In This Issue
- On/File: January 2004
- Findings & Footnotes: January 2004
- Muslims facing new prejudice in Russia
- Iraq’s Christian emigration increases with threat of war
- New web technology creates free space for Muslim women
- Islam’s Rome prophecy gains hearing
- Ukrainians press on despite Rome’s reluctance
- Current Research: January 2004
- Network of gurus promoting instant enlightenment
- Saudi aid sets off debate in American Muslim community
- Aftermath of 9/11, sex abuse crisis mark 2002 religion
01: Milli Gorus, a German group of Turkish Muslims, is on the government’s watch list of Islamic radical groups.
Yet this group and its imam or leader Ramazan Ucar is said to be changing under a new generation from a militant identity to one promoting with democracy. The group, with 27,000 members and a network of 500 mosques in Germany, has long advocated an Islamic theocracy for secular Turkey and Europe, as well as promoting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Yet under Ucar’s leadership and the influence of a younger generation of members, observers see the group moderating its views. Anti-Semitic and militant Islamic literature have been removed from the group’s promotions, interfaith relations with Jews and others have been supported, and Ucar and others are preaching that democracy is the only valid way to foster Islam.
Leaders cite the effects of 9/11, the election of a Muslim party in Turkey and other internal leadership changes for accelerating this transformation, although German politicians and Turkish community leaders fear they are presenting a more benign face for “tactical reasons.”
(Source: Washington Post, Dec. 19)
01: A discussion about whether sects and denominations exist within Islam sounds esoteric, but this once-academic topic is becoming more pressing in the post-9/11 world.
The current issue of Nova Religio (October), a journal of new religious movements, includes several articles that wrestle with finding the right category to describe groups like Osama bin Laden’s Al Qa’ida. Although the articles raise more questions than answers, there seems to be a division between those who deny that sects and denominations have a place in Islam which depends on the ideal of unity and those who see groups like Al Qa’ida, and Hamas as possibly following in the classic pattern of sects and moderating their positions over time.
For more information on this issue, write: Nova Religio, University of California Press, Journals Div., 2000 Center St.., Berkeley, CA 94704.
02: A good part of the January/February issue of the sociological journalSociety is devoted to faith-based social service, bringing recent research to bear on how these ministries will function under Charitable Choice and other attempts to fund them through government sources.
Stephen Monsma compares largely government funded secular groups and privatey funded religious social service programs. Both models present dilemmas that Monsma hope charitable choice may bridge: The secular model is less likely to be independent but more influential in the community, while religious groups are more independent though with a far more limited scope.
In another article, Amy Sherman reviews most of the recent research and concludes that faith-based organizations are effective and are growing throughout the nation, though the ideological debate and divisions on this issue in Washington are increasingly removed from this reality. The issue also includes a thorough overview of faith-based groups and how even government funding of some of their activities is nothing new in American religious history.
For more information on this issue, write: Society, Transaction Press, The State University at New Jersey, Dept. AO1LS, 35 Berrue Circle, Piscataway, NJ 08854.
Muslims in Russia are facing a new wave of prejudice following a siege by Chechen guerrillas on a Moscow theater in October. The Washington Post (Dec. 23) reports that “Islamopohobia” has revived after a period when Russia’s estimated 20 million Muslims have been more numerous and freer than ever. “These events have only strengthened the hand of a large group in Russian society who were already hostile to Islam and considered Islam to be the ideology of terrorism,” says Robert Landa of Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies.
Human rights groups have reported a growth of hate crimes throughout Russia, with Muslims being targeted either for their ethnicity or religious faith. Much of the new attitude is partly due to a fear of terrorist activity and often centers around the concern that the militant Saudi “Wahhabi” branch of Islam is being exported into the country.
Russian Islam has largely been a moderate Sunni brand, but the situation has not been helped by the two top Muslim spiritual leaders in the country charging that the other is contributing to the growth of Wahhabism. The feud, between the leaders of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims and the Council of Muftis (which claims the majority of mosques in Russia) is “ensuring that Russia’s Muslims do not secure the political clout that their numbers would seem to warrant,” writes Susan Glasser.
Iraq’s Christians are following in the pattern of other Middle Eastern Christians as they seek emigration to the West, partly due to a new wave of Islamic growth, reports the World Press Review (January).
