Monday, 28 July 2014

Eid Mubarak! (Written For Christian Muslim Forum)

This year, I was thrilled and honoured to be asked by the Christian Muslim Forum to write their annual Eid message. I'm incredibly grateful to this organisation, not only for the work they do throughout the year but also for the phenomenal support and encouragement they have given me since I began this blog two years ago.  

Below is just a short fragment. Head on over the Christian Muslim Forum to read the full version

"While there is much to be thankful for this Eid, we are also united by a shared sense of sadness as we remember the ongoing suffering which many endure around the world, which has been particularly intense this Ramadan. 
At a time when Christians, Ahmadiyya, and Rohingya Muslims face persecution in Iraq, Pakistan, and Myanmar respectively, and scores of civilians are dying in Syria and Gaza, it is all too easy for us to fall into despair at the current state of the world.  
Many of us have felt helpless in the face of so much suffering. It is in these moments that we have to step up, speak out, and join together as people of faith and work alongside each other to be the change in the world - to show that faith can be one of the most powerful forces for good."

Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed Eid full of love, light, and laughter!

Curator of Interfaith Ramadan

                        One Day of Pagan Ramadan | Rose Virginia Butler 

The Balancing Act of Being a Queer Muslim - Maryam Din

This is part of the Interfaith Ramadan series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan. 

When people learn of two particular aspects of my identity usually they’re left a little perplexed and you really can’t miss the look of confusion on their faces as they try and figure out how it makes sense. I identify as a queer Muslim and it is these two parts of my identity that not only causes a lot of confusion, and result in a million and one questions (sometimes even really inappropriate ones), but it is also these aspects in which I face the most intolerance and abuse.

Being a queer Muslim, I tread an interesting line, a balancing act if you will. I face queer-phobia from some sections of the Muslim community and Islamophobia coupled with racism from some sections of the LGBTQ community. This means that I literally have to downplay the importance of my religion in some LGBTQ spaces and also having to downplay my sexuality in some religious spaces. The reason why myself and many people like me who identify both within the LGBTQ community and religious communities feel compelled to do this boils down to safety, physical and mental safety.

But you know what though? It isn’t all doom and gloom. It is also because I identify as queer and Muslim that I feel like I have a completely different outlook on life. You know the saying you can only know what someone’s going through if you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, I find that having such marginalized identities (I tick all of the boxes on the equal opportunities monitoring form - ethnicity, religion, sexuality and disability) allows me to be able to empathise with people’s struggles. This brings me perfectly onto the next bit. It’s because of my sexuality that I am able to be a better Muslim. That sounds so bizarre right? Let me explain. Islam deals with a lot of human rights and social justice issues and it is these aspects along with the socialism that I resonate with the most.

The most recent example I have of this is when a now friend, reached out to me. Let me set the scene a little first. I find that because I am so visible as a queer Muslim a lot of people are quick to criticize me and my ‘life choices’ and particularly question why I am so open. It the idea of not airing your dirty laundry in public. The day I came out to myself, I made a promise that I would never hide myself again. Clearly I took this to an unintended whole new level and now I’m visible from workshops to conferences to national radio.

Coming back to my new friend… She came out to me a few months ago and our later messages articulate perfectly why I am so open and unashamed about who I am. Here’s part of our interaction:

Me: I see my visibility as a duty for others who are not able to be visible to whatever reasons.
Her: I don't know how many strangers have messaged you before like i did, probably lots, but now you have proof of it. You being "visible" gave me hope and courage and factored in me feeling less alone. So i will always appreciate that.

Reading that interaction still moves me even now. Visibility in a world which oppresses and marginalizes people is a political act. It is an act which unequivocally says that we are proud to be who we are and more than that, we love ourselves and will be unapologetic in who we are and what we stand for. Visibility says that we will not conform and we will challenge you and the status quo. Visibility, perhaps most importantly, saves lives.

Maryam Din is a social activist and graduate in International Relations and Politics who identifies as a Black queer feminist Muslim. She has a passion for visibility and activism within the intersections of gender, sexuality, culture and religion. She blogs at [ 5pillarsand6colours ] 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

One Day of Pagan Ramadan - Rose V. Butler

I’ve always been interested in religion and the way different people express their faiths, even when I was a fundamentalist Christian and believed many of these people were going to Hell. When I began delving into ancient history and studying more of the Old Testament, I decided Christianity wasn’t for me and started searching for something else. Exploring the faiths of the world was an amazing experience, one I wouldn’t trade for the world; to this day, I think everyone should take a world religions class and explore spirituality in their own way. In the end, I settled on Wicca, but the traditions and spiritual expressions of the other Abrahamic faiths—Islam and Judaism—are still beautiful and fascinating to me, so much so that I love following some of their online communities on Patheos, YouTube, and Instagram.

It was these communities that sparked my interest in Ramadan and made me sorry that Wicca didn’t have its own month-long period of devotion. Sure, Wicca is very flexible—especially as a solitary practitioner—so I could have come up with one of my own, but it just wouldn’t have been the same doing it by myself. During Ramadan, millions, if not billions, of people all over the world take part in the fast at the same time; there is a sense of community and kinship between fasters. It’s the same for many Christians during Lent.

