In This Issue
- On/File: October 2002
- Islamic martyrs multiply
- Rwandan survivors embracing Islam
- Christian population shifting away from Arabs
- Current Research: October 2002
- Hindu megatrends
- Abraham takes center stage in interfaith efforts
- Muslims count the losses and some gains after 9/11
- Religious factor key for new eco-conservatives
- Global faiths face new opportunities, obstacles
On/File: October 2002
01: D.C. Minyan in Washington is unique among Orthodox Jewish synagogues in its dedication to lay leadership and equal roles for men and women, while maintaining many Orthodox traditions.
The congregation was formed seven months ago to pioneer a lay-led synagogue where women could fully participate. Like most Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit apart at D.C. Minyan, but they do so in groups side-by side, in full view of each other, and the women’s side participates fully.
The group now draws about 75 people to its Sabbath services.
(Source: Washington Post, Sept. 15)
02: Festival con Dios is part Christian music festival and part evangelistic rally and is said to be today’s cutting edge evangelism strategy.
The festival has toured 33 cities, attracting over 100,000 with its use of Christian contemporary music, extreme stunts, and preaching. Now the Festival con Dios founder is teaming up with the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association to expand its outreach. The evangelistic association, which will supply evangelists to the festivals, had already switched to a musical festival format in 1999 and has attracted 10 times the crowds of previous Palau crusades.
A recent festival in Redmond, Wash., attracted 150,000 in August. This blend of entertainment and evangelism will likely “set a framework on how to go about the work of [evangelism] for the next couple of decades,” says David Olmsted of the Billy Graham Center’s Institute of Strategic Evangelism.
(Source: Christianity Today, Oct. 7)
Islamic martyrs multiply
Acts of suicide for a cause, or “martyrdom,” among Muslims today are more numerous than in the past, and far more complex than generally thought, according to two recent books on the subject.
Sociologist Farhad Kohosrokhavar of the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, has published a new book in French on “martyrdom” in the contemporary Muslim world, Les Nouveaux Martyrs d’Allah (Flammarion). The book is based upon the study of written material as well as upon observations during the Iranian Revolution and interviews with 15 Muslim extremists currently jailed in France.
Another recently published book by a Lebanese academic, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Hizbullah: Politics and Religion, (Pluto Press, 2002), throws some light on the ideology and justification of violence by the Shiite Hizbullah. What most Westerners consider as terrorist actions and suicide attacks is interpreted by a number of Muslims as “martyrdom operations,” especially in the Palestinian context (some firmly condemn Al Qaeda attacks while still accepting Palestinian suicide attacks).
There are also different types of “martyrs”: in Palestine, the title is given to all those who have been killed by the enemy. Hizbullah’s definition of martyrdom covers both premeditated deaths resulting from suicide missions and unpremeditated deaths on the battlefield or outside of it, explains Saad-Ghorayeb. But the fighter who has embarked on a suicide mission “is deemed to have served Islam and himself [i.e. eternal blessing] to the furthest possible extent”.
Strategic considerations are however not absent in Hizbullah’s “martyrdom operations;” they can be religiously sanctioned only if they have a real impact upon the enemy.
In contrast with Christianity, martyrdom in Islam does not preclude physical violence against the enemy. In an interview with RW, Khosrokhavar remarked that “martyrdom” as we see it today however represents a new form, first due to its proliferation: whereas martyrdom tended to be something unusual, there are many candidates to martyrdom today. Religious beliefs are not always required: what is needed is the sacralization of some cause, which often can be a national cause.
According to Khosrokhavar, one should distinguish between two types of “martyrs”, even it they are often lumped together. On the one hand, there are those who sacrifice their lives for a cause which may be Islamic, but at the same time is a national cause (Lebanon, Palestine, Kashmir, etc.).
On the other hand, there are those affiliated with transnational, radical groups, not rooted in a specific national context, and aspiring to avenge humiliations which they feel Muslims experience around the world as well as to create a new global Islamic order which is understood in very vague terms. “They know what they don’t want, but are far from knowing what they want,” Khosrokhavar said.
