Civilized Discussion on Religion & Politics

When meeting someone after many years, there aren’t many times I would recommend discussing religion and politics but that was part of a rather pleasant conversation I found myself in recently. My friend’s mother who I possibly had not seen since my high school years was genuinely curious about how I felt about the aforementioned topics but that left me in a curious spot about whether I should say the politically correct answer or go with what I really felt. I decided that since my friend usually has no filter and is often pretty blunt with statements, it would probably make sense to go with the no non-sense, brutally honest approach in hopes of having a genuinely good dialogue… and I’m glad I did.

One of the first things I was asked was what my religion was and subsequently a follow-up on what my thoughts were about how I was treated in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 – much of which I already provided in greater details (September 11th Aftermath – My Story) on how I was treated but can be summarized that no matter how great everyone may be, there are always a few bad apples which you can’t always avoid. As we continued the discussion, we moved onto topics about why groups like al-Qaeda on what I thought about their affiliation with the religion immediately made me think of a reference back to West Wing that I used and which I have linked below:

The conversation did take a turn towards racial profiling and when it may be beneficial for authorities to do their jobs without sacrificing civil liberties or breaking laws. Having agreed on majority of the topics of discussion like the treatment of Muslims after 9/11 and how religious fundamentalists isn’t limited to just Islam, I would say the one thing I did disagree on was the effective use of racial profiling in catching criminals or potential-criminals. One thing that I took away immediately was having to explain the difference between the terms Islam and Muslims which is maybe something I took for granted.

Regardless, it was simply enjoyable to have a civil conversation with people I don’t regularly speak to on topics that have the potential to get very heated and one, that I hope I could have again in the future.

How To Combine Religion And Science

Once again it is that time of the year again where Muslims all over the world begin fasting during the blessed month of Ramadan. As exciting of a period it is for Muslims, it seems that every year there seem to be some controversy as to when the new month should begin. Even though the past few years had gone well, it is back to business as usual this year with not only Canada and the United States differing on opinion but various states with the US observing it on two different days as well.

Islamic months follow the moon to determine when the new month will begin but it should not be confused or mislabeled as a lunar calendar. The Islamic calendar has months which either have 29 or 30 days and the length of each month vary from year to year. Traditionally, the first day of each month is the day (beginning at sunset) of the first sighting of the new crescent moon (or hilal as it is called) shortly after sunset.

If the hilal is not immediately visible after the 29th day of a month which could be because either the sky was too bright or the night was far too cloudy when the moon sets, then the following day is the 30th month. Whenever such a sighting is claimed, it is usually verified by a couple of reliable eyewitnesses before being generally accepted by the entire community. Determining the most likely day that the hilal could be observed was a motivation for Muslim interest in astronomy, which put Islam in the forefront of that science for many centuries.

There are a few problems that arise with the paragraph above. Since there were no modern technology at the time lunar observation first started in Islamic history, there are some schools of thought that claim that only when the moon is visible by the naked-eye should it be claimed that is a new moon while others on the other hand state that with the development of such technologies, the Muslim community should be able to easily come together and adapt scientific advancements with religious traditions in order to simplify the matter. The problems don’t end there as mass communication was slow during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that local communities only observed the new month once the moon was visible in their locale. However now with instant communication worldwide, there are some who say that since there is only one moon that if it is verified that a moon was visible in South America or Asia, that it should be good enough for all Muslims worldwide to accept it.

Due to modern advancements in science it is very easy to say that Muslims should just begin using lunar calculations in determining the new date of the month but you would be hard pressed to find a unanimous consensus amongst 1.2 billion people around the world. There however should be some sort of compromise available allows all the people of this faith to observe Ramadan or any other start of the month in complete unity in order to better present it to the rest of the world.

Some on the more conspiratorial side claim that it is the local Muslim leaders who refuse to come together and develop a method that could be observed by all in unison. They say it is because they refuse to give up their stake of power in the current setting and by compromising on a method that would make it simple but would require them to give up their decision making powers since almost everything would be determined scientifically.

Hopefully there will be a time soon enough with maybe the upcoming generation where there will be development in terms of having less and less occasions with Muslims observing Ramadan and celebrating Eid on different days but that day can’t come soon enough.

Muslim-American To Speak At Stevens

I got this email just about half an hour ago stating that as part of Women’s Programs and Graduate activies, Zainab Al-Suwaij will be hosting “Women’s Equality in the Muslim Word” on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 9:00 PM in the De Baun Auditorium.

The e-mail states:

At the age of 20, Zainab was one of the few women to join the 1991 intifada uprising against Saddam Hussein. After it’s failing, she went into hiding and eventually fled to the US where she became and citizen and a respected professor at Yale.

