Sunni

Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Each adult believer in Islam is required to make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Prophet Muhammad’s holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime, unless unable physically or financially.

Some believers repeat this unique experience. The media usually relegate the annual ritual to news features, but this year’s event August 9- 14 is laden with spot news significance.

That’s because ongoing tensions in the Muslim world have produced a campaign to boycott the current Hajj — a nearly unimaginable break with tradition that has received scant coverage in the West. Western reporters should pursue reactions to this in their regions with Muslim sources and agencies that cater to pilgrims. How many believers have postponed Hajj visits till future years after things calm down?

The boycotters are protesting the devoutly Sunni host nation of Saudi Arabia and its ruler since 2017, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MBS”). The particular grievances are the Saudis’ prosecution of Yemen’s vicious civil war, ongoing hostilities with Iran and toward Islam’s minority Shia branch, and human rights violations, including the murder of a regime critic, The Washington Post ‘s Jamal Khashoggi.

An anti-Saudi analysis at foreignpolicy.com by Ahmed Twaij of Iraq’s Sanad for Peacebuilding notes that in April Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, Libya’s chief Sunni authority, declared that making a repeat Hajj visit or the Umrah (voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca at other times of the year) is “an act of sin rather than a good deed.”

In June, a senior official with Tunisia’s Union of Imams joined boycott calls, saying Saudi income from Hajj visits “is used to kill and displace people,” as in Yemen, instead of helping the world’s impoverished Muslims. Twaij reports that “Sunni clerics around the world have also called for a boycott,” whereas past enmity toward the Saudi regime has come largely from Shia Muslims.

Most remarkable of all was a fatwa last August from Qatar’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is very influential among Mideast Sunnis through his Al Jazeera TV appearances and Internet postings. His words could be interpreted as undercutting even the obligatory once-in-a-lifetime Hajj: “Seeing Muslims feeding the hungry, treating the sick and sheltering the homeless are better viewed by Allah than spending money on the Hajj and Umrah every year.”

Some of this campaign could be payback for the recent years when Saudi Arabia barred believers from Qatar and Iran from joining the pilgrimage, or helped repress a Shia uprising in Bahrain.

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Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

For the foreseeable future, journalists will be covering Muslim zealots who terrorize innocent civilians in God’s name, fellow Muslims included, hoping that violence will force the creation of  a truly Islamic society. Their revolutionary  bloodshed spans the globe -- and spurns centuries of moderate teaching by Islamic authorities.

Journalists remain uncertain on how best to name these groups, which is among matters explored in “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” by Robert Manne, an Australian media personality and emeritus professor at La Trobe University. Though publisher Prometheus Books is known for partisan and sometimes supercilious attacks on religious faiths, The Religion Guy finds this title even-tempered, as well as brisk and valuable (though Prometheus deserves brickbats for providing no index).

This readable background will help guide journalism about a complex scourge that mainstream Islam is unable to eliminate. The book covers only Sunni extremists, not the rival radicals in the faith’s minority Shi’a branch centered on  Iran. Here’s Manne’s advice on common terms and labels seen in the news.

Islamo-Fascism. This label is “quite misleading” due to fascism’s historical fusion with nationalism (Muslim radicals spurn existing nation-states and  simply divide humanity into believers vs. “infidels”), and with racism (the movement’s hatreds lie elsewhere).

Islamic Fundamentalism. Also a misnomer, this borrows a term for strict textual literalism among Protestant Christians (see the Associated Press Stylebook). Problem: Such Protestants are non-violent, and so are many of the Muslims who favor that approach to holy writ. Rather, we need to label a terroristic political faction.

Islamists. This term designates believers who seek to reshape politics in accordance with religious law (sharia). Here again, such Muslim activists do not necessarily embrace terror.

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Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

American news consumers, as a rule, do not pay much attention to foreign news coverage. Here at GetReligion, we know that writing a post about mainstream media coverage of religion news on the other side of the planet is not the way to get lots of clicks and retweets.

That doesn't matter, because news is news and it's genuinely tragic that many Americans are in the dark about what is happening outside our borders. We will keep doing what we do.

This leads me to news coverage of the fall of the eastern half of Aleppo in Syria, a landmark event in that hellish civil war that is receiving -- as it should -- extensive coverage in American newspapers.

As you read the coverage in your own newspapers and favorite websites, please look for a crucial word -- "Alawites." President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is a member of the often persecuted Alawite sect of Islam. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

Let's start with the top of the Washington Post report, since this story is very typical of those found elsewhere, such as The New York Times and also Al Jazeera.

