Tag Archives: Islam

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. — Henry David Thoreau

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“Do you think religion inherently good?” This was a rhetorical question posed to the class when I was a student at Queen’s University in 1986. The class was in a course in the history of Christianity. The question was posed by Professor William P. Zion who was on the faculty of the department of religious studies and the Queen’s Theological College. He was also a Russian Orthodox Priest, Father Basil. We were young students who never stopped to think about this. Professor Zion answered the question for us, telling us, “no, religion is not inherently good.” He cited the fact that historically Christians gathered to watch people burned at the stake as a witness to their faith. Professor Zion had a bit of fun with the class in posing this question, but what made me recall this memory is the fact that the majority of humanity practices some kind of religion. I appreciate and understand the appeal of religion for people. I was a pious Roman Catholic myself for several years. Interestingly, it was Father Basil who supported and encouraged me to accept my gayness and continue practicing my faith. I concur with Professor Zion in that I do not think religion is inherently good. This puts me in a bind at times as I interact with people of various faiths, who view their faith as inherently good, right and desirable, both personally and informally in my daily life. Continue reading

Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane. — Theodor Adorno

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The religious and the secular came to a head at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris when Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French citizens of North African ancestry, armed with Kalashnikov rifles opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 11 in an Islamist terror attack. The attackers were heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” and “the Prophet has been avenged.” Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper published weekly, produces satire in the form of caricatures, scrappy opinion pieces and jokes from a left-wing perspective. Among the targets of its brand of satire are the three Abrahamic faiths: Roman Catholicism (Christianity), Islam and Judaism. The caricatures published in Charlie Hebdo quite often consist of crude representations of religious figures such as Pope Benedict and Mohammed. Not surprisingly, this offends many people and generates controversy. The publishers of Charlie Hebdo were prepared to die to defend their right to freedom of expression; whereas, the Islamist attackers were prepared to kill to defend their faith. In the aftermath of the terror attack, differences of opinion concerning the right of freedom of expression and of religious liberty came to the fore. What was it that motivated the publishers of Charlie Hebdo and the Islamist attackers that resulted in this atrocity? Continue reading

True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete. — Malcolm X

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Imam  Syed Soharwardy is  a respected Muslim cleric and scholar, chairman of the Al-Madinah Calgary Islamic Assembly and founder and president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada. His research interests in Islam consist of “Islamic beliefs, challenges for Muslims in the western world, conflicts within the Muslim community and interreligious conflict.” (Wikipedia) On August 22, 2014, Soharwardy drew attention to himself in announcing he was embarking on a 48 hour fast to protest the killing of James Foley, an American journalist, by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier in the week. In condemning the killing of James Foley, Soharwardy also made a bold statement declaring there is nothing Islamic in what ISIS represents, asserting:

I want to create awareness about the nature of their work — they are using Islam, they are quoting Qur’an, they look like Muslims, they pray like Muslims but they are not Muslim. They are deviant people, and they are doing exactly everything which goes against Islam. (CBC News Calgary)

In making this assertion, Soharwardy raises an interesting question. Do the actions of ISIS really have nothing to do with Islam? Continue reading

I think Islam is in a sense, in crisis. It needs to question and re-question itself. — Azar Nafisi

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Criticism of religion is a tender subject. Criticism of Islam in particular is especially so as is evidenced by the court battle threatening to take shape between the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jason MacDonald (spokesman for Prime Minister Harper). The NCCM filed a notice of libel in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice over remarks made by Jason MacDonald in dismissing their objection to the inclusion of Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the Beth Avraham Yosef Synagogue in Toronto as part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Harper on a visit to Israel in January 2014. MacDonald dismissed their objection stating “we will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to terrorist organization such as Hamas.” (as cited in CTV News) The NCCM objected to the inclusion of Rabbi Korobkin in the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Harper because he hosted speaking engagements featuring Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two noted critics of Islam, in September 2013. Continue reading

If a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. ― Flemming Rose

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Religion is part of the fabric of Canadian society; Canadians hold a plurality of beliefs. The most recent census data (from the 2001 census) show that Christianity remains the most widely held and practiced religion with Roman Catholics in the majority at 43.2 %. People of non-Christian faiths make up a very small percentage of the population: Muslims 2.0 %, Jewish 1.1 %, Hindus 1.0 %, Sikhs 0.9 %, Buddhist 1.0 %. Freedom of belief and conscience is enshrined in Canadian law; it is guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in section 2 Fundamental Freedoms. That said, it is important to note that religion is a matter of private conscience. Canada is a secular nation state. There is no state religion in Canada. Religious belief is something one chooses; no one is forcing you to adhere to a particular set of beliefs and the rules of any particular religious institution. Issues are arising in the present over the accommodation of religious folk in the secular, public realm of Canadian society. Continue reading

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) in most solemn form, the dignity of a person is acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a fundamental right, the right of free movement in search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life. — Pope John XXIII, 1881-1963 Pacem in Terris, 1963

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In essays published earlier on this blog the topic of religion in society, particularly the direction the Western world took in gradually establishing a clear separation of religion and state, relegating religion to the sphere of private conscience is discussed. The last remnants of Papal authority in temporal affairs ended with the signing of the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian government in 1929. In the present, in the Western world, religious liberty is guaranteed in law and members of religious institutions are free to comment on moral and political issues just as anyone else. In the Islamic world, this distinction between religion and state never emerged, save for the Republic of Turkey which was founded as a secular state in 1923. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in 1924. The constitutional, civil and common law legal systems in effect across the Western world are rooted in the theory of natural rights, primarily as espoused by the men of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine. By contrast, across the Islamic world, the system of law, sharia, a religiously based moral and legal code applies. The differences in the legal systems and the place of religion in society between the Western world and the Islamic world are quite noticeable in comparing responses to the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Continue reading

“Dignity is not negotiable. Dignity is the honor of the family.” — Vartan Gregorian

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A good friend and hunting buddy of mine, Omer, is an observant Muslim whose family immigrated to Canada from Pakistan. Omer is an educated man as is the rest of his family. He is someone I have known several years and with whom I have enjoyed many in-depth discussions, learning about his faith and the culture in which he grew up before coming to Canada.  He tells me that family honour and shame are taken very seriously by some elements of Pakistani society. The phenomenon of honour killing is a reality for these elements of Pakistani society, particularly in the rural and tribal regions. Family honour is taken so seriously in this culture that if a family member (typically a girl or young woman) brings shame on the family the whole family suffers. They become untouchables; they are deemed unfit to associate with and most certainly are not welcome to marry into other families. The only way family honour can be restored in such a case is in killing the family member who brought the shame onto the family. This understanding of family honour is bound up in religion (Islam) and a culture in which men dominate. He certainly does not approve of this behaviour. He recognizes it as a problem that Pakistani society must address. Continue reading