As Ramadan began this year, I toyed with the idea of fasting, if only for one day. When I found out a local mosque was holding an interfaith iftar on July 19th, I thought that would be the perfect day, but as the day approached, I wondered why I was doing it. Again, I looked into the theology of Islam, but it appealed to me very little. I admired the cultures and the traditions, but could not reconcile it with my personal theological beliefs.

Then the conflict in Gaza flared. It was then that I realized I wanted to fast to show my support for religious freedom all over the world. More and more injustices came to mind, from prejudice in the workplace to the fight over hijab in France and elsewhere. It is my sincerely held belief that people should be able to practice whatever peaceful religion they want to practice without being harassed or singled out. I also believe that people should be able to cover or uncover as much of their body as they’re comfortable with. Fasting would be my way of saying, “I support religious freedom.”

With this in mind, I had a surprisingly easy day fasting. To be honest, I think it was because I spent nearly the entire day out of the house, so I wasn’t tempted to snack or sip while I was watching TV or anything. I even did my best to be kind in all I did, and I don’t think I even snapped at anyone. I did wake up at four o’clock in the morning to eat my overnight oats, chug a quart of water, and pray to my God and Goddess—and promptly went back to bed. Then I went to the farmer’s market (where I was tempted many times with, “Are you sure you don’t want a sample???” and forced to trust my partner’s judgment when it came to fruit selection). Then, in the evening, I went to work (I had to skip the interfaith iftar because of it) … Did I mention I work in a restaurant? This was when I may or may not have gone a little crazy. It was unusually slow that night—or was it?—so there was little to do but focus on my growling stomach. I kept praying and looking at the clock and praying some more, and finally, at 8:30, I munched on a couple of dates I brought for the occasion and downed a bunch of water.

I think what surprised me the most was the amount of support I received, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. My coworkers—none of whom are Muslim—were awesome, cheering me on the last few minutes of my fast. Everyone online, including the wonderful people surrounding Interfaith Ramadan, was very supportive. A few days later, I bonded with the man opening my new bank account after my partner, spotting the man’s Middle Eastern name, very casually (*coughnotcasuallyatallcough*) asked me, “Is Ramadan still going on?” to which the man replied, “You know about Ramadan??”

Did fasting bring me closer to the divine? Perhaps. I was acutely aware of my actions throughout the entire day, so I was very careful not to snap at anyone or get upset about the little things. I had also downloaded a prayer app that made my phone vibrate at the prayer times. Originally, I downloaded it so I would know when I could eat and drink, but I found myself pausing when it went off at other times, just to say a little prayer and remind myself why I was going without food or water for sixteen hours. Fasting definitely made me aware of the people who go without food or water because they have to, and if remembering and feeling compassion for them doesn’t bring you closer to God, I don’t know what will.

Rose Virginia Butler is a lifelong writer who has a variety of interests, including religion, books, social justice, ecology, food, and fitness. She is a solitary Wiccan and a member of her local Unitarian Universalist church. Rose is currently an English student at an online university with the goal of supporting herself through her writing. You can find her on her blog (, which has links to other social networking profiles.

Previous post: Interview with Christian Today
Related post: Looking for Peace in the Grey Areas

Interview with Christian Today | Sarah Ager

I was incredibly fortunate to be approached by one of the editors of Christian Today and asked to share my story of conversion and speak about why interfaith is so important to me personally, and why it's crucial for society at large. There were also some refreshingly tough questions about Salvation, the Trinity, and violence in the Muslim world.

Although the article was met with rather a hefty dollop of criticism (to put it mildly), it also received praise from Christians and Muslims alike who appreciated that such a popular Christian magazine had reached out and been bold enough to present a positive story about Christian-Muslim dialogue, in the knowledge that there would probably be considerable backlash for doing so. 

I'd like to say a special thank you to Lucinda Borkett-Jones, who was an absolute delight to chat with and incredibly generous in her write up of our conversation. I'm also very grateful to the readers of Christian Today who sent me public or private messages of support and appreciation. At times such as this, when tension so often derives from the cracks we have allowed to form between religions, those who take risks to challenge others on matters of principle and strengthen ties between people of different faiths (even if it means readers may press the dreaded 'unlike' button) deserve to be highly commended for their actions. 

And I hope that the readers who liked and shared the article found themselves challenged in a positive way and were given hope that there are innumerable Muslims out there working for peace and that it's possible work together to counter-act the terrible things done in the name of both our religions. 

Below is a short extract from the article which, if it tickles your fancy, you can find in full here

"At university, Sarah Ager was known for her Christian faith. Her parents are Salvation Army ministers. She grew up going to church and being in the church choir. Belief in God and being a Christian were a fundamental part of her identity, until she converted to Islam when she was studying English in Leicester. 
She wasn't peeved with the Church, didn't know much about Islam, and she didn't convert in order to marry a Muslim. 
So what led her on this journey? She decided to look into Islam when she met some Turkish Muslims at university. "The main reason I started studying [Islam] was because I was embarrassed," she says. 
"I knew nothing about Turkey or Islam, I didn't know what they believed; I was intimidated. I thought 'I have to at least Google this religion'." 
But Sarah didn't stop at a quick Google search..."