Iraqi Christians, numbering abut 500,000 (and comprising 2-3 percent of the population), have long been protected by the secular government, but as Sadaam Hussein seeks to win Muslim favor, churches and individual believers have faced new restrictions. Aside from the re-Islamicization (such as the prohibition of alcohol) taking place, other recently passed legislation stipulates that the family members of any Christian who converts to Islam must also convert themselves.
In the Christian strongholds of northern Iraq, lands lying fallow were given to Muslim members of the military, where mosques were built, preferably in front of churches. This led to skirmishes between Christian and Islamic communities that, along with the assassination of a nun and other acts of violence, are convincing Christians to leave the country for safety rather than (as in the past) economic reasons.
The Christian minority also fears that if the U.S. goes to war against Iraq, the Wahabbis and other militants will take advantage of the turmoil and destroy the community, declaring Iraq an Islamic nation, reports Alain Delair.
(World Press Review, 700 Broadway, 3rd Fl., New York, NY 10003)
Weblogs, or “blogging,” are public online diaries that are providing free space for discussion among Muslim women who are restricted in their own societies, reports Utne magazine (January/February).
The magazine reports that a small but growing number of “blogs” (already in the thousands) are maintained by and for women in the Muslim world — for example: Muslimah Ya-Ya (http://muslimahya-ya.blogsport. com/) and MuslimPundit (http://muslimpundit.blogspot.com/).
These sites, which are relatively simple to update, provide safe places for women “from Morocco to Malaysia to talk candidly about sex roles, the subjugation of women, and the political implications of Islamic teachings. One Iranian blogger says she has heard from men who say that her blog helped change their view of women in Iran.
Writer Eve Tushnet writes that this kind of open dialogue can be illegal in some Muslim societies, but these blogs may help create “a core of people who have some of the habits of freedom, including experiences with free expression” if democracy is to spread.
A prophesy by Muhammad that Rome and Europe will be conquered for Islam is being revived and popularized by Muslim clerics, according to a Dec. 6 report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
Muslim Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, one of the most influential Sunni clerics, recently wrote that according to Islamic prophesy, Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor. The prophesy was made by Muhammad when he was asked in the Hadith which city will be conquered first, Constantinopée or Romiyya (today’s Rome). He answered that Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) will be taken over by the faith first but that Rome would also be conquered. Al-Qaradhawi qualified his statement to say the “conquest this time will not be by the sword but by preaching and ideology.”
Other clerics have preached similar messages. Saudi Sheikh Muhammad bin Abd Al-Rahman Al’-Arifi, wrote on a web site (http://www.kalemat.org/sections.php?so=va&aid=93) that the Christians of Rome will either pay a poll tax as nonbelievers under Muslim rule or will convert. [The view that Muslims are working toward an Islamic theocracy in Europe and the U.S. has been sounded by past MEMRI reports, as well as by such writers as Daniel Pipes.
But, as in the case of Al-Qaradhawi, most of these theocrats do not advocate violence to achieve their aims. Calls for theocracy and the expansion of Islam into new territories are not the same thing as Muslim extremists waging “jihad” against the West. Christians — from pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics to conservative Calvinists — have used similar rhetoric not too long ago in the 20th century.]
For several decades, Ukrainian Greek Catholics have cultivated the dream of getting their own Patriarchate, a status enjoyed by six other Eastern Churches in union with Rome.
This goal has often been expressed in diaspora communities and in Ukraine itself as soon as the Ukrainian Greek Catholics emerged from their clandestine existence in late 1989. But Rome continues to be very reluctant to grant such a status to the Eastern rite Catholics in Ukraine, although it is the largest uniate group (between 4 and 5 millions faithful). Ukrainian expert Victor Jelenski, editor of the Russian language Internet journal Religija i obscestvo (Religion and Society), has recently published a good overview of current developments, translated in the December issue of the Swiss monthly Glaube in der 2. Welt.
Not only does Rome not grant the requested status, but it is also not willing to extend the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (heavily present in Galicia, or Western Ukraine) to the Central and Eastern parts of the country — a move which would inevitably be seen as a major provocation by the Moscow Patriarchate and other Orthodox Churches. The issue of relations with the Moscow Patriarchate no doubt is a major factor explaining Rome’s reluctance.
