Tentacles of the Leviathan? Nationalism, Islamophobia, and the Insufficiency-yet-Indispensability of Human Rights for Religious Freedom in Contemporary Europe


In multiple cases across Europe, a growing list of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) converges on an apparent consensus: the expanding presence of Islam throughout Europe presents a pronounced challenge to Western conceptions of secular law and human rights. Read the full article »

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Nahdlatul Ulama: good governance and religious tolerance in Indonesia


Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, has been poorly understood in the West. While most Western political commentators and policy makers absorb an almost daily dose of news or intelligence regarding Islamist extremist organizations or terrorist groups in the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, there is far less information and understanding of Muslim peacemakers, moderate-progressive groups, and organizations that advocate for tolerance and pluralism. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is one of the world’s foremost Muslim associations devoted to the spread of the Islamic message of justice, peace, and tolerance. Read the full article »

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Pakistan: between betrayed dream and desire to rebuild


Pakistan’s polity today does not reflect the ideals set by her founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, outlining a pluralistic democracy and religious freedom. But the undying spirit of the Pakistani people and their enduring commitment to true democracy—which braved executions, imprisonments, flogging and torture to oppose and defeat four despotic military regimes in 60 years—demonstrate that a new Pakistan can be built.

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The hijab hurdle in sports


The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) is joining other athletic governing bodies in derailing the aspirations of some Muslim women to excel in sports. This month a referee in Bahrain barred the Iranian national women’s team from competing against the Jordanian women’s team in a bid for a spot at the 2012 Olympics. Also this month USA Weightlifting barred Kulsoom Abdullah of Atlanta, Georgia from the Senior Nationals competition this July in Iowa. In both cases the reason cited was the hijab included in their uniforms.

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Contending modernities in France: Muslim expression vs. secular integrity


Last month, on April 11, 2011, France became the second country in Europe, following Belgium, to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil or burqa. Under the new law, women who wear face-covering Muslim veils in “public places” in France face a fine of about $200, compulsory “special classes” on citizenship, or both. This direct clash between the religious practice of some Muslims and a law that many French leaders and citizens believe is a logical extension of France’s secularism could not be of more direct interest to Contending Modernities. We therefore asked two of our regular commentators—M. Christian Green and Mahan Mirza—to offer their reflections on France’s burqa ban.

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Burqas, blobs, and bans in “la belle France”


A recent search of the term “burqa” on CartoonStock.com turned up a plethora of images of women in black and blue veils. In one image a black-clad woman in a delivery room gives birth to a tiny, similarly garbed miniature, as a nurse proclaims, “It’s a girl!” In another, a woman in a black niqab, with only her eyes exposed, sits in front of a computer featuring the webpage “Hidden Facebook.” Read the full article »

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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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Al-Azhar: beyond the politics of state patronage


The great Islamic polymath, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111), bemoaned the lack of intellectual independence, integrity and critical distance from the state that characterized the position of Muslim scholars in his time. He advises his young disciples neither to get too close to princes nor to praise them excessively. But even more than that, Imam Ghazali warns them not to accept generous gifts from rulers, even though this may be permissible: “Coveting things from the rulers and those in power will spoil and corrupt your religion, since there is born from it flattery and ‘kowtowing’ to those in power and unwise approval of their policies.”

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“Mooz-lum”: faith flourishing in freedom


A review of the film “Mooz-lum.

In the new film “Mooz-lum,” an American school teacher tells a Muslim pupil his name is spelled wrong because there is no “u” after the “q.” Another little boy, relishing the chance to make fun of the kid sitting next to him, shouts, “It’s a Mooz-lum name!”

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