Previous Post: My First Fast: A Baha'i Perspective

Saturday, 26 July 2014

My First Fast: A Baha'i Perspective | Leanna

I was terrified.  There is no other way to describe it.

I gulped down more water, another bite of toast, and felt panic settle into my overstuffed belly: the sun was rising, and I was going to starve!

In my defense, I was 15 years old and already inclined to melodrama before becoming a teenager.  But there was nothing insincere about the overwhelming nervousness I experienced as I watched the sunlight fill our family kitchen on the first day of my first fast.

As a child growing up in a Bahá'í family, I had watched my parents - and in later years my older siblings - take part in the annual fast that precedes our new year in the spring.  I understood on an intellectual level the spiritual benefits of fasting from sunup to sundown for 19 days - how it helps us to focus on spiritual rather than earthly matters, how it allows extra time for prayer and reflection, how it leads to spiritual insights, and how it encourages a sense of togetherness among community members.

On an intellectual level.

On a gut level I was totally panicked.  And now I was finally 15, considered the age of spiritual maturity in the Bahá'í Faith and the first time I was required to fast.  As the first day of the Fast drew closer, I tried to think of excuses why I couldn't fast, but I didn't fall under any of the exceptions listed in the Bahá'í laws: I didn't do manual labor for a living, and I wasn't traveling, or pregnant, or ill, or elderly.  In the end, all I could do was cross my fingers and hope that my period would come early (which, of course, it didn't).

And so I found myself, belly sloshing with too much water and food, watching the sunrise as if it were something out of a horror movie.

I went to school as normal and tried to concentrate, although I was feeling a bit queasy from nerves and all the food I had forced myself to eat early that morning.  But the hours dragged on, and I survived.  In fact, things seemed rather normal.  I didn't feel faint or dizzy, as I had expected.  To my relief, I actually felt fine.

My energy started to fade in the afternoon.  I remember clearly sitting in my World Literature class, where we were reading - as fate would have it - Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  The teacher had allowed us some time for individual reading, so the classroom was still except for the occasional shuffling feet or bored cough.

Something happened to me that afternoon that I will never forget.  As I read about the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, something clicked - not just in my head, where I already knew the importance of renunciation for spiritual growth - but in my heart, where I had been too afraid to believe it.  There was no angelic choir or dazzling radiance from above, but a quiet feeling of utter lightness filled me, and for the first time that day I relaxed and experienced a real sense of peace.

I still get very irritable when I fast, and I do find myself counting the days until it is over, but that sense of peace has never really left me.  Mixed into the inevitable fatigue are also moments of insight and calm, when I can recapture the feeling from that day, and remember that, in the end, the body is just a body, and the spirit world is beautiful beyond our wildest imaginations.  And that even a 15 year old drama queen can find moments of peace.

Note: As per the Bahá'í laws, I have not fasted for the past several years because I was either pregnant or nursing, but we have found other creative ways to share the spirit of the Fast with our two young children.

Leanna is a stay at home mother to a sweet, funny, rambunctious four year old boy and his adorable, smiley baby brother.  She draws inspiration from the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith and tries to raise her Monkeys in a fun, spiritual, loving environment.  She and her husband, who is from Costa Rica, are raising their boys to be bilingual and bicultural but more importantly to be "world citizens."  All Done Monkey is dedicated to sharing this journey with you!

Leanna is the co-founder of Bahá'í Mom Blogs and founder of Multicultural Kid Blogs.

Previous Posts:
What's the Future of Interfaith Ramadan? | Sarah Ager (Curator)
Do You Believe in Interfaith? | Dr Karl E. H. Seigfried

Friday, 25 July 2014

What's the Future of Interfaith Ramadan?

Last week I was kindly asked by Pink Sky Magazine to speak about Interfaith Ramadan. In the interview, shared a bit of background on my own interfaith family and how Interfaith Ramadan came about, my opinion on why interfaith is making headway, and where I see the project going in the future. Below is a short snippet taken from the interview.

What problems do you face in this type of blogging?

The first misconception that people have about interfaith is that it is a sort of ruse, an attempt at conversion cleverly hidden by a smile and a cup of tea. Interfaith work simply cannot work if one or both parties are trying to convert the other. Interfaith dialogue requires honesty, both to ourselves and to each other, and of course this means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. People are unable to open up if they feel that the other person has ulterior motives. For these reasons, attempts to convert have absolutely no place in interfaith.

Sometimes there is an inaccurate concern that involvement in interfaith means you are somehow diluting your own faith. While the reality is that most individuals engaged in interfaith dialogue and activism find they feel more connected to their own faith tradition as a direct result of engagement with others.

It's important to note that the overall aim of interfaith is not to make everyone the same, but instead to acknowledge and respect difference, to learn from the experience of others, and encourage each other to grow within our own tradition so that we can do our bit to make the world a more inclusive and peaceful place.

