Tag Archives: Religion in the Middle East

People of the Cross

people-of-the-crossFrom Patheos:

 ISIS released its first video of mass beheadings last Saturday.

The victims of this murder were 21 Christian Egyptian men who ISIS marched onto a beach in Libya and then beheaded en masse. A CBS senior news analyst commented “They are targeting the people of the cross,” the Copts, which is an ancient Christian communion located mostly in Egypt. This isn’t much of an analytical leap, considering that ISIS named the video “A Message to the Nation of the Cross.”

France and Egypt have called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to deal with the “spiraling crisis of ISIS.” Meanwhile, Italy has closed its embassy in Lybia and also appealed to the United Nations as it attempts to deal with a huge influx of refugees who are fleeing Libya.

“This risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us,” Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told Il Messaggero newspaper. She added that the risks of Jihadists entering Italy along with the refugees “could not be ruled out.”

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said, “We have told Europe and the international community that we have to stop sleeping. The problems cannot all be left to us because we are the first, the closest.”

Egypt’s government has responded to the video with bombings of ISIS locations inside Lybia. Egypt has also asked for American assistance in this war.

At an academic conference a couple of years ago, a prominent scholar with impeccably elite credentials scoffed when I referred to the worldwide persecution of Christians. “Next you’ll be telling us about the persecution of the one-billion-plus Chinese,” he said. I’m sure his opinion hasn’t changed.

 

Panel: “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis” (St. John’s, Feb. 18)

On February 18 at 5 p.m., CLR will co-host a panel, along with the St. John’s Catholic Law Students Association, on a very timely topic: “Threat to Justice: Middle Eastern Christians and the ISIS Crisis.”

The discussion will be moderated by CLR Director Mark Movsesian. Speakers will include Michael LaCivita (Catholic Near East Welfare Association), Edward Clancy (Aid to the Church in Need), and Mark Wasef (United for a New Egpyt).

For more information, please click here.

Ibrahim, “Pragmatism in Islamic Law”

In April, Syracuse University Press will release “Pragmatism in Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History” by Ahmed Fakry Ibrahim (McGill University).  The publisher’s description follows:

pragmatismIn Pragmatism in Islamic Law, Ibrahim presents a detailed history of Sunni legal pluralism and the ways in which it was employed to accommodate the changing needs of society. Since the formative period of Islamic law, jurists have debated whether it is acceptable for a law to be selected based on its utility, rather than weighing conflicting articulations of the law to determine the most likely expression of the divine will. Virtually unanimous opposition to the utilitarian approach, referred to as “pragmatic eclecticism,” emerged among early Islamic jurists. However, due to a host of changing institutional and socioeconomic transformations, a trend toward the legitimization of pragmatic eclecticism arose in the thirteenth century. Subsequently, the Mamluk authorities institutionalized this pragmatism when Sultan Baybars appointed four chief judges representing the four Sunni schools in Cairo in 1265 CE. After a brief attempt to reverse Mamluk pluralism by imposing the Hanafi school in the sixteenth century, Egypt’s new rulers, the Ottomans, embraced this pluralistic pragmatism.

In examining over a thousand cases from three seventeenth- and eighteenthcentury Egyptian courts, Ibrahim traces the internal logic of pragmatic eclecticism under the Ottomans. An array of archival sources documents the manner in which Egyptian society’s subaltern classes navigated Sunni legal pluralism as a tool to avoid more austere legal doctrines. The ensuing portrait challenges the assumption made by many modern historians that the utilitarian approaches adopted by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Muslim reformers constituted a clear rupture with early Islamic legal history. In contrast, many of the legal strategies exercised in Egypt’s partial codification of family law in the twentieth century were rooted in premodern Islamic jurisprudence.

Boe, “Family Law in Contemporary Iran: Women’s Rights Activism and Shari’a”

Last month, I.B.Tauris released “Family Law in Contemporary Iran: Women’s Rights Activism and Shari’a” by Marianne Boe (University of Bergen). The publisher’s description follows:

Passed into law over a decade before the Revolution, the Family Protection Law quickly drew the ire of the conservative clergy and the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. In fact, it was one of the first laws to be rescinded following the revolution. The law was hardly a surprising target, however, since women’s status in Iran was then – and continues now to be – a central concern of Iranian political leaders, media commentators, and international observers alike. Taking up the issue of women’s status in a modern context, Marianne Boe offers a nuanced view of how women’s rights activists assert their rights within an Islamic context by weaving together religious and historical texts and narratives. Through her substantial fieldwork and novel analysis, Boe undermines both the traditional view of ‘Islamic Feminism’ as monolithic and clears a path to a new understanding of the role of women’s rights activists in shaping and synthesizing debates on the shari’a, women’s rights and family law. As such, this book is essential for anyone studying family law and the role of women in contemporary Iran.