Co-founder of the American-Islamic Congress, Zainab provides an eye-opening account of her experiences as a Muslim-American & serves as a bridge across cultures, religious divides, & political differences.

I don’t think I have ever heard of the American Islamic Congress where she holds the position of Executive Director but this is their mission statement:

The American Islamic Congress (AIC) is a civil rights organization promoting tolerance and the exchange of ideas among Muslims and between other peoples. AIC challenges increasingly negative perceptions of Muslims by advocating responsible leadership and ‘two-way’ interfaith understanding. As Muslim-Americans, thriving amidst America’s open multicultural society and civil liberties, we promote these same values for the global Muslim community.

So I think any civic organization that is working towards achieving moderation and promoting tolerance between people of different faiths is certainly something worth listening to.

I will be attending the event later this month and will hopefully be able to provide a follow up to the event. If you go to Stevens or are even in the area, I urge you to attend and take a look for yourself and make your own judgment and even take part in the discussion on culture, religion and gender.

For more information on Zainab Al-Suwaij, please visit American Islamic Congress.

So What If He Were Muslim?

A great piece by Ellis Cose on Obama and so what if he actually were a Muslim. It is a great point that is rarely brought up in the news these days and associating someone with Islam automatically becomes a negative. Personally I would have liked to see Obama come out from the start to say that even though he isn’t a Muslim, there is nothing wrong with being called one. He separated himself from that faster than Joe Lieberman with the Democratic base which has been a little disappointing. You have also seen him avoid any campaigning in Mosques or with Muslim groups but he has had little problems making campaign stops in Churches or Synagoges.

So yea, everyone knows he is still scared to be associated with the Muslims community and he pretty much knows they are going to vote Democratic this year as opposed to in 2000 when Bush pretty much got the Muslim vote in a landslide. You know why? Because of Al Gore’s running mate’s religion. It wouldn’t surprise me if some study finds the Muslim community (although I don’t know how many of them would publicly admit voting Republican just solely on that reason) 3 out of every 4 voted for Bush/Cheney over Gore/Lieberman. It’s without a touchy subject that no one wants to invoke a race or religion card because just face the facts, those two subjects play a key role in every election. Look at the religion of every President elected since John F. Kennedy and tell me what their religion has been. Is it just by coincidence that 50% of the Presidents of America have been either Episcopalian or Presbyterian, groups that make up a combined 4.5% of the ENTIRE population of the United States of America?

One can certainly say that the following 8 years were brought on themselves given that they knew the history with George H. W. Bush and everyone that was associated within his campaign (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, etc.)… did we really expect something different from his son?

Now it’s Obama’s way of getting the best of both words – getting an entire community which probably makes up 8-10 million people in the country to vote his way with him having to do little to no campaigning because I think they/we learned from the mistake of 2000.

Here is an excerpt from the article I was referring to:

Of course, even if he were a Muslim, that should be no big deal. In a country that officially separates church and state, a man’s religious beliefs are his own affair. Still, nearly half a century after John F. Kennedy became America’s first (and, thus far, only) Roman Catholic president, we haven’t fully accepted the notion that all religions should have equal access to the Oval Office.

At the start of the political season, when Mitt Romney seemed to have a shot at the Republican nomination, pollsters sought to determine whether his Mormonism might hurt him. Nearly a third of voters, they found, were less likely to support a Mormon. But some 45 percent were wary of Muslim candidates. For Obama, that is a potential problem—particularly in a race that shows ever more signs of being extremely close.

To read the rest of the article, click the source below.

[Source: Newsweek – So What If He Were Muslim?
Wikipedia – List of US Presidents Religious Affiliations
Adherents – Religious Affiliation of U.S. Presidents]

ABG From Norway

Greetings from Norway!

I’ll have more updates later but I’m here until the end of the month and hopefully these next 10 days are fantastic here. Stayed tuned to find out if my sister bothered me on the airplane ride again or not, how the food was, and anything else out of the blue that might have happened between Newark and Oslo.

Anyways, here are some random pieces of information regarding the country:

Population: 4,644,457 (July 2008 est.)

Religions: (2004)
Church of Norway 85.7%,
Pentecostal 1%,
Roman Catholic 1%,
Other Christian 2.4%,
Muslim 1.8%,
Other 8.1%

age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 100%
male: 100%
female: 100%

Government Type: Constitutional Monarchy

International Disputes: Norway asserts a territorial claim in Antarctica (Queen Maud Land and its continental shelf); despite dialogue, Russia and Norway continue to dispute their maritime limits in the Barents Sea and Russia’s fishing rights beyond Svalbard’s territorial limits within the Svalbard Treaty zone.

All of this information is courtesy of the very friendly CIA: The World Factbook.

– ABG From OSL