Asked about the motivations of those Al Qaeda types of people whom he met in French jails, Khosrokhavar reported that they indeed hated the West and pro-Western Muslim regimes, and aspired to establishing an ideal Muslim world. But they were not originally pious Muslims: “It is not because they were Muslim believers that they became radicals.”
Their hatred of the current world order preceded their Islamization, which they then fed with extreme forms of Islam. They are no foreigners to modernity: often able to speak 3 to 6 languages, familiar with the West, they might well be radicalized children of globalization.
— By Jean-François Mayer
Rwandan survivors embracing Islam
Survivors of the genocide in Rwanda are moving toward Islam, reports the Washington Post (Sept. 23).
The state-sponsored massacres between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples in 1994 implicated many Catholic and Protestant clergy and churches, who failed to protect, and in some cases, informed on those seeking refuge from the violence. In contrast, many Muslim leaders and families protected and hid those who were fleeing. Some observers say that because Muslims were an ostracized minority, they were less likely to get caught up in the Hutus’ massacres.
Since the genocide, Muslims now make up 14 percent of the 8.2 million people in Africa’s most Catholic nation — twice as many as before the massacres started. The conversion rate is high enough for Catholic Rwandan leaders to seek the counsel of Rome in how to stop the influx, as well as offer alternative programs to draw and keep youth in its ranks.
While Western leaders worry that large-scale conversion to Islam could trigger a tendency toward militancy. But there are few signs of extremism in Rwanda, even though some of the mosques receive funding from Saudia Arabia (whose clergy tend to be of the militant school of Islam). There is talk of “jihad” in the mosques, but it refers less to outward war than to the struggle Muslim imams call theie people to wage for healing and reconciliation between Tutsis and Hutus.
Christian population shifting away from Arabs
Arab Christian emigration from Israel is continuing, leading to new ethnic composition of Christians in this nation, according to a recent paper at the recent 1st World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies.
At the congress, which took place in Mainz (Germany) on Sept. 8-13 and was attended by RW, Israeli scholar Daphne Tsimhoni of Hebrew University, presented her research on Christian Arabs and their identity in the State of Israel.
It is well-known that the proportion of Christians in the Palestinian population has steadily decreased since World War I. Especially from the 1960s, the Muslim population in Israel has exploded, while the growth of the Christian population has been very slow: its number is now approximately the same as the number of Druzes in Israel (about 2 percent of the total population each in 2000, with Jews making 78 percent and Muslims 15 percent of the Israeli population).
The birthrate of Christians is slightly lower than the Jewish birthrate and significantly lower than the Muslim and Druze birthrate. Moreover, the emigration rate of Christians is higher than the emigration rate of other non-Jews (a phenomenon observed everywhere across the Middle East).
Tsimhoni also notes that there have been changes in the internal subdivisions of the Christian population: while more than 90 percent of the Christians in Israel used to be Arabs 50 years ago, this was transformed during the 1980s and 1990s by the influx of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, a number of whom are Christians, as well as foreign workers who managed to stay in the country (illegally or by marrying local people). This is leading to the emergence of a non Arab Christian population in the country — and several churches in Jaffa or Haifa, which had become historical monuments following the 1948 war, have revived a communal life.
Christians used to enjoy a higher status. They were perceived as less threatening by the State of Israel, and they managed to stay in larger percentage after the creation of the new State. They also tended to be the spokespersons of the Arab community, Tsimhoni: adds; until the end of the 1970s, more than 50 percent of the Arab members of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, were Christians.
But this position has eroded for a variety of reasons, including the coming of age of an educated Muslim elite and the perception by Israeli parties that Muslims had to come to represent a more important voting potential.
— By Jean-François Mayer
Current Research: October 2002
01: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was the fastest-growing denomination in the last dead, followed by various Pentecostal churches, according to a new study.