You can find the full interview here.

Previous Article: Do you Believe in Interfaith? | Dr Karl E. H. Seigfried
Next Article: My First Fast: A Baha'i Perspective | Leanna

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Do You Believe in Interfaith? - Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

A couple of months ago, I asked the director of a United Kingdom think tank focused on religion and society if organizations like hers were more comfortable with atheism than with religions outside of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. She answered affirmatively, stating that a lack of faith is “more familiar” than any non-Abrahamic tradition. She is not alone in this sentiment.

Interfaith most often means intra-Abrahamic. There is a shared heritage between the three large monotheistic faiths that can provide a natural starting point for dialogue between the traditions. If an atheist presents an argument regarding the existence of God, that argument is necessarily part of Abrahamic dialogue. By agreeing that the discussion concerns the immanent reality of God, the atheist agrees to terms that are innately bound to an Abrahamic worldview.

For those of us who belong to faith traditions outside the Abrahamic sphere, the fundamental assumptions of standard interfaith conversation do not necessarily apply. Many well-meaning and openhearted people in the interfaith world declare that “there are many paths to God.” This is a progressive position to take when trying to bring together Christians, Jews and Muslims. However, it leaves practitioners of polytheistic faiths outside of the tent. The atheist who asserts “there is no God at the end of the path” is more welcome than the polytheist who states “there are many gods along the path.”

The atheist and the follower of an Abrahamic tradition are part of the same conceptual world; they are arguing within a culturally bound structure. The polytheist does not agree to the basic premises of this system. For someone who shares the world with gods, goddesses, wights, giants and other powers, the concept of a single, omniscient, omnipotent God moving over the surface of the waters is as foreign as the idea of elves and spirits deciding the fate of a Member of Parliament would be to a Muslim.

My own tradition is Ásatrú, the modern iteration of pre-Christian Germanic religion. The worldwide heathen community is relatively small, but it spreads across many regions of the planet and encompasses a great diversity of belief and practice. The archeological, historical and literary record relating to the roots of the religion encompasses a great variety of source materials from the past 4,000 years: Bronze Age rock carvings in Scandinavia, records of interactions between the Roman Empire and continental Germanic tribes, chronicles of heathen-Christian clashes during the Viking Age, the preservation of myths and legends in post-Conversion Iceland, and folk practices that survive into recent times.

The modern revival dates to 1972, when Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson founded the Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”) in Iceland. Ásatrú soon began to appear around the world in the form of national organizations, regional groups, small communities, and individual practitioners. It is now Iceland’s largest non-Christian religion, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last year approved Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) as a recognized emblem of belief for military grave markers.

What place is there for heathens in interfaith organizations? I have yet to find even one national-level interfaith organization in the United States that has a single Ásatrúar on its board, advisory panel, administration or staff. Last year, the rabbi who co-founded an interfaith journal told me that his group’s “Board of Scholars and Practitioners” (with over fifty current members) had no place for a heathen – there was simply no room at the inn.

On the other hand, these interfaith advisory boards seem to have little actual impact on the organizations they supposedly advise. The editor-in-chief of a religion news organization that covers the intersection of faith with politics and culture told me that her group’s “Advisory Council is (as is the case with many non-profit orgs) in name only. It has absolutely zero to do with our coverage. We don't talk to them, or they to us.”

Why do organizations bother with these advisory panels full of faith leaders, then? To understand that, we need to ask what a religion think tank, an interfaith journal and a religion news organization have in common – aside from their purported dedication of openness to varied faith perspectives. There is a clear way to find the answer: follow the money. They all receive grants from government agencies, corporate foundations, anonymous donors and others who are attracted by the supposedly inclusive idea of “interfaith.” By pointing to a list of advisors from across a spectrum of religious traditions, the organizations can claim a multicultural approach that is attractive to granters.

From a broader faith perspective, however, this version of multiculturalism is really monocultural. Where are the voices from outside the Abrahamic axis? Apparently, they can’t pay the price of admission.

This influence of cash on inclusivity is not a secret. When I asked one of the organizers of a global conference focused on religions of the world if the event would include representatives from minority faith communities, he gave a financial answer: “Of course we are committed to reaching out to everyone. Financial requirements limit the things we can do. But that's the case with everything it seems. We aspire to better things, and then money has its say.”

Money does indeed have its say. As the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court of the United States showed us, members of religious traditions that can muster cash and votes can directly influence the course of public life. Those without such assets – like the members of the Native American Church that were less successful in their own Supreme Court case – do not have the ability to break through into the nation’s dialogue on religion.

I can already hear the rebuttals from staff members at interfaith organizations: none of us make real money working in this field, we depend on volunteers, we include everyone we can, we had a Wiccan once, etc. However, the young man who handles “mass communications” for a large interfaith youth organization told me, “You’re spot on about many interfaith groups keeping mostly within the Abrahamic traditions. Whether or not this is a result of those religious groups already being very large and generally privileged is up for debate, but I think that plays a big role.”

