Shah Jahan Mosque Postcard, 1925
Thatta, Sindh, Pakistan
Exactly! And there are a LOT of these people. Everyday I stop a different person and tell them that they are doing the same thing they claim others do to them!
Its a disease and it hasn’t left Muslims untouched.
Less than 400 miles from Alexandria (Egypt) stands one of the most enduring testaments to Muslim-Christian harmony on earth: St. Catherine’s Monastery. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Sinai, St. Catherine’s holds an unparalleled collection of early Christian art and a treasure trove of ancient manuscripts. Its relics have survived unmolested for centuries, a unique distinction among Christian monuments. The monastery is known around the world for its rare assortment of Christian icons, but perhaps its most interesting artifact is a copy of a charter, written in Arabic and dating from the 7th century CE. This charter, now displayed behind glass for all visitors to see, was dictated by the Prophet Muhammad after he was visited in 628 by a delegation from St. Catherine’s seeking protection.
In no uncertain terms, the Prophet vowed that Muslims would protect not only the Christians of Sinai, but all followers of Christ both “near and far” – and their places of worship – until the end of time. Any Muslim who failed to uphold this agreement, according to Muhammad, would “spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet.”
It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on.
The tower is just one of many construction projects in the very center of Mecca, from train lines to numerous luxury high-rises and hotels and a huge expansion of the Grand Mosque. The historic core of Mecca is being reshaped in ways that many here find appalling, sparking unusually heated criticism of the authoritarian Saudi government.
This is rather… disheartening to say the least.
Wow. This is just terrible.
Contradictions in the Bible, commissioned by Sam Harris for his nonprofit foundation Project Reason, with graphic design by Andy Marlow. The bars that run along the bottom of the visualization represent the 1189 chapters in the Bible, with the length of each bar corresponding to the number of verses in each chapter. White bars represent the Old Testament and grey bars represent the New Testament. Each red arc indicates a contradiction.
I cannot say that I have read the complete collection of these writings, but judging from some of the prominent scholars involved, this new initiative by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) is definitely worth a serious look. It seems quite interesting.
Looking to combat widespread ignorance about Iran and US policy towards to Iran, USIP asked both Iranian and Western experts, almost 50 in all, to compile brief yet comprehensive overviews on 62 subjects ranging from Iran’s politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and nuclear program.
This is an excellent read. I imagine that if a Zionist was to come across this article, they would immediately fall back on the tried and tested defense that such words are anti-semitic. They are not of course; what they are is fact-based, and the sooner Israel comes to acknowledge their true significance, the faster we can get on with the peace-making.
Several years ago, I suggested in my students’ union newspaper that Israel shouldn’t exist. I also said the sympathy evoked by the Holocaust was a very handy cover for Israeli atrocities. Overnight I became public enemy number one. I was a Muslim fundamentalist, a Jew-hater, somebody who trivialised the memory of the most abominable act in history. My denouncers followed me, photographed me, and even put telephone calls through to my family telling them to expect a call from the grim reaper.
Thankfully, my notoriety in Jewish circles has since waned to the extent that recently I gave an inter-faith lecture sponsored by the Leo Baeck College, even though my views have remained the same. Israel has no right to exist. I know it’s a hugely unfashionable thing to say and one which, given the current parlous state of the peace process, some will also find irresponsible. But it’s a fact that I have always considered central to any genuine peace formula.
Certainly there is no moral case for the existence of Israel. Israel stands as the realisation of a biblical statement. Its raison d’être was famously delineated by former prime minister Golda Meir. “This country exists as the accomplishment of a promise made by God Himself. It would be absurd to call its legitimacy into account.”
That biblical promise is Israel’s only claim to legitimacy. But whatever God meant when he promised Abraham that “unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the Euphrates,” it is doubtful that he intended it to be used as an excuse to take by force and chicanery a land lawfully inhabited and owned by others.
It does no good to anyone to brush this fact, uncomfortable as it might be, under the table. But that has been the failing with Oslo. When it signed the agreement, the PLO made the cardinal error of assuming that you could bury the hatchet by rewriting history. It accepted as a starting point that Israel had a right to exist. The trouble with this was that it also meant, by extension, an acceptance that the way Israel came into being was legitimate. As the latest troubles have shown, ordinary Palestinians are not prepared to follow their leaders in this feat of intellectual amnesia.
Israel’s other potential claim to legitimacy, international recognition, is just as dubious. The two pacts which sealed Palestine’s future were both concluded by Britain. First we signed the Sykes-Picot agreement with France, pledging to divvy up Ottoman spoils in the Levant. A year later, in 1917, the Balfour Declaration promised a national home for the Jewish people. Under international law the declaration was null and void since Palestine did not belong to Britain - under the pact of the League of Nations it belonged to Turkey.