Farzaneh, “The Iranian Constitutional Revolution and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani”

In March, Syracuse University Press will release “The Iranian Constitutional Revolution and the Clerical Leadership of Khurasani” by Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh (Northeastern Illinois University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution was the twentieth century’s first such political movement in the Middle East. It represented a landmark in Iranian history because of the unlikely support it received from Shi’ite clerics who historically viewed Western concepts with suspicion, some claiming constitutionalism to be anti-Islamic. Leading the support was Muhammad Kazim Khurasani, the renowned Shi’ite jurist who conceived of a supporting role for the clergy in a modern Iranian political system.

Drawing on extensive analysis of religious texts, fatwas, and articles written by Khurasani an other pro- and anti-constitutionalists, Farzaneh provides a comprehensive and illuminating interpretation of Khurasani’s religious pragmatism. Despite some opposition from his peers, Khurasani used a form of jurisprudential reasoning when creating shari’a that was based on human intellect to justify his support of not only the Iranian parliament but also the political powers of clerics. He had a reputation across the Shi’ite community as a masterful religious scholar, a skillful teacher, and a committed humanitarian who heeded the people’s socioeconomic and political grievances and took action to address them. Khurasani’s push for progressive reforms helped to inaugurate a new era of clerical involvement in constitutionalism in the Middle East.

Napoleoni, “The Islamist Phoenix”

In December, Seven Stories Press released “The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East” by Loretta Napoleoni.  The publisher’s description follows:

The Islamist PhoenixThe rise to prominence of the Islamic State (IS)—now dominating Middle Eastern politics—is explained in revealing detail by economist and bestselling author Loretta Napoleoni. The Islamist Phoenix: Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East illuminates the singularity and modernity of IS and describes its strength and its appeal in an increasingly destabilized Middle East. It is a mistake to compare IS to other jihadist groups such as the Taliban or al Qaeda, which aren’t interested in contemporary nation-building, says Napoleoni. In her introduction she writes, “While the world of the Taliban was limited to Koranic schools and knowledge based upon the scripts of the Prophet, globalization and modern technology have been the cradle of the Islamic State.” Napoleoni traces the beginnings of IS to the war on terror, its evolving relationship with al-Qaeda, and its current status as the first official Caliphate in over a century. And she details how modernity, pragmatism, and establishing strongholds in financially strategic regions—something no previous Middle East armed organization has been able to do—are the basis for IS’s enormous successes. With brilliant insight and straightforward prose, Napoleoni brings the newest form of shell-state government to light, and shows us how dangerous it would be to underestimate it.

In Turkey, the Clash of Civilizations Continues

In academic and policymaking circles in the West, one hears a great deal about universal human rights. These rights, it is said, apply to everyone, everywhere; they are inherent in human nature. It’s an interesting idea. The problem is, not everyone agrees. That’s putting it mildly. Whole civilizations reject the Western conception of universal human rights, including, principally, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. We can tell ourselves that the conflict is temporary and superficial, that other civilizations are moving inexorably toward our understanding. We have international agreements! But much suggests the clash is profound and perduring.

Events in Turkey over the past weekend provide more evidence. On Saturday, 100,000 people gathered in the city of Diyarbakir to protest the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the French journal, Charlie Hebdo. One hundred thousand people – that’s hardly a fringe phenomenon. According to an account in a Turkish newspaper, speakers condemned the notion that freedom of expression extended to insults against the Prophet. Protesters held up placards with phrases such as “‘Damn those saying “I am Charlie,” and ‘May Charlie’s Devils not defame the Prophet.’”

These sentiments are not limited to the reaches of Anatolia. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu personally expressed his support for the protesters. At a meeting of the ruling AKP party in Diyarbakir, he sent greetings to the protesters, to “each and every brother who defends the Prophet Muhammad here.” (Ironically, Davutoğlu represented Turkey at the solidarity rally in Paris the weekend after the Charlie Hebdo attacks).  And, on Sunday, a court in Ankara ordered Facebook to block users’ access to pages containing content deemed insulting to the Prophet. According to the New York Times, Facebook immediately complied.

Of course, not everyone in Turkey endorses these actions, but that’s not the point. Throughout the country, and in many other places across the globe, millions disagree, profoundly, with how the West understands things. They are not about to change their minds. We need to pay attention. The clash of civilizations continues.

Rajan, “Al Qaeda’s Global Crisis”

In February, Routledge Press will release “Al Qaeda’s Global Crisis: The Islamic State, Takfir and the Genocide of Muslims” by V.G. Julie Rajan (Rutgers University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Al Qaeda's Global CrisisThis book focuses on the crises facing Al Qaeda and how the mass killing of Muslims is challenging its credibility as a leader among Islamist jihadist organizations.

The book argues that these crises are directly related to Al Qaeda’s affiliation with the extreme violence employed against Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the decade since 9/11. Al Qaeda’s public and private responses to this violence differ greatly. While in public Al Qaeda has justified those attacks declaring that, for the establishment of a state of ‘true believers’, they are a necessary evil, in private Al Qaeda has been advising its local affiliates to refrain from killing Muslims. To better understand the crises facing Al Qaeda, the book explores the development of Central Al Qaeda’s complex relationship with radical (mis)appropriations and manifestations of takfir, which allows one Muslim to declare another an unbeliever, and its unique relationship with each of its affiliates in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The author then goes on to consider how the prominence of takfir is contributing to the deteriorating security in those countries and how this is affecting Al Qaeda’s credibility as an Islamist terror organization. The book concludes by considering the long-term viability of Al Qaeda and how its demise could allow the rise of the even more radical, violent Islamic State and the implications this has for the future security of the Middle East, North Africa and Central/South Asia.