Without being able to deliver large amounts of cash or numbers of voters, how do those of us who belong to small minority traditions break into interfaith dialogue? The rhetorical focus on Abrahamic monotheism and the exclusion of our communities from leadership positions seem to provide insurmountable obstacles.

I do think there is a solution, but it depends on the dedication of those within existing organizations and on the level of their commitment to real interfaith work. There are two things that need to be done immediately and with sincerity. Tokenism and superficial fixes will make no lasting difference.

First, interfaith organizers need to take a good look at their programming. In order to achieve a more diverse participation in interfaith events, a conscious effort must be made by organizers. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, it’s no longer enough to book an imam for a Passover celebration at a Catholic church and think you’ve checked off all the boxes. Interfaith groups need to figure out ways to take the dialogue out of the Abrahamic box and open it up to all traditions.

There are many topics that would be interesting to monotheists and polytheists alike. Examples include:

  • How do members of a religious community strike a balance between adhering to ancient forms of their faith and responding to realities of modern life?
  • How do we create a discursive space in which believers in the literal reality of a tradition’s mystical elements can engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue with practitioners who see ancient texts as cultural or metaphorical?
  • What weight should religious people give to scholarly works on their faith written by academics who are not part of their faith – or are even hostile to it?
  • When the perpetrator of an extremist act claims allegiance to a religion, how should members of that tradition publicly react – and how should they deal with inquiries from the media?

None of these questions privilege any faith tradition or suggest that answers from, for example, a Presbyterian minister and an Ásatrú goði have different levels of importance. A forum on these sorts of issues would create a level playing field between all faiths, regardless of how many gods each one has.

Unfortunately, merely asking these types of questions will not be enough to bring members of marginalized faiths to interfaith events. A sincere move must be made to bring in those who have been shut out. It may be difficult for interfaith organizers to find members of minority faiths in their region. If so, time will be well spent searching the internet for minority organizations, small groups or individuals and then reaching out personally. You may be ignored, and you may be rebuffed. It will take some time to convince people that your tune is really changing and that you honestly want to hear their perspectives on the issues – and that you aren’t simply seeking greater ticket sales or the ability to pencil the name of another faith into a grant application.

This leads to the second thing that needs to be done: interfaith organizations must engage in some serious affirmative action. To pick just one of innumerous examples, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee’s board of directors has thirty-two Christians, three Muslims, two Jews and two Buddhists. All of them are identified with an established church or religious organization. Here and in other interfaith organizations, participation at the leadership level seems linked to affiliation with an existing organization. In other words, the requirement to be part of the system is that one is already part of the system. Where does this leave heathens, many of whom are lone practitioners, worship with their families, or belong to small kindreds unaffiliated with any large regional or national group?

According to the editor I quoted earlier, these boards often are nothing more than a list of names on a website. However, to the members of a minority faith who looks into an interfaith organization in their region and sees a list like that of the Milwaukee group – a list that is ninety-five percent Abrahamic and has no representative from a polytheistic tradition – there is simply no reason to imagine that they would be welcome. It’s time for the organizations to make some room at the inn, even if they think they can’t possibly fit another name into the HTML code for the web page listing their board members.

If the organization’s actual leadership – i.e., administrators and staff – contains no one with a background outside of the Abrahamic tradition, there is very little reason to expect programming to change in any fundamental way. If no voice on the planning committee argues passionately for inclusion of minority perspectives or questions the inherent Abrahamic bias in the way that many interfaith events are presented, nothing will change. Now is the time for all good people of faith to fight for the inclusion of underserved communities at all levels of their organizations.

Maybe you’re involved in an interfaith organization that truly is inclusive, that has really freed itself from the Christian-Jewish-Muslim dialogical track, and that has actively recruited members of minority traditions for real leadership positions. If so, hail to you! I would love to hear from you and learn how you made this needed change.

Maybe you’re a heathen and think this is all a bunch of hooey, that heathens should go it alone, and that we should simply give the finger to the interfaith world that has ignored Ásatrú for so long. I respect your position and wish you all the best as you work within your own community. I do not claim to be a representative of heathenry or to speak for anyone beside myself.

Personally, I think that including perspectives from Ásatrú – and from Dievturība, Rodzimowierstwo, Romuva, and other revived pre-Christian polytheistic traditions – can only bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to the wider interfaith discussion. If you truly support the free exchange of ideas between all religious traditions, there is no real way forward but to throw open the doors and seek out those whose voices haven’t been heard.

If you believe in interfaith, it’s time to act.


Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried is the author of The Norse Mythology Blog, named the world’s best religion weblog 2012-2014. He has been a featured writer and lecturer on Norse myth at the Joseph Campbell Foundation and the Wagner Society of America, and he is the author of all Ásatrú definitions in the Religion Stylebook of the Religion Newswriters Association. He has taught Norse mythology and religion at Carthage College and Loyola University Chicago, and he currently teaches for the Newberry Library’s Continuing Education Program. Karl holds degrees in literature and music from University of California at San Diego, University of Wisconsin at Madison and University of Texas at Austin. He also studied literature and art history at Loyola University Chicago Rome Center in Italy. He recently received an academic scholarship from University of Chicago Divinity School and will begin working on an MA in Religion in Fall 2014.