BEIRUT -- Syria’s government declared Thursday that it had regained full control of Aleppo after the last rebel fighters and civilians evacuated the key city as part of an agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey.
The Syrian military announced on state media that “security and stability” had been returned to eastern Aleppo, once the largest rebel stronghold. The “terrorists” -- a term used by the Syrian government to describe nearly all of its opponents -- had exited the city, the military said.
President Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of Aleppo marks the end of the opposition presence in the city for the first time in more than four years and deals a major blow to the rebellion to unseat him.

Think about this as a matter of history, for a moment. Is there anything bloodier and more ruthless than a civil war, with fighting and acts of violence taking place inside a nation, pitting armies within its population against one another?

If that is the case, then it is crucial how one labels and defines these armies.

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Another loaded question in the news: What does Islam teach about violence?

Another loaded question in the news: What does Islam teach about violence?

DAVID’S QUESTION:

Why don’t mainstream Muslims acknowledge that the Quran orders them to do just what ISIS does?

MIKE’S QUESTION:

Does the Quran tell Muslims to kill anyone who doesn’t become a Muslim?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

David’s full question -- posted before the latest slaughter aimed at Christians in Pakistan, children included, and the bombings in Belgium -- asks why Quran passages “explicitly order the killing of non-Muslims.” Mike, posting after those atrocities, wonders “why there is so much violence and murder in the Muslim faith.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Sohrab Ahmari observes that “Islamic terrorism is now a permanent and ubiquitous hazard to life in every city on every continent” and “not a single day now goes by” without an attack somewhere. With much of today’s terror enacted in the name of God, fellow Muslims are the majority among innocent victims. The Global Terrorism Index counts 32,685 killings during 2014, an 80 percent increase over 2013. Not all were Islam-related and, notably, in the West only a fifth of them were.

The Islamic State and similar factions claim to follow precedents from Islam’s founding, in the holy Quran and collected hadith teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Nabeel Qureshi writes in USA Today that his conversion from Islam to Christianity, described in “Answering Jihad,” resulted from “the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations” of Islam that provides terrorists’ “primary recruiting technique.” Graeme Wood of The Atlantic documented the importance of the early religious texts for current terror ideology.

Yet Muslim scholars say the revelations often applied to specific circumstances and some passages abrogate earlier ones.

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Sunni vs. Shi'a Muslims worldwide: What? Why? Where? How many?

Sunni vs. Shi'a Muslims worldwide: What? Why? Where? How many?

JIM ASKS:

Muslims in the U.S.: Sunni or Shi’a? And a second reader asks about the two groups’ numbers and over-all relationship on the international level.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This two-sided split underlies the increasingly dangerous Mideast rivalry between a rising Shi’a axis under revolutionary Iran and a bloc led by Saudi Arabia with its strict Sunni regime. A 2012 Pew Research survey asked people in Sunni lands “do you personally consider Shi’as to be Muslims or not?” Those  answering “no” ranged from 37 to 52 percent in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Tunisia. This troublesome rejection of Shi’a religious legitimacy is enforced with a vengeance by the bloodthirsty “Islamic State” that purports to have restored the Sunni “caliphate” within Iraq and Syria.

On Jim’s question, there’s considerable dispute about the total of U.S. Muslims but Pew estimates 10 to 15 percent are Shi’a,  roughly the same as in Canada and Britain. Iran contains some 40 percent of the world’s Shi’as, followed by sizable populations in southern Iraq, India, and Pakistan, and smaller numbers across Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Globally, the Muslim population estimated at 1.5 billion is heavily Sunni, with a Shi’a minority of perhaps 13 percent. Some say followers of Sufi mysticism form a third branch of Islam, which is more or less true, but they overlap the other two categories and are hard to count. (This over-simplified discussion will omit many Muslim variants and those regarded as heterodox.)

The Sunni vs. Shi’a schism was as much political as religious.

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NPR trips on 'evangelical,' while covering big story on converts in Germany

NPR trips on 'evangelical,' while covering big story on converts in Germany

If you were going to pick a major news outlet that was high on the distrust/hate list of cultural conservative in America, it would have to be National Public Radio.

You know the old saying: How can you can tell when a Republican in Washington, D.C., has lost his soul? When the first button on his car radio is set to NPR. Or how about this one: What is the Episcopal Church? It's National Public Radio at prayer.

