An interfaith encounter with America (Part 3)

Believers in a religion such as Islam can scarcely hope to speak for all Muslims, let alone for all humanity. They must accept the authority of a public sphere in which people are free to make their case to their fellow women and men on the basis of culturally normative modes of discourse. This sounds exactly like the manner in which prophets used to operate back in the day. Moses defeated the magicians in pharaoh’s court, and Muhammad outdid the Arab poets on their home turf.

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An interfaith encounter with America (Part 2)

In my spiritual quest that led to political Islam, I had one all-important stroke of fortune. Despite my zeal, I did not happen to get recruited by al-Qaeda! Instead, I landed in a group called Tanzeem-e-Islami, a Pakistani-based movement that had a few unique elements going for it, including advocacy of a nonviolent strategy of pursuing justice as well as the “revitalization of faith with an intellectual dimension.” I internalized these elements of Tanzeemi thought by traveling to learn Arabic, remaining true to a strategy of nonviolence, and pursuing the path of higher education.

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An interfaith encounter with America (Part 1)

“If Islam is so great and things are so wonderful back home, why did you come here?” As an international student from Pakistan who had grown up in a relatively privileged household, my transition to college life in America had promised to be seamless. And in many ways it was, at least outwardly. So my culture shock was extraordinarily abrupt. In the course of a midnight conversation on religion and politics, a fellow student had jolted me out of my comfort zone with his jarring question.

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Religious expression or female oppression?

In the wake of France’s total ban on the burqa or full-length veil, which took effect last month, on April 11th, it is an appropriate time to address the Islamic interpretation of the headscarf and its significance for Muslims. Scholars of religion inevitably get nervous when they are asked to speak about “the” interpretation of anything. So I propose to draw on my personal experience as a Muslim and as an observer of Western politics and society to establish some context that may lead us to be more aware of certain uncritical areas in our framing of the question at hand.

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Hope in the face of tragedy

In the face of unspeakable tragedy and loss of innocent human life, whether because of terrorism on 9/11 or the natural disaster unfolding on a massive scale in Japan, human beings are compelled to ask: Why? Why me? Why them? How do we cope? Where is God in all of this? One of the fundamental teachings of the Qur’an is that God has power over all things. No matter how incomprehensible, nothing happens without a higher purpose.

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