A Ramadan of Firsts | Julian Bond

Iftar at London Synagogue | Credit: The Big Iftar

After twelve years working on Christian-Muslim relations (my twelfth anniversary was at the end of the first week of Ramadan) it might seem that there is little new to say. People may be aware that I spend most of my time looking for things that are new. The media too, hence my own approach, are constantly looking for new things and firsts. Sometimes, as with this Ramadan, we are surprised by things happening for the first time. And so it is that we had the first iftar (a ‘Big Iftar’) in a London synagogue this year, and another has already taken place. 

As Britain becomes more familiar with Ramadan more and more iftars are taking place which include people of other faiths, long may it continue! But there was one first which stood out for being both exceptionally welcome and unexpected. It was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, our Patron. The original suggestion came from the Big Iftar team, in fact from my colleague Zahra Imame, when we knew that we were breaking new ground, exploring iconic possibilities for Christian-hosted iftars. The Archbishop (office rather than person) has been involved in this important work for longer than I have. My son still gently parodies one of my earlier radio interviews by telephone which began with the immortal words, ‘Well … it all started with Archbishop Carey …’

Successive Archbishops have been great friends of the Muslim community, highlighted especially in the relationship between Archbishop Justin and our Co-Chair Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra. They demonstrated this publicly when responding as leaders of both our faiths to the tragic murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013. Celebrating these connections, amongst times of difficulty, as we celebrated the end of the day’s fasting and spiritual disciplines was a key moment. As Archbishops and staff have changed over the years we had to consult a previous colleague to establish that this was, in fact, not only the first Lambeth Palace iftar but its first ever Ramadan-related event.

The Archbishop also provided the place and the opportunity for the Christian Muslim Forum’s work over the last eight years to be celebrated through the presence of members and associates old and new, as well as well-respected senior leaders and representatives of the Muslim communities. It is a tribute to Forum’s values and ethos that our friends were describing it as a family reunion!

Ramadan is, of course, as is often emphasised, a time of prayer and peace. The Archbishop in a brief welcome and reflection before we broke the fast highlighted his own particular interest in reconciliation.

Speaking before the breaking of the fast, Archbishop Justin expressed his appreciation for the good relations that Christians and Muslims enjoy in the UK, and spoke of the need of people of different faiths to stand together against the backdrop of terrible violence and suffering, particularly in the Middle East.

“There is much that we need to talk about, and much that we can work on together; but tonight is about celebrating the importance of our friendships,” he said. {from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website}

The Archbishop then commended us all to God. He was followed by Shaykh Ibrahim who challenged us to see the real meaning of Ramadan as more than fasting, rather spiritual refreshment and reconnection to God. Both led us in heartfelt prayers for peace, forgiveness and strengthening of relationships between people of both faiths.

One thing (of many!) that our two faiths have in common is prayer. It is surely right that we should pray with and for each other, perhaps especially at Ramadan with its extra focus on prayer and the living out of the life of prayer. Christians can pray that Muslims experience fully all the blessings of Ramadan and feel themselves closer to God. Likewise Muslims can pray for blessings and peace for their Christian neighbours, whether here in the UK or in troubled places around the world. Let’s get with the spirit of Ramadan, a time of generosity amongst the fasting, of love, devotion to God and hospitality. Ramadan is a Muslim season but we can all appreciate, more so as we get closer to those who observe it and share in it with them.

Julian Bond
Christian Muslim Forum

Previous Interfaith Ramadan Post: 
A Ramadan Message to ISIS: You Don't Speak For Islam | Qasim Rashid

Monday, 21 July 2014

A Ramadan Message to ISIS: You Don’t Speak For Islam - Qasim Rashid

It is a real privilege to be able to publish an excerpt from Qasim Rashid's book EXTREMIST, an Amazon #1 Best Seller on Islam, which has been adapted specifically for Interfaith Ramadan in light of the ongoing situation in Iraq and the surrounding region. 

     The terrorist organization ISIS has set a new low standard of barbarity and inhumanity. Their most recent act of terrorism is a demand that Christians either convert, pay the jizya, leave their homes, or be killed.
     Nothing in Islam or Prophet Muhammad’s example supports ISIS’s barbarity. The below modified excerpt from my book EXTREMIST addresses the issue of jizya and dhimmis directly.
    Let’s start with dhimmi. Dhimmi is a historical term referring to non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state.1 The word literally means “one whose responsibility is taken” or “people with whom a covenant or compact has been made.”2 Dhimmi describes citizens of a Muslim state afforded security over their persons, property, and religious practice in return for a tax (the jizya). Historically, when empires won battles and wars, common people were subjugated, looted, and forced to work as laborers and serve in the military. Islam did away with such practices by affording all non-Muslim subjects the special dhimmi status.3