This book will be of much interest to students of political violence and terrorism, Islamism, global security and IR.

Mallat, “Philosophy of Nonviolence: Revolution, Constitutionalism, and Justice beyond the Middle East”

Next month, Oxford University Press will release “Philosophy of Nonviolence: Revolution, Constitutionalism, and Justice beyond the Middle East” by Chibli Mallat (S.J. Quinney School of Law at the University of Utah). The publisher’s description follows:

In 2011, the Middle East saw more people peacefully protesting long entrenched dictatorships than at any time in its history. The dictators of Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen were deposed in a matter of weeks by nonviolent marches. Imprecisely described as ‘the Arab Spring’, the revolution has been convulsing the whole region ever since. Beyond an uneven course in different countries, Philosophy of Nonviolence examines how 2011 may have ushered in a fundamental break in world history. The break, the book argues, is animated by nonviolence as the new spirit of the philosophy of history.

Philosophy of Nonviolence maps out a system articulating nonviolence in the revolution, the rule of constitutional law it yearns for, and the demand for accountability that inspired the revolution in the first place. Part One–Revolution, provides modern context to the generational revolt, probes the depth of Middle Eastern-Islamic humanism, and addresses the paradox posed by nonviolence to the ‘perpetual peace’ ideal. Part Two–Constitutionalism, explores the reconfiguration of legal norms and power structures, mechanisms of institutional change and constitution-making processes in pursuit of the nonviolent anima. Part Three–Justice, covers the broadening concept of dictatorship as crime against humanity, an essential part of the philosophy of nonviolence. It follows its frustrated emergence in the French revolution, its development in the Middle East since 1860 through the trials of Arab dictators, the pyramid of accountability post-dictatorship, and the scope of foreign intervention in nonviolent revolutions. Throughout the text, Professor Mallat maintains thoroughly abstract and philosophical arguments, while substantiating those arguments in historical context enriched by a close participation in the ongoing Middle East revolution.

Egypt’s President Visits Coptic Cathedral on Christmas Eve

On Monday, I posted about a speech Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, recently gave at Al Azhar University, the leading center of Islamic learning in the Sunni world. In his speech, Sisi called for a “religious revolution,” a rethinking of classical Islamic law in order to address the concerns of non-Muslims. I wrote that Sisi’s speech was a hopeful gesture, even a brave one – but that only time will tell how serious Sisi is about honoring religious pluralism.

That’s still what I think – only time will tell. But Sisi deserves credit for another remarkable gesture this week. Yesterday, he paid a surprise Christmas Eve visit to the main Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. (The Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on January 7). According to the government-owned Ahram Online, it was the first such visit by an Egyptian president in history. Past presidents have visited the cathedral, but none has actually attended a Christmas liturgy.

You can see a video of the president’s speech — the liturgy was being covered in full by state TV – here. I can’t speak Arabic, so I don’t know what’s being said, but the scene looks electric. The congregation cheers wildly for Sisi, who himself seems moved. Here’s a report of the visit by an independent website, Mada Masr:

The president made a brief speech while standing next to Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the highest Coptic authority in Egypt.

“It was necessary for me to come here to wish you a merry Christmas, and I hope I haven’t disturbed your prayers. Throughout the years, Egypt taught the world civilization and humanity, and the world expects a lot from Egypt during the current circumstances,” Sisi said.

“It’s important for the world to see this scene, which reflects true Egyptian unity, and to confirm that we’re all Egyptians, first and foremost. We truly love each other without discrimination, because this is the Egyptian truth,” the president declared.

The Coptic Pope thanked Sisi, and called his visit “a pleasant surprise and a humanitarian gesture.”

The Coptic Church very publicly backed Sisi during the overthrow of the Morsi government in 2013, and Copts have been suffering serious reprisals from the Muslim Brotherhood ever since. In fact, some commentators think Copts are going through the worst persecution in hundreds of years. Christmas liturgies, in Egypt and elsewhere in the Mideast, have become very dangerous for Christians, and some Muslim leaders in Egypt tell followers not even to wish Christians a Merry Christmas. The sense of being under siege no doubt explains the emotion evident in the video. (Some commentators have complained that Sisi interrupted a liturgy, and that the congregation really shouldn’t have gotten so carried away in church, but in the circumstances these things can be excused). What would elsewhere be a routine event – a politician wishing a community well on its holiday – is, in this context, a crucial show of support.

Again, it’s easy for an outsider to miss things, and I wouldn’t be suggesting Sisi for the Nobel Prize just yet. Maybe this is all a show. But, together with his speech at Al Azhar last week, his visit to the cathedral suggests something serious is happening in Egypt. Which leads to a question: why has the US been so cool to Sisi?