The study, conducted by Glenmary Research Center, confirmed previous studies showing that conservative churches have grown far faster than liberal and moderate bodies. The LDS church boosted its membership by 19.3 percent to a total of 4.2 million, followed by the conservative Christian and Churches of Christ congregations (18.6 percent), the Assemblies of God (18.5 percent), and the Roman Catholic Church (16.2 percent).
The denominations with the largest decreases was United Church of Christ (14.5 percent) and the Presbyterian Church USA (at 14.8 percent). The study found far fewer Muslim than presented by Muslim groups and in the media. The estimate of 1.5 million clashes sharply with the seven million estimate provided by most U.S. Muslim groups.
02: Another study finds that the number of American Jews is found to be much higher than earlier reports have stated. The Jewish Week newspaper (Sept. 27) reports that the survey, conducted by the Institute for Jewish Community Research, reveals a total of 6.7 million Americans claiming Judaism as their primary religious and ethnic identification. This figure contrasts sharply with the benchmark survey of “core Jews” conducted by the National Jewish Population Survey in 1990.
The IJCR study also found an additional 2.5 million respondents whom he terms “Jewishly connected non-Jews,” meaning that they practice Judaism as a secondary religion or that their spouse is Jewish or that they simply “feel Jewish in their hearts.”
To complicate matters further, the survey finds another 4.1 million Americans who claim some Jewish blood. The previous NJPS did not measure such populations, believing that the “core” identifies the number of people practicing Judaism or identifying with the Jewish community. Gary Tobin, head of the IJCR, says he did not distinguish between core and non-core Jews. He maintains that his “big tent” approach to polling shows that the “sociological network of Jews is growing.”
03: Most surveys show little lasting effect of Sept. 11 on religious behavior or beliefs.
Public Perspective (September/October), a review of polling and pubic opinion, finds that Americans’ “personal ties to religion were neither strengthened nor weakened by the events of Sept. 11. The rise in church-going after the attacks lasted only a few weeks. But the way in which religion was perceived did show substantial change after 9/11.
In every survey conducted by Pew and Gallup polls, a clear majority has believed that religion’s influence in the country was in decline. After 9/11, Americans of all faiths and regional, racial and socioeconomic groups changed that view (for instance, one Pew survey found 78 percent believing the influence of religion was on the rise). But even that view turned out to be short-lived, as by February the public’s view of the influence of religion was back down to pre-9/11 levels (with 52 percent saying it is on the decline).
Yet the majority continue to believe that even if religion’s influence was in decline, this was a bad thing for the country.
(Spirituality & Health, 74 Trinity Place, New York, NY 10006)
Thirteen years ago, Hinduism Today magazine tried to formulate ten Hindu megatrends that would shape that religion’s future.
In its October-December, 2002, issue, the magazine updates its megatrends to include: an increase in Hindu pride, confirmation of which are the building of new “magnificent temples” and the unprecedented rise in awareness of Hindu identity in India. Newspapers and magazines in India are running regular articles on Hindu concepts. A less positive side of this surge in Hindu pride is however the use of violence by an activist minority in the name of Hindu protection, as evidenced by the March riots in Gujarat.
Hinduism is no longer threatened by decline in countries of old diaspora (Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, Trinidad, Malaysia). But young Hindus in the diaspora tend to be not strongly religious and follow “the prevailing trend away from religion”. Some of them — especially Hindi-speaking — have increasing difficulties in order to understand lectures by priests in high Hindi. Cross-cultural marriages in the diaspora are on the increase.
At the same time, the worldwide interest for Hinduism or aspects of it is still on the rise. Ayurveda (Hindu-based healing and medicine) has “become a household word in the past 10 years.” And Hindus increasingly claim the scholarship on Hinduism and Hindu history, instead of leaving it in Western hands. The role of women continues to grow, as exemplified by increasingly popular women gurus such as Mata Amritanandamayi “The number of women priests has dramatically increased since 1989, and they’ve found acceptance from the general population.”
But the problems of Hindu priesthood have not yet found a solution: temple priesthood (often hereditary) is in decline, average priests are not well-trained and not well-educated, with young brahmins choosing other professions in which they can earn a reasonable salary.The 2002 update also emphasizes the benefits of modern technologies for Hinduism worldwide.