Regarding dhimmis Prophet Muhammadsa said, “If anyone wrongs a man with whom a covenant has been made [i.e., a dhimmi], or curtails any right of his, or imposes on him more than he can bear, or takes anything from him without his ready agreement, I shall be his adversary on the Day of Resurrection.”4

Prophet Muhammadsa also made it clear that protecting the lives and honor of dhimmis was the responsibility of the Muslims, and failing in this regard would incur God’s wrath: “Whoever killed a Mu'ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims, i.e. a dhimmi) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling).”5 At the conquest of Mecca, Prophet Muhammadsa had the upper hand against those who had persecuted him for more than two decades. He could have silenced his enemies forever. Instead, he turned to the Meccans and declared, “I say to you what the Prophet Joseph said to his brothers: ‘No blame against you! You are free.’”6
Even before the conquest of Mecca, the Charter of Medina set the precedent for the treatment of mua’ahids (dhimmis are those non-Muslim subjects who become subjects after a war. If there is no war and there is a negotiated settlement, then they are called mua’ahids). When Prophet Muhammadsa was popularly appointed Medina’s ruler, he entered into a pact with the Jewish communities of Medina. Through this pact, he granted equal political rights to non-Muslims. They were ensured complete freedom of religion and practice.

After the Prophet Muhammad’ssa demise, non-Muslim inhabitants of the fast-expanding Islamic empire enjoyed the same dignified treatment.7 When Hadhrat Umarra, second khalifa of Prophet Muhammadsa, conquered Jerusalem, he entered into a pact with all inhabitants of the city, declaring:

In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, most Beneficent. This is a covenant of peace granted by the slave of Allah, the commander of the faithful ‘Umar to the people of Jerusalem. They are granted protection for their lives, their property, their churches, and their Crosses, in whatever condition they are. All of them are granted the same protection. No one will dwell in their churches, nor will they be destroyed and nothing will be reduced of their belongings. Nothing shall be taken from their Crosses or their property. There will be no compulsion on them regarding their religion, nor will any one of them be troubled.8
A dhimmi assassinated Hadhrat Umarra in 644 CE. Rather than lashing out against dhimmis, at his deathbed, Hadhrat Umarra specifically ordered:
I urge him (i.e. the new Caliph) to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Messenger in that he should observe the convention agreed upon with them, and fight on their behalf (to secure their safety) and he should not over-tax them beyond their capability.9

Indeed, Hadhrat Umarra merely followed Prophet Muhammad’ssa noble teaching regarding Christians who live under Muslim rule. In a famous letter that Prophet Muhammadsa wrote to the Christians of Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai:
This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity near and far—we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant until the Last Day (end of the world).10
Contrary to ISIS’s barbarity, Prophet Muhammad’ssa example shows that Islam demands equality for all citizens.

Next, I transition to ISIS’s demands regarding jizya. The jizya tax was the only tax imposed on non-Muslims; it was typically lower than taxes on the Muslims of that state and was paid by fewer people. The term jizya comes from same Arabic root as jaza’, which means “reward” and “compensation.” So, according to Sharia or Islamic law, this money was returned to the minorities. The jizya tax, like other taxes, creates accountability on the part of the government to do right by its citizens. In Christian-ruled Sicily, for example, the Christian officials had such a tax for minorities—and they too called it “jizya.”

Thus, non-Muslims paid jizya as free citizens of the Muslim state in return for the protection of their civil and political liberties. Aside from this, Muslims were also taxed, and often at a rate heavier than the jizya. Additionally, Muslims were obligated to perform military service, from which all non-Muslims were exempt.11

Jizya served as the sole citizen tax to assure protection from all foreign attacks. Thus, if protection could not be promised, then jizya was impermissible. In The Preaching of Islam, Thomas Arnold records a statement of the Muslim general Khalid bin Waleed: “In a treaty made by Khalid with some town in the neighborhood of Hirah, he writes; ‘If we protect you, then Jizya is due to us; but if we do not, then it is not.’”12

Abu Ubaida was a famous Muslim commander of Syria. When he entered the city of Hims, he made a pact with its non-Muslim inhabitants and collected the jizya as agreed. When the Muslims learned of a massive advance toward the city by the Roman emperor Heraclius, they felt they would not be able to protect its citizens. Consequently, Abu Ubaida ordered all the dues taken as jizya to be returned to the people of the city. He said to them, “We are not able to defend you anymore and now you have complete authority over your matters.”13 Al-Azdi records Abu Ubaida’s statement as follows:
We have returned your wealth back to you because we detest taking your wealth and then failing to protect your land. We are moving to another area and have called upon our brethren, and then we will fight our enemy. If Allah helps us defeat them we shall fulfill our covenant with you except that you yourselves do not like it then.14
The response that the people of Hims gave to the Muslims further substantiates that as dhimmis they were not in any way oppressed but instead lovingly embraced:
Verily your rule and justice is dearer to us than the tyranny and oppression in which we used to live.15 May God again make you ruler over us and may God’s curse be upon the Byzantines who used to rule over us. By the Lord, had it been they, they would have never returned us anything; instead they would have seized all they could from our possessions.16
Blinded by their own egos, the leaders of ISIS ignore this beautiful history. Professor Bernard Lewis observes that dhimmis welcomed the change from Byzantine to Arab rule. They “found the new yoke far lighter than the old, both in taxation and in other matters, and that some even among the Christians of Syria and Egypt preferred the rule of Islam to that of Byzantines.”17