Not every Ukrainian Catholic is pressing for the Church to get a Patriarchal status, Jelinski remarks. But nationalist-minded Catholic circles consider it as a major goal from a nation-building perspective. The creation of a Catholic Ukrainian Patriarchate would have consequences beyond the borders of Ukraine (such as in the Ukrainian populations in Poland and Slovakia). The issue of the borders of an Ukrainian Greek Catholic jurisdiction constitutes indeed one of the major hurdles from the perspective of Rome.
In addition, Rome wouldn’t like to encourage unbridled nationalism, both from a religious and political perspective. More generally, Catholic Ukrainian aspirations raise once again the various problems related to the status of Eastern Catholic groups within the Roman Church (limiting their missionary work to their own people, etc.).
Ukrainian Greek Catholic activists will however continue to press for Patriarchal status. The first stone for the future patriarchal cathedral was laid in late October 2002 — not in Galicia, but in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. And in the first semester of 2002, no less than 36 new Greek Catholic parishes were founded in Ukraine outside of Galicia.
(Glaube in der 2. Welt, Birmensdorferstrasse 52, 8004 Zurich, Switzerland.)
— By Jean Francois Mayer
01: A nationwide study of Protestant ministers shows that four out of ten of them are in serious disagreement with their denomination on politics or theology.
The study, conducted by Ellison Research (press release, Dec. 11), surveyed 475 churches and ministers of almost every denomination, and found that close to 50 percent of senior pastors either have liberal or conservative differences with their church leadership. Pastors who differ with their denomination on theology tend to be split almost evenly (at about 16 percent) between those who feel their church body is too liberal and those believing it is too conservative. When it comes to politics, it was more common for ministers to complain that their denomination is too liberal.
Noteworthy is the finding that both mainline and evangelical clergy tended to perceive their denominations similarly. Seventeen percent of evangelicals consider their denomination too liberal and 24 percent say it is too conservative. Among mainline ministers, 20 percent say their denomination is too conservative, and 28 percent feel it is too liberal.
Although denominational breakdowns were not provided for every church body, of the four major denominational groups evaluated separately–Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans and Methodists–the Methodists were least likely to think along the same lines as their denomination (with a 42 percent rate of conservative dissent), while the two-thirds of the Lutherans lined up with their church body on theology.
02: A new poll of 44 nations finds that the U.S. continues to be among the most religious in the West, with countries such as Poland and Italy that are often in the high range showing marked decline.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project finds that six in 10 Americans say that religion plays a “very important” role in their lives. Predominantly Catholic Poland and Italy showed “marked secularization.” In heavily Catholic Italy, fewer than three-in-ten people say religion is very important. In Poland, just 36 percent gave that response.
The Washington Times (Dec. 20) reports that in Western Europe, France was the most secular, while England was the most religious, with one-third saying religion is very important. The Czech Republic ranked the lowest in Eastern Europe, with only 11 percent saying religion was important. Overall, the most religion nation was Senegal, followed by other African and Islamic countries that were in the 80 to 90 percent range.
03: Dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church is far more prevalent among Australian Catholics than among those in the U.S, according to an in-depth survey.
The International Congregational Life Survey, the first of its kind comparing Christians in Australia, New Zealand, U.S., and England, found the most significant differences between Catholics in the U.S. and Australia was in the level of satisfaction with their parishes. Only 36 percent of Australians believed their parish was “very or extremely important to their daily lives,” compared to 65 percent of Americans.
Pointers (December), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association of Australia, adds that the survey — collected from more than 900,000 participants and conducted by the National Church Life Survey of Australia — found Australian Catholics to be older than American Catholics; U.S. parishes boasted a higher proportion of attendees in the 25 to 49 age-range. Yet strong similarities existed between the attendees; in both countries 87 percent attend Mass every week.
(Pointers, Locked Bag 23, Kew, 3101 Australia).
04: Ministers, priests, monks and other religious professionals are likely to live longer than their own congregants and non-churchgoers, according to a study in the Journal of Religion and Health.
The study is drawn from three decades of research on the mortality rates of religious professionals, comparing them with the death rate for those of the same age, race and sex in the general population. In citing the study, the Christian Century (Dec. 4) reports that the standardized mortality rate for clergy was below 90 percent, which means that 10 percent fewer clergy died than did ordinary people. The study speculated that it may be religious professionals’ “contemplative lifestyle” that accounts for the difference.