By the time the UN accepted a resolution on the partition of Palestine in 1947, Jews constituted 32% of the population and owned 5.6% of the land. By 1949, largely as a result of paramilitary organisations such as the Haganah, Irgun and Stern gang, Israel controlled 80% of Palestine and 770,000 non-Jews had been expelled from their country.
This then is the potted history of the iniquities surrounding its own birth that Israel must acknowledge in order for peace to have a chance. After years of war, peace comes from forgiving, not forgetting; people never forget but they have an extraordinary capacity to forgive. Just look at South Africa, which showed the world that a cathartic truth must precede reconciliation.
Far from being a force for liberation and safety after decades of suffering, the idea that Israel is some kind of religious birthright has only imprisoned Jews in a never-ending cycle of conflict. The “promise” breeds an arrogance which institutionalises the inferiority of other peoples and generates atrocities against them with alarming regularity. It allows soldiers to defy their consciences and blast unarmed schoolchildren. It gives rise to legislation seeking to prevent the acquisition of territory by non-Jews.
More crucially, the promise limits Israel’s capacity to seek models of coexistence based on equality and the respect of human rights. A state based on so exclusivist a claim to legitimacy cannot but conceive of separation as a solution. But separation is not the same as lasting peace; it only pulls apart warring parties. It does not heal old wounds, let alone redress historical wrongs.
However, take away the biblical right and suddenly mutual coexistence, even a one-state solution, doesn’t seem that far-fetched. What name that coexistence will take is less important than the fact that peoples have forgiven and that some measure of justice has been restored. Jews will continue to live in the Holy Land - as per the promise - as equals alongside its other rightful inhabitants.
If that kind of self-reproach is forthcoming, Israel can expect the Palestinians to be forgiving and magnanimous in return. The alternative is perpetual war.
The author, Faisal Bodi, is a Muslim journalist.
*This post is an exercise in Spreading Goodness In Place of Hatred
Back when I was in Grade 3, my parents decided that the British school I was in was too lax. They had also learned over the previous two years that the local Pakistani schools were just too disorganized to dole out a good education. So for Grade 4, they decided to send me to an Indian school, which are notorious for their tough curriculums and their excellent extracurriculars. I didn’t know this at the time, of course, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have changed my foul opinion about my parents’ decision.
So here I am, a young student, good at all subjects, but at a severe disadvantage at this school because one of the compulsory classes was Hindi, which of course, I could speak and understand just fine because my mother tongue is Urdu, which very similar to Hindi. But as we all know, a language class is usually much less about speaking and listening, and much more about writing, which is where my disadvantage lay. Urdu is based on the Arabic script. Hindi on the other hand, is based on the Sanskrit script. When it comes to writing them, they could not be further apart. So, it eventually came to be that within my first week at school, I dutifully started attending tuition classes after school at my Hindi teacher’s house. He used to live in a compound near the school, a teachers residence if you will, and every evening I would arrive with my Hindi books in hand to practice the alphabet like my classmates had done, some 4 years earlier.
My teacher was Mr. Singh. I never got to know his first name, I was too young and perhaps I don’t remember it, but its more probable that I never asked. He was a man of medium build and over the years that I knew him, his appearance changed little. His hair would be lightly oiled and his slim mustache trimmed perfectly. He almost always wore striped and plaid shirts with cotton pants. He was a good person and a good teacher. Patience was his strength and when you’re teaching a Grade 4 student how to read and write, patience always comes in handy. I took to him immediately. He would take me through my Hindi alphabets, the basic grammar rules, and my readings– from the most basic of children’s stories going on to more complex stories as I progressed.
But more than the lessons, I remember him so vividly now because he became my window into a new world. I had walked into this school at such a tender age and into such a different environment that I was almost in shock. The cafeteria food was foreign to me– Idli? Dosa? Vada? What is that? The variety of languages my schoolmates spoke was astounding to me too– Malyalam? Marathi? Kannada? Tamil? Gujrati? Punjabi? and Hindi? and English? How many languages are there in India?
And then there were the religions. Islam and Christianity I knew, and I knew Hinduism too (Bollywood, you see), but I hadn’t ever met a Hindu. But here I was now, and not only were there people of these religions, but others too! Sikhism? Are they always sick, I wondered? What fun is that, really? And so the mutterings to myself, half in shock and half in amusement went on and on. But the one crazy bit of knowledge that truly knocked me off my feet, was revealed the day a Muslim classmate of mine told me where he was from in India. He said he was from Kerala, which I had come to know was one of India’s 25 provinces.