Moreover, the jizya was not forcefully collected. It was a tax paid willingly as a favor for the protection of the state. Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, second khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, notes:
The expression “with their own hand” is used here in a figurative sense, signifying (1) that Jizya should not be forcibly taken from the People of the Book but that they should pay it with their own hand i.e. they should agree to pay it willingly…; or (2) that they should pay it out of hand i.e. in ready money and not in the form of deferred payment; or (3) that they should pay it considering it as a favor from Muslims, the word, yad (hand) also meaning a favor.18
Moreover, the Muslim state exempted from jizya those dhimmis who chose to serve in the military. Sir Thomas Arnold elaborates:
When any Christian people served in the Muslim army, they were exempted from the payment of this tax. Such was the case with the tribe of al-Jurajima, a Christian tribe in the neighborhood of Antioch who made peace with the Muslims, promising to be their allies and fight on their side in battle, on condition that they should not be called upon to pay jizya and should receive their proper share of the booty. When the Arab conquests were pushed to the north of Persia in A.H. 22, a similar agreement was made with a frontier tribe, which was exempted from the payment of jizya in consideration of military service. We find similar instances of remission of jizya in the case of Christians who served in the army or navy under the Turkish rule.19

Furthermore, only employed men paid this tax while women, the elderly, the ill, and the unemployed were exempt.20 But while non-Muslim women were exempt from the jizya, Muslim women were required to pay the zakaat regardless of whether or not they worked.

In reality, the jizya tax was an agreement between those non-Muslims who chose to live in Muslim lands and under the Muslim government. The Spanish Almorvids, for example, are a living testimony to the integrity and compassion with which Muslims treated Jews and Christians. Historian Gwendolyn Hall cites Francisco Codera, who wrote in 1899 while citing ancient Spanish historians:

The Almoravids were a country people, religious and honest…Their reign was tranquil, and was untroubled by any revolt, either in the cities, or in the countryside… There was no tribute, no tax, or contribution for the government except the charity tax and the tithe. Prosperity constantly grew; the population rose, and everyone could freely attend to their own affairs. Their reign was free of deceit, fraud, and revolt, and they were loved by everyone.
learning was cherished, literacy was wide-spread, scholars were subsidized, capital punishment was abolished… Christians and Jews were tolerated within their realms. When the Christians rose up in revolt, they were not executed but were exiled to Morocco instead. The Almoravids were criticized, however, for being excessively influenced by their women.21

At a time when the West drowns in misogyny, perhaps the West could learn a thing or two from the Almoravid Muslims and ensure that women become “excessively” influential.

In sum, as Muslims we hold fast to the word of our beloved Master Prophet Muhammadsa regarding dhimmis; i.e., the protected: “By God, Christians are my citizens and I hold fast against all that displeases them.”

ISIS must be brought to justice for their crimes against Christians and all humanity. Whatever religion they claim—it is not Islam.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney and author of the #1 Amazon Best Seller on Islam, EXTREMIST. He's also the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim. Qasim serves as the national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Find Qasim on Twitter @MuslimIQ.

A selection of key figures speaking out against ISIS:
- British leaders condemn ISIS
- CAIR press release (US)
- Qatar-based Egyptian Qaradawi
- Statement by Leader of Ahmadi community
- MuslimMatters: A historical analysis of ISIS and manipulation of Quran


         1 . Juan Eduardo Campo, ed., “dhimmi,” in Encyclopedia of Islam (Infobase Publishing, 2010), 194–95.
2 . Edward William Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (London: Willams & Norgate, 1863), 975–76.
3 . H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World (Oxford University Press, 2007), 218–19.
4 . Sahih Sunan Abu Dawud, #3052. (Emphasis added.)
5 . Sahih Jami’ Bukhari, vol. 9, Book 83, #49.
6 . Zadul-Ma'ad, vol. l, 424.
7 . Glenn, Legal Traditions, 219.
8 . Tarikh at-Tabari, 2/308.
9 . Sahih Jami’ Bukhari, vol. 4, Book 52, #287.
10 . Prophet Muhammad, “Prophet Muhammad’s Letter to St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai,” in ZMD Corporation, Muslim History: 570–1950 C.E., trans. Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq (Gaithersburg, MD), 167.
11 . See Accessed August 12, 2012.
12 . Thomas Walker Arnold, The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (2007) 61.
13 . William N. Lees, Futuh ash-Sham ed. (Culcutta: Baptist Mission, 1854), 1/162.
14 . Ibid. 137–38.
15 . Ibid., 1/162.
16 . Ibid., 138.
17 . Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (2002), 57.
18 . See Accessed August 12, 2012.
19 . Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 61–62.
20 . Ibid., 60.
21 . Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (2005), 6.

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