05: Even in a strongly secularized country such as Sweden, religiosity is driving both opposition and support for membership in the European Union, according to political scientist Magnus Hagevi.
In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December), Hagevi finds that membership in a “free church” (such as Baptist or Pentecostal and other evangelical groups) as well as in an immigrant church (usually Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) correlates with the fomer’s opposition and the latter’s support for membership in the European Union (EU). For free church members, Hagevi ventures that the EU may be seen as paving the way for a Catholic Europe, as well as possibly setting up a one-world government described in biblical prophesy.
The same negative attitudes were found among evangelicals in the mainline Church of Sweden, though not among other members. But for immigrant churches and non-Christian religions, EU membership is generally supported, possibly because it could keep them in contact with their mother countries, Hagevi speculates.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,http://www.las.alfred.edu/~soc/SSSR/)
A new religious phenomenon based around a select group of gurus proclaiming instant enlightenment has emerged in several Western countries. In the journal Nova Religio (October) Liselotte Frisk writes that by the end of the 1990s, a group of Westerners claiming to have reached enlightenment were touring Asia and the West holding meetings to help others make the transition to enlightenment.
While there is no formal organization linking these gurus, they all come out of the syncretistic movement founded by Rajneesh (more recently called Osho) and recognize each other as enlightened leaders. This phenomenon, which Frisk calls the Satsang network, is found in meetings where followers are told that enlightenment is available for everyone at the present moment. The simple process of achieving enlightenment is similar to evangelical conversion, according to Frisk.
The meetings are also marked by singing, ecstatic dancing and active participation of the audience in asking questions and expressing their feelings. These gurus don’t see themselves as successors to Osho; in fact, their claim that anyone can reach full enlightenment conflicts with the official view that only Osho actually attained this state. Frisk views the satsang network as a “post-Osho” religious movement that blends entertainment together with syncretistic spirituality.
On the website of the guru Shantimayi (http://www.shantimayi.com/chapter1/denmark.html), for instance, Buddhist and Hindu teachings appear side by side.
(Nova Religio, University of California Press, Journals Division, 2000 Center St., Berkeley, CA 94704-1223)
The question of whether Islamic groups should accept aid from Saudi Arabia is raising debate and divisions in the American Muslim community, reports the Los Angeles Times (Dec. 1).
Since Saudi Arabia is increasingly seen as the importer of the militant “Wahhabi” branch of Islam, both the U.S. government and American Muslim groups themselves debating the consequences of accepting Saudi aid. The debate intensified after the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the largest Muslim groups in the U.S., received a donation from a Saudi prince to support a $2.5 million dollar project to place Islamic educational literature in America’s 16,000 public libraries.
The council says that no strings were attached to the contribution as far as determining the content of the literature. While Saudi Arabia is the largest single contributor to Islamic causes, the nation’s support of American Muslims has significantly dropped in the last decade, according to experts. Supporters of the council claim that critics are aiding a campaign by fundamentalist Christian and conservative Jewish groups to demonize the Saudis.
Others, including Sarah Eltantawi of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, argue that the acceptance of foreign donations could prevent American Muslims from criticizing the human-rights record of Muslim states as well as the strict brand of Saudi Wahhabi Islam.
Although Sept. 11 still reverberated across the American landscape, religious trends emerged from several unexpected places in 2002. As is customary, the following review looks at the trends unfolding from last year’s news that are likely to carry some impact in 2003 and beyond. Some of the trends have received fuller treatment in previous issues of RW in 2002 (which are listed after each entry), but others are reported here for the first time.
01: The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was overwhelmingly selected as the top religion news story by U.S. reporters. Most of the revelations of abuse and bishop negligence took place years, even decades ago.
Yet the crisis represents a long-range trend because of the response it generated among the laity and the hierarchy. The resignation of Cardinal Law of Boston suggests that the reform movement to press church leaders on issues of accountability can impact the highest levels of the church. Whether this movement, as expressed in such a group as Voice of the Faithful, can garner the support of the pluralistic American church (already conservatives are strongly critical of it) is more in doubt.
Already there are several competing groups pressing for different agendas in the church, such as the support for priests’ rights and the removal and prevention of homosexuals from entering the priesthood. (September, November RW)
02: Issues of prejudice against Muslims and the efforts of the American Muslim community to deal with extremism in its ranks are ongoing trends that have developed since Sept. 11.
