How do you say "we're sorry"?

armenian_genocideRather than update my previous Armenian genocide post with a link to Julia Duin's article on its anniversary in the Washington Times, I wanted to highlight it separately. I noted that most stories about the events of 1915 were solely or almost exclusively political. Very few touched on religion in any meaningful way. However, the Times used the anniversary as a hook to explore how one theological concept -- corporate repentance -- differs across various religions. What would contrition look like, Duin asks, from a secular state based on a religious tradition that does not practice corporate repentance?:

The concept of national repentance started with Jewish prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. Christians then ran with the idea, with modern examples including President Lincoln's 1863 call to a day of national repentance and fasting. His idea lives on in the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of each May.

Plus, Christians ranging from the late Pope John Paul II to bands of evangelical Protestant missionaries have apologized for the excesses of the Crusades. But what Islamic entity has apologized for the 300 years of conquest that provoked the Crusades?

These are the kinds of questions I wish newspapers gave more room to explore. (Side note: I'm always somewhat amazed at the widespread ignorance -- both in the media and in the general population -- about the periods before, during and after the Crusades. There's so much to the larger story that is completely ignored. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't even know the Crusades were in response to anything until a few years ago. It was just never mentioned in my history textbooks or in any media reports. I knew almost nothing about the history of Muslim expansion until I explored the issue on my own after 9/11.) And bringing it forward, it would be so interesting to hear from people about how different views of corporate sin, repentance and absolution (or even individual sin, etc.) impact public policy.

Duin quotes Wadi Haddad, a retired professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, saying that such corporate repentance is very Western. Other scholars weigh in:

"Individual Muslims can express regret or repentance, but I don't know what the appropriate institution would be to express Islamic regret," Georgetown University Islamic history professor John Voll told me. Christianity has corporate bodies representing its various divisions, he added, but "in Islam, there is no corporate structure that represents the umma [world Muslim community]."

While many reporters are out there repeating the Armenian desire for acknowledgment of and apology for the genocide, what a great idea to explore how such requests are viewed from the Muslim perspective.

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