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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A Muslim-Catholic Cold War?

Al-Azhar University in Egypt is sometimes called “the Vatican” of the Sunni Muslim world. On January 20th, it formally suspended dialogue with the Catholic Church in protest over Pope Benedict XVI’s recent insistence on “more effective” protection for Egypt’s Coptic Christians. What does the suspension mean? Where do Catholic-Muslim relations go from here? We asked a wide range of distinguished observers—Muslim and Catholic—to address these questions.

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A Blessing for Muslim-Catholic Dialogue

The recent decision by the Islamic university al-Azhar in Egypt to freeze its participation in inter-faith dialogue with the Vatican may do more to advance Catholic-Muslim dialogue than the al-Azhar/Vatican partnership could ever have achieved.

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Al-Azhar Should Resume—and Widen—Its Vatican Dialogue

Al-Azhar’s suspension of dialogue with the Vatican raises three interrelated questions for interreligious peacebuilders. First, is Pope Benedict XVI’s policy on Islam prudent given the volatile post-9/11 world we live in? Second, does the Pope’s diplomacy with Muslims require more nuance? Third, is al-Azhar University over-reacting in its response to Benedict’s remarks?

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Time for dialogue to get real

Not for the first time has al-Azhar University shown itself very attentive to what popes have to say. In February 2003, as George W. Bush and his “coalition of the willing” were banging the drums of war, millions of demonstrators took to the streets of the world’s capitals to denounce the very idea of an attack. At that awkward moment, the annual Vatican-al-Azhar dialogue met in Cairo. We were impressed to find that our partners from al-Azhar were better informed than we were of Pope John Paul’s latest pronouncement that morning against the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.

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The “Mormon Menace”

Nineteenth-century America saw a nationwide campaign to tame the “Mormon menace.” Promoted by an alliance of religious and secular individuals, institutions, and ideals, it even led President Rutherford B. Hayes to recommend stripping Mormons of their citizenship. Although Contending Modernities will focus primarily on Mormonism’s fellow subjects of modern opprobrium—Islam and Catholicism—it is important to consider such other “shadow cases” as we examine the complex dynamics of religion in modernity. The deep pluralism characteristic of the modern age has posed, and will continue to pose, a substantial challenge to the largely Euro-American-Protestant construct of secularism that dominated much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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American Identity and the Challenge of Islam

A review of Akbar Ahmed, “Journey into America: the challenge of Islam” (Brookings Institution Press, 2010).

“The challenge of Islam,” as Akbar Ahmed calls it, is ushering in a new chapter in the history of American identity. But in the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers Ahmed finds hope for a vibrant, inclusive American future—if, that is, Americans remain faithful to these ideals and preserve America’s true identity.

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