Now, you can’t imagine my shock at hearing his words. Because to me, there were no Muslims in India. India was a Hindu country. All the Muslims had come to Pakistan. How could this Muslim kid be from India? In fact, in my own childish Grade 4 mind, which didn’t even think of such things and just considered some facts to be true and not worth spending time thinking about, I had been under the impression that everyone in my class and school who was Muslim was a Pakistani. They were here at an Indian school for the same reason I was. When I heard my friend’s words, I remember feeling shell-shocked. I didn’t believe him, but I realized even at that age, that if he was right, then I had been so wrong that mentioning it out loud would be tantamount to having everyone make fun of me for a really really long time. So, I held my tongue.
Later that night, I arrived at Mr. Singh’s house with a ton of questions. I asked him about India, about its people, its places, its religions, its languages, its history– I asked him all that I could think of because suddenly this new world had opened up and apparently, I knew nothing of it. That day marks an important step in my life. You could say that it was beginning of a worldly me, one that realized the intricacies of the world and the interconnectedness of us all.
Why am I telling you this story? Because today, the day on which an extremist in America was going to burn a Quran, the story of how Mr. Singh taught me about the world’s religions comes to my mind vividly. It started off with a simple version of Ram and Sita’s epic story of love and tragedy, the Ramayana as it is called, is not just a love story, it is also the backbone of Hindu mythology. I would read it to Mr. Singh, he would listen and correct me as I went along. Then we would speak about it to see how much I had absorbed, what I could I write about it, etc. Simple language exercises, yes, but a world of knowledge for a hungry mind. Suddenly, I knew of new Gods and their reincarnations– Shiva, Krishna, Shankar, Ganesh, Ram- I could go on and on. I learnt about Hindu customs, about their beliefs, about how they live in a country that also has Muslims and Sikhs who have their own customs and their own beliefs just like the Buddhists and the Christians and the B’hais and the Zoroastrians. I would ask and Mr. Singh would tell. I would ask more and he would tell more. My Hindi classes became less about Hindi and more about everything that could be described through Hindi.
Those days were the first time that I was exposed to a world different from what I experienced in my own home. It was a revelation and a foundation for the years to come. Suddenly, I was the only kid in my group of friends outside school who understood people of other religions. I found myself explaining other cultures, busting myths and correcting misconceptions. Those days were fundamental to my growth as an accepting individual. I came to respect all religions because I knew about them. That fear that permeates the lives of those who have never actually dealt with the ‘other’ disappeared from my life early on.
To me, this story is relevant today because education is still the answer. The reason that an extremist person can hijack a whole country and millions of other people’s lives with plans to burn a Quran is because there is a lack of understanding between religions. I do not blame him, mind you, because lunatics like him will always exist, on all sides. But I do place the blame on the nice people on both sides who have ample opportunity to learn about each other and choose not to because of their fear. Those are the people we need to target and get them to start embracing what is unknown to them, what feels foreign but only because they do not know it fully. The reason that well-educated people, almost 60% of one of the world’s most developed nations, oppose a cultural center is because they are not educated about the true philosophy of what that center stands for. They are unaware of it. And hence, they still look at it as the ‘other’. Their fears can thus be exploited, misused, improperly focused on what they do not know and fear. Instead of learning more, today, the immediate reaction is to talk to someone that feels the same way as us, thus multiplying the paranoia, feeding the dissent. This is not progressive, this is not rational and it is not healthy. This is a recipe for disaster.
The blame lies on all sides. Some Muslims are just as ignorant about Christianity as some Americans or Christians are about Islam. The same is true for Hindus and Sikhs too. We are all to blame. Respect is not a one way street. But we all need to begin somewhere, and that point of understanding lies in education. Only when we start educating our young on how to live in and deal with the whole world rather than just whomever looks like, talks like, acts like us, can we truly say that we are worldly people that have progressed beyond what our forefathers were able to achieve. Till then, all this illusion of progress is just that, a hoax, a hoodwink, a ploy to make us feel that we are more than what was in the past. If the last month has shown us anything it is that our progressive attitudes have not permeated to all reaches of our society. The line between accepting and exclusionary is still far too thin, and some are slipping far too easily, far too fast, and far too often. Much more needs to be done to address the issue.
Having recounted those days when Mr. Singh’s evening lessons taught me of the complexity and sheer enormity of the world, I have to wonder where I would be today if it wasn’t for him. The thought makes me shudder.
I have no fantastical way of closing these thoughts because you already knew that education is the answer to ignorance. So I will leave you with just one more anecdote. One day, Mr. Singh told me something mind-blowing. He posed to me a question: If God and your guru (teacher) were to arrive in front of you at the same time, who would you greet first? The answer for me, at the time, was clear. I would greet God first, of course, I replied. But he told me, that in Hindu customs, it is said that one should greet the guru (teacher) first, for the simple reason that it is the teacher who teaches ones about God in the first place.