“Hinduism is benefiting immensely from the Internet.” It allows an easy access to information on Hinduism. Another new phenomenon in India are religious television channels, although quality is said to be uneven.
— By Jean-François Mayer
Abraham takes center stage in interfaith efforts
Abraham, the biblical figure, has taken on a renewed appeal among Jews, Christians and Muslims seeking reconciliation and peace.
Time (Sept. 30) magazine reports that especially since 9/11 and its one year anniversary, there has been a flurry of new initiatives and groups claiming the importance of the biblical patriarch in their interfaith work. All three religions have long taught — and fought over — the importance of Abraham to their faiths. A staple premise of the interfaith movement since the late 1800s was that Abraham was a major factor in understanding and respect between the three faiths.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have traditionally seen Abraham as a father of their faiths; In Islam, for instance, daily prayers cite Abraham and he his cited as building the Ka’aba, the central shrine of Mecca. This commonality has, especially since last September, led interfaith activists to schedule Abraham lectures, Abraham speeches and even “Abraham Salons” around the country and overseas. There are new books on Abraham and a group called Children of Abraham Institute in Charlottesville, Va., organizes intensive three-way scriptural studies modeled on Abraham’s hospitality to strangers.
But the interfaith closeness also faces millennia-long strife over the role of Abraham, especially concerning question of the exclusiveness of Abraham’s covenant with God and what this implies for Israel and the Palestinians today. Bruce Feiler, author of the new book, “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths” (William Morrow) concludes that Abraham is a “flawed vessel for reconciliation, but he’s the best figure we’ve got.”
Muslims count the losses and some gains after 9/11
More than a year after Sept. 11, many Muslims share the perception that they are bring marginalized in American society while at the same time receiving new scrutiny, according to two reports.
The Los Angeles Times (Sept. 27) reports that until the attacks of last year, American Muslims had been making headway in becoming an accepted religious minority in the American mainstream. Before Sept. 11, Muslims were just beginning to “win appointments to government commissions. Politicians were knocking on the doors of their mosques, asking for support. Muslims were becoming politically emboldened to run for office themselves…” writes Teresa Watanabe. Even after Sept. 11, the American public and leaders by and large reached out to Muslims, seeking to prevent attacks and discrimination against them.
“Since January, however, the landscape has shifted,” according to Watanabe. A “hardening of attitudes” can be seen in a number of best-selling books on the “Islamic menace” and in “leading figures among evangelical Christian denominations [whom] have made a series of public statements denouncing Islam as evil.” Polls show a downturn in positive opinions about Islam. For instance, a Los Angeles Times poll found 37 percent with a negative impression of Islam, compared with 28 percent show impression was favorable.
While respondents did show a more positive impression of American Muslims than of their faith, about a quarter said they had a negative impression of American Muslims. This environment has tended to discourage non-Muslim politicians — from George Bush on down — from appearing at Muslim events, as well as reduce the number of Muslims running for office. This year, only about 100 have done so — compared to 700 candidates in 2000.
An article reviewing the state of the Muslim community after September 11 on the website IslamOnline (Sept. 9) is more upbeat. Sam Highsmith writes that since the attacks “Muslims in America have moved from not being seen at all, to being scrutinized by the pubic and the press. Over time most Muslims have pushed aside fears of persecution in favor of taking advantage of the current platform to present Islam as the peaceful and dynamic faith that it is.”
Groups such as the Muslim Student Association have found themselves flooded with inquiries about Islam and the they have risen to the occasion, taking on a new role as “emissaries of both the religion of Islam and the cultures of the Middle East and south Asia.”
Religious factor key for new eco-conservatives
A new kind of conservatism is emerging that blends environmental concern, a disdain for mass culture, and religious faith, writes Rod Dreher in National Review (Sept. 30).
In a cover story on “granola conservatives,” Dreher reports that he and a growing number of other conservatives find themselves ill at ease with mainstream conservatives who praise