This is all quite sad, because a decade or so ago NPR's religion-beat work (as opposed to religion-linked coverage by political or cultural pros) was actually very good. If you know the history of the Godbeat there, you'll get my drift.

Anyway, it's interesting to get an email from a GetReligion reader that starts out like this, discussing an NPR feature about Muslims converting to Christianity in Germany:

As someone who tends to listen less and less to NPR, disillusioned with what I perceive as an absurdly left-wing bias in much of their reporting, I was pleasantly surprised by their attempt to cover several sides of the issues.

We will come back to this reader in a bit. But let me start off by saying that I was also impressed at the kinds of voices that were featured in this piece. This is a very complicated and emotional subject, as I stressed in a recent post about this topic that ran with the headline: "Muslims fleeing to Europe: Yes, press can find religion angles in this ongoing tragedy." This NPR report is way better than the norm.

Here is the start of the NPR piece, setting up the major themes:

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Will U.S. journalists spot the religion ghost in Putin's mixed motives in Syria?

Will U.S. journalists spot the religion ghost in Putin's mixed motives in Syria?

It's hard to write a post about news stories that do not yet exist. However, based on the emails I'm getting, I expect to see major newsrooms writing about "this story" sooner rather than later. Do we really have to talk about religion "ghosts" in Syria?

So what is "this story"? 

Look for up-front use of the term "Holy War" in connection with Russia's involvement in Syria, where President Vladimir Putin is doing everything he can to save the territory most crucial to President Bashar al-Assad -- which certainly starts with Damascus. I expect prominent play to be given to the supporting role of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill, for reasons that our own Ira Rifkin mentioned in one of his "Global Wire" pieces the other day.

At the moment, your typical religion-haunted story on Russia's push into the Syria war focuses on politics, airplanes and hardware and the assumption that Putin is acting purely out of motives to maintain a power base in the Middle East and embarrass the United States and President Barack Obama. Please hear me say that there obviously truth in that assumption. In a current New York Times story, this is what that sounds like:

Although in its early stages, the coordinated attack has revealed the outline of a newly deepened and operationally coordinated alliance among Syria, Iran, Russia and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, according to an official with the alliance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military strategy. ...
For Mr. Assad’s supporters and opponents alike, regionally and internationally, Russia’s increasing willingness to throw its full military power behind him is a game-changer.

But might there be religious logic to Putin's bold move, even if -- thinking cynically -- it is at the level of rationalization?

Just the other day, a Times story -- "Russian Soldiers Join Syria Fight" -- added a very brief reference to another layer of the conflict, well down into that text. Spot the ghost?

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The (insert adjective here) Islamic State strikes again, for reasons that are hard to explain

The (insert adjective here) Islamic State strikes again, for reasons that are hard to explain

Journalists continue to wrestle with a problem that they now face day after day: How to describe the Islamic State in a way that admits the obvious, that this horror is rooted in its leaders'  approach to the Islamic faith, yet using accurate words that are not offensive to mainstream Muslims.

This needs to be a formula that can be used over and over, with variations, and take a sentence or two at most.

For all of you non-journalists reading this: Accurate daily journalism is tough work.

I thought of this struggle yet again read some of the mainstream coverage of the tragic and twisted death of 83-year-old Khalid al-Asaad, the antiquities expert who was often called "Mr. Palmyra." This story continues to read like nightmares from "Game of Thrones" scripts. In the New York Times story there is this

After detaining him for weeks, the jihadists dragged him on Tuesday to a public square where a masked swordsman cut off his head in front of a crowd, Mr. Asaad’s relatives said. His blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists from a traffic light, his head resting on the ground between his feet, his glasses still on, according to a photo distributed on social media by Islamic State supporters. ...
The public killing of Mr. Asaad, who had retired a decade before and had recently turned 83, his son said, highlighted the Islamic State’s brutality as it seeks to replace the government of President Bashar al-Assad with a punishing interpretation of Islam across its self-declared caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

What, precisely, does the word "punishing" mean in that context? There is no "punishing" element -- differences of degree, not kind -- in Iran or Saudi Arabia? What is the specific information readers are supposed to draw from that unique adjective? Hold that thought.

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Ghosts in those one-sided reports about victims in Syria

Rare is the day that I do not receive at least one or two emails from Eastern Orthodox Christians, or those sympathetic to the plight of Christians in the Middle East, containing URLs pointing toward new reports about alleged atrocities linked to the fighting or acts of terrorism in Syria, Egypt or elsewhere. The common question: Why are these events rarely if ever covered by mainstream news organizations in North America?

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