek to capitalize on popular sentiment to pursue their Islamist foes,” the venerable Brit newsmagazine predicts. Regimes will talk about “reform and modernization” but in actuality will maneuver “to clip the powers of religious institutions and increase their own sway.” As part of it they’ll “roll back the presence of religion in public spaces.”

Already, with the ISIS collapse, women in Mosul, Iraq, are removing their full-face coverings and returning to school and college classrooms. Tunisia is letting Muslim women marry Christians. In Egypt, symbolic beards and veils are starting to disappear as weekly mosque attendance slides. “In some cities sex before marriage is becoming a norm,” and we should “expect more videos of Saudi women in risqué dress.”

Much of the intrigue centers on straitlaced Saudi Arabia and its busy young Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (a.k.a. MBS, lately in the news for paying a record $450 million for a Leonardo da Vinci portrait of Jesus Christ). All but taking command from his father King Salman, the prince has begun circumscribing powers of the dreaded mutaween (religious police).

As the regime “chips away at restrictions imposed under the kingdom’s strict Islamic social code,” the “conservative clerics are perturbed,” the magazine says. A permanent shift in religion policy would have major impact because the Saudis have funded Salafi and Wahhabi zealotry worldwide.

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Trump and Jerusalem: New York Times analysis tells the story behind the headline

Trump and Jerusalem: New York Times analysis tells the story behind the headline

At the end of last week, the front page of the printed version of The Washington Post featured a four-column, above-the-fold photo of tightly framed, silhouetted figures dashing through  billowing black smoke and menacing red flames -- which is what you get when you burn vehicle tires.

The headline below it read: “Palestinians, Israeli troops clash over U.S. stance.” A subhead warned, “Region braces for more violence after Trump’s decision on Jerusalem.” (The online version linked to here differs.)

That Post story was an example of traditional newspaper, hard news journalism. It summarized the previous day’s body count, included the usual reaction quotes from the usual sources sprouting the usual threats and warnings we've heard time and again from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those quoted, in accordance with their well-known positions, either castigated or praised President Donald Trump for his decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s national capital and pledge to someday, but not just now, actually move the U.S. Embassy from coastal Tel Aviv to inland Jerusalem.

What the piece failed to do, however, was to connect the dots and explain the story behind the headline by placing it in its current Middle East context. It excluded, in short, the sort of background that’s critical to understanding the latest twist in a long-running, exceedingly complicated and highly combustible story such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Is the peace process, which has been moribund at best, now forever dead? Is another Palestinian intifada, or widespread violent uprising, about to explode? Why did Trump do this now and what might we expect now that he's shattered, at least verbally, decades of U.S. Middle East policy simply by saying out loud that Jerusalem is Israel’s political capita, as it has been in reality since 1948?

Those are questions we cannot fully answer. But may I suggest that rather than relying on daily roundups or if-it-bleeds-it-leads TV reports, you pay as much or more attention to the many quality news analysis and opinion columns being penned by long-time Middle East-watchers.

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Yes, radical Muslims massacre Muslims: A crucial theme in persecution of religious minorities

Yes, radical Muslims massacre Muslims: A crucial theme in persecution of religious minorities

Allow me to take a dive, for a moment, into my GetReligion folder of guilt.

If you follow news about the persecution of religious minorities, then you know a basic fact we have stressed here at GetReligion since Day 1: Radicalized Muslims constantly terrorize and persecute Muslims whose views of the faith they consider "apostate." This is even true in terms of believers targeted by blasphemy laws (see this book by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea: "Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide").

I looked at lots of coverage of the recent attack on the mosque in Sinai, in which 300-plus died, and was impressed how quickly journalists noted that this community included high numbers of Sufi Muslims (see this New York Times explainer). This was a case where many journalists saw the key religion angle but, I thought, were not quite sure what to do with it, since that would require discussions of doctrine, worship, etc.

The key: Once again we are talking about a division INSIDE Islam, more evidence of the crucial fact that more Americans need to understand -- that Islam is not monolithic. To cover Islam, journalists have to look at the beliefs of those who are being attacked, as well as those who are doing the attacking.

Now we have a deep-dive by the Times international desk that digs deeper on that Sinai massacre. This is a must-read story: "Motives in Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack: Religion and Revenge." Try to stop reading after this overture:

CAIRO -- One day in early November, a small group of elders in a dusty town in the northern Sinai Peninsula handed over three people accused of being Islamic State militants to Egyptian security forces. It was not the first time -- they had handed over at least seven other people accused of being militants in the previous few months.
Three weeks later, militants stormed a packed mosque in the town, Bir al-Abed, during Friday Prayer, killing 311 people in Egypt’s worst terrorist attack.
While the attack was rooted in rising religious tensions between the local affiliate of the Islamic State and the town’s residents, Bedouins who largely practice Sufism, a mystical school of Islam that the militant group considers heresy, the motive appears to have gone beyond the theological dispute.
It was payback, residents and officials said, for the town’s cooperation with the Egyptian military, and a bloody warning of the consequences of further cooperation.

This was not an easy story to report, for obvious reasons.

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Next up: Look past terrorism to probe Europe's deeper changes tied to its Muslim influx

Next up: Look past terrorism to probe Europe's deeper changes tied to its Muslim influx

You may recall that just last week I wrote about Australia’s reticence to accept Muslim refugees and an apparent New York Times failure to identify Muslims as Muslims in a featured article on the issue.

My guess is that more than a few Australians who are against accepting Muslim refugees felt vindicated in their position when they learned about a new Pew Research Center report on how Muslim refugees are demographically transforming Europe.

My question: What is the appropriate reaction to this historical population shift and oes it vary from one host non-Muslim nation to another?

I'm referring to more than current -- and hopefully just temporary, even if lasts another decade or so -- fears about terrorism committed in the name of Islam.

Not to be misunderstood, let me make clear that I do think those fears are -- in many but not all instances -- absolutely warranted.

But what I’m attempting to address here are the more long-term impacts -- cultural, social and political -- guaranteed to result from this vast human migration from Asia and Africa into the historically white Christian nations of Europe.

Like Humpty Dumpty, the Europe of old will not be put back together again,

There will be so many ramifications ahead that journalists -- religion beat pros and others -- need to start addressing now, and doing it openly and honestly, without fear of offending but with sensitivity and respect as well.

We need to go beyond our journalistic uncomfortableness about projecting future possibilities. 

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