Although on hold in the months following the attacks, the sharply critical attitudes of evangelicals and fundamentalists toward Islam gradually, and sometimes abruptly, came to the surface last year. Since the early 1990s, Islam has replaced communism as the major obstacle to evangelical missionary expansion.
Also in the last few years, some Third World evangelicals and charismatics have viewed Islam more malevolently, often with supernatural undertones (associating evil spirits with Islamic teachings and practices). These currents have found a place among a segment of American evangelicals; witness last year’s public statements condemning Islam made by the Southern Baptist Convention, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. (August RW).
03: The Republican landslide in November suggests that the New Christian Right still has some momentum, even if it has been scaled-back organizationally.
While there is as yet no evidence that religious right support was a leading factor in any of the races, the movement is likely to gain influence and allies due to the conservative Republican shift in Washington. Observers of the New Christian Right have observed that as conservative Christians have learned the ropes politically they are more likely to make their impact felt through Republican Party channels rather than through the Christian Coalition and other explicitly Christian groups.
04: Last November’s “Godless March on Washington” revealed a growing concern among atheists and secular humanists to gain greater acceptance in American society.
Such a bid for acceptance includes starting a political action committee to help get more atheists elected to political office. It remains to be seen if hard core atheists and freethinkers can tone down their “godless” polemics to gain a hearing among secular and religious Americans. (November)
05: Although not underreported in much of the media (including RW), the threat of war against Iraq has reignited a religious peace movement. The general mood of inattention may be due to the growing uncertainty about how to resist a war on terrorism among both religious and secular liberals. At the same time, the “just war” tradition is coming under new scrutiny as such concepts as pre-emptive attacks enter the debate. (September)
06: In Europe, questions are increasingly being asked about the future religious and cultural identity of a continent in which secularization has progressed, but where levels of religious affiliation and practice remain quite diverse from one country to the other.
Three developments have highlighted those issues in 2002. Presided over by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the European Convention — from which a European Constitution might result — began its working sessions in February without representatives of the communities of believers. Pope John Paul II has repeatedly criticized this situation and has urged that the values upon which Europe was founded be taken into consideration. The Roman Catholic Church has monitored with irritation for the past few years French governmental attempts to advocate secular foundations for the future of Europe.
Second, the extension of the European Union will increase the number of countries belonging to the European Union, including countries with an Orthodox past (despite the heritage left by years of Communist regimes). Although Russia is not currently a candidate for membership into the European Union, it is not unsignificant that in October of 2002 the Moscow Patriarchate sent a declaration to the European Convention. In that declaration, the Patriarchate states that it is necessary to express in any future Constitution the significance of religious precepts as a source of universal values for the believers.
The Patriarchate also emphasized that it is necessary to take into consideration European cultural and religious diversity, and not just to impose a secular Western European model.
Finally, the intensification of the Turkish lobbying for membership into the EU following the recent Turkish elections has also raised again more acutely the issue of the borders of Europe and how far the EU could integrate a Muslim country. Many Turks feel that a non-acceptance of their country into the EU would mean that Europe considers itself as a “Christian club.”
Even in secularized times, religious identities obviously remain a hot issue in Europe.
07: The decision made last Fall by the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to introduce a “Prohibition of Forcible Conversion” law has made clear once again the sensitivites aroused by evangelism or “proselytizing” across the Indian subcontinent as well as in other places around the globe.
Protests against this ordinance have not convinced the Parliament of Tamil Nadu, which has supported it by a majority vote. Any conversion should be now be reported to a district magistrate. The sweeping victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in December, and the violence between Hindus and Muslims in the state of Gujarat last February are signs that conflicts over proselytism and other issues of religious freedom will not be resolved any time soon in India.
It is, however, unlikely that anti-proselytization measures will decrease the energy of missionary groups in India or elsewhere. For instance, in an article published in the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 1), staff writer Paul Richter reports that the number of U.S. evangelical missionaries in the Middle East has increased despite the rise of anti-American forms of militant Islam. Health institutions created by missionary agencies are welcomed for their contribution to the well-being of the people, but at the same time considered with suspicion as harboring proselytizing activities.
The killing of three American Baptist missionaries in Yemen in late December has illustrated once again the risks which can be involved.
— This review was written with contributing editor Jean-Francois Mayer, who also heads the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)