Tag Archives: middle-east

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test.”–Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

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Martyrdom is a concept with which I have been familiar since I was very young. From my Roman Catholic background growing up I remember reading accounts of the lives of saints, many of whom were martyred in the most grisly fashions imaginable. In the summer of 1969 my family, myself, my three siblings, our mother and father and my mother’s parents toured Europe, traveling in a Volkswagen van. Among the sights we saw were a number of art galleries where I viewed a great many works of art depicting the martyrdom of various saints. The martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is one of the more memorable depictions I recall, but it was the depiction of one event in particular from the Bible that really made an impression on me: that of the Massacre of the Innocents. From the first time I heard that story read to me I was troubled by it. I struggled to understand why God would allow such an atrocity. In one version of the story, written for children, I remember reading that we should find solace  in that the mothers of the slain baby boys would have found comfort had they known their murdered sons were the first Christian martyrs. This raised a question for me I have pondered over the years: can children be martyrs? Continue reading

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The caliphate is the sign of Islamic unity, and the manifestation of the connection between the Islamic peoples, and an Islamic symbol which the Muslims are obligated to think about, and to be concerned with its issue — Imam Hasan al-Banna

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In previous essays I discussed the topic of religion and state in the Western world, notably the role of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, in the development of Western civilization. For centuries the Catholic Church had authority in temporal affairs and collected taxes in much of Europe. Following the Reformation in the 16th century there were instances where Protestant Churches had authority in temporal affairs. Geneva under the rule of John Calvin (1509-1564), the founder of Calvinism, was governed according to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances which were administered by the Consistory. The Enlightenment in the 18th century introduced new thinking in the natural rights of man and the place of religion in society. Enlightenment thinkers valued religious liberty, but also favoured a strict separation between religion and the state. By the end of the 18th century there were the American and French Revolutions which introduced constitutional law and separation of church and state. In the 19th century the last vestiges of church authority in temporal affairs were swept away with capture of Rome and the Papal States in the drive to unify Italy as a nation. Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and separation of religion and state make religious pluralism an integral part of Western societies in the present, while Christianity remains the dominant faith, people are free to practice any religion they wish or none at all. How does the history and development of the Islamic world then compare to that of the Western world? Continue reading

Coffee: that “Muslim drink”

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Coffee, a hot beverage brewed from the ground beans of the coffea plant, is a beverage I relish. I take two mugfuls of black coffee every morning, savouring the flavour as I sip it from my mug. The consumption of coffee is a pleasure so many people enjoy every day across the world. Coffee drinking originated in the Arab world in the 15th century and remains an integral part of Arab culture in the present. Coffee was introduced to Europe in the 16th century by Venetian merchants who had trade relations with North Africa, Egypt and the Middle East. Coffee was approved as a Christian beverage by Pope Clement VIII (1536-1605) in 1600, having been frowned upon by some Christians as a “Muslim drink.” Kudos to his Holiness Pope Clement in doing so as this delectable beverage and its consumption would play a role in the transformation of European society from the remnants of the social order of the Middle Ages to modernity. Continue reading