November 2008

The Anthropologist’s Son
by Ruth Behar, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 28, 2008 and History News Network

Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro earned a Ph.D. in anthropology with an 800-page dissertation about blacksmithing in Indonesia. She spent long stretches of time learning to love and rescue the cultures and communities of total strangers, at the cost of not always being around while her son was coming of age in Hawaii. Yet she had an indelible impact on him, teaching him to appreciate cultural diversity and have faith in people’s ability to understand each other across borders and identities. (more…)

Professor John Esposito

An internationalist president

by John Esposito, The Immanent Frame, SSRC Blogs, November 7, 2008

Barack Obama’s campaign victory was epic-making in America and across the Muslim world. On November 4, as soon as the election was called for Barack Obama, I began to receive congratulatory emails from friends in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Europe. Some had stayed up through the night to hear the final results. Of course, I wasn’t surprised at the global interest and support, which had been evident on recent visits to Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Wherever I spoke, regardless of the topic, someone in the audience would ask me a question about Obama and his prospects. Privately, it was the topic of conversation. So what will all this mean?

In the Muslim world, as in Europe and much of the world, Obama is welcomed as an internationalist president. His Kenyan father, early schooling in Indonesia, race and name symbolize for many a unique internationalist presidential profile, one that contrasts sharply with his predecessor. Indeed, he is seen as the antithesis of George W. Bush-internationally informed, experienced, aware and sensitive, a measured and articulate statesman-not, as Bush is often regarded, as a swaggering Texas cowboy. (more…)

There seems to be a trend on the campuses of Islamic universities in Indonesia. There is a deep concern about Orientalism – a sense that the West is out to destroy Islam – and that Western Scholarship about Islam is part of it. Obviously the intellectual root of this is Edward Said’s Orientalism, which held as its central thesis that 19th century and early 20th century Western scholarship about Islam was based on a desire to politically dominate Muslim countries. This has lead to a complete distrust of Western scholars in some circles. This distrust can be seen in those who say that faculty from Islamic universities should not study in the West. This point of view is said to go to the highest levels of educational oversight although there has been no official memo to this effect.

There are some interesting observations to be made. First, although Said’s Orientalism is clearly the intellectual root of this anti-Orientalist turn, this is obviously no reflection on the man or his book. Although Palestinian and clearly not Western by birth, Edward Said was not a Muslim. Further, he was Western educated. So what does it mean, if anything, that the father of this anti-Western trend is a Christian, Western-educated Columbia University professor. It means that neither being a Christian nor being Western educated necessarily sets one in opposition to Muslims. Also, given Said’s popularity in the West – it means that western scholars of Islam are not opposed to critical self-reflection.

Let’s hope Obama won’t be a ‘friend of Israel’

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz,
November 9, 2008

The march of parochialism started right away. The tears of excitement invoked by U.S. president-elect Barack Obama’s wonderful speech had not yet dried, and back here people were already delving into the only real question they could think to ask: Is this good or bad for Israel? One after another, the analysts and politicians got up – all of them representing one single school of thought, of course and began prophesizing.

They spoke with the caution that the situation required, gritting their teeth as though their mouths were full of pebbles, trying to soothe all the fears and concerns. They searched and found signs in Obama: The promising appointment of the Israeli ex-patriots’ son, whose father belonged to the Irgun, and maybe also Dennis Ross and Dan Kurtzer and Martin Indyk, who may, God willing, be included in the new administration.

But in the background, a dark cloud hovered above. Careful, danger. The black man, who had associated with Palestinian expats, who speaks of human rights, who favors diplomacy over war, who even wants to engage Iran in dialogue, who will allocate more funding for America’s social needs than to weapons exports. He may not be the sort of “friend of Israel” that we have come to love in Washington, the kind of friend we have grown accustomed to. (more…)

Photograph of one of the main gates of Tripoli, Libya, taken around 1925 for The National Geographic Magazine by York and Son.

Muhammad Sven Kalisch

Islamic Theologian’s Theory: It’s Likely the Prophet Muhammad Never Existed

By ANDREW HIGGINS, The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2008

MÜNSTER, Germany — Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany’s first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn’t like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.

So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.

Muslims, not surprisingly, are outraged. Even Danish cartoonists who triggered global protests a couple of years ago didn’t portray the Prophet as fictional. German police, worried about a violent backlash, told the professor to move his religious-studies center to more-secure premises.

“We had no idea he would have ideas like this,” says Thomas Bauer, a fellow academic at Münster University who sat on a committee that appointed Prof. Kalisch. “I’m a more orthodox Muslim than he is, and I’m not a Muslim.” (more…)

Last week Sunday, the individuals convicted of the first Bali bombing were executed. As some Indonesians even say, they were finally executed. For some there has been a sense that this has been a long time coming.

It is a topic of almost constant conversation. There was considerable concern about some backlash, but not that has been felt. On the other hand, Muslims that I speak with are almost of a single mind that what Amrozi C, Imam Samudra, and Mukhlas did was wrong. Yes, there are some who make the theologically correct statement that it is not their place to pass judgment. Only The Most Just has the right to judge them. But as one friend expressed it to me, as a general rule, we know that if an action hurts other people, God judges it as wrong. I shared with him the finding that Gabrielle Marranci previously shared on this blog that in the minds of some convicted terrorists, that when a victim dies in a terror attack even if they are not Muslim they become shahid, a martyr. My friend, a college teacher in Islamic studies and a doctoral student of mine, thought this was just plain mistaken.

There is a general sense among most Muslims here that Amrozi and friends are simply criminals. And apparently the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI; Majelis Ulama Indonesia), the central office, has issued a fatwa (legal finding) that these three are not shahid (martyrs) because Indonesia is not under attack and is not a battle front. Therefore, the form of jihad they chose was inappropriate for the time and place. Further, for most Muslim, the injunctions against attacking non-combatants and sources of livelihood make the attacks even more wrong.

Sometimes, I hear Americans asking for strong statements from Muslim leaders that condemn terrorism. Here is exactly such a condemnation, and while there are some counter opinions, this condemnation is supported by most Indonesian Muslims. So my question is, “Has this been an important news story?” This is not merely a rhetorical question. I really don’t know. It doesn’t show up in Google News searches, and the only non-Indonesian news outlet that seems to have mentioned it, is the Straits Times in Singapore. If we are going to call for strong condemnations of terrorism, we should at least pay attention when they are made.

[Note: The following article is posted on the website forum for the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, hosted at the University of Virginia.]

The Semiotics of Ayah: A Comparative Introduction”

by Basit Bilal Koshul, Concordia College


As is the case with non-Abrahamic religious traditions Judaism, Christianity and Islam are very much concerned with the sacred. But, as Paul Ricoeur points out, the Abrahamic religions have a different understanding of the sacred in contrast to other religions. In the Abrahamic traditions “the accent is placed on speech and writing and generally on the word of God” (Ricoeur, 1995, 48) when referring to the sacred. In contrast the non-Abrahamic religious traditions often see the sacred as being present in the natural world (and the human world that is part of the natural world.) From the non-Abrahamic perspective anything and everything in the natural world can be a place, object or occasion for a hierophany—the numinous irruption of the sacred: “The sacred can manifest itself in rocks or in trees that the believer venerates; hence not just in speech, but also in cultural forms of behavior” (Ricoeur, 1995, 49). Beginning with the Revelation at Mt. Sinai the revealed word “takes over for itself the function of the numinous” and rejects all claims of the numinous/sacred being present anywhere in natural or cultural phenomena (Ricoeur, 1995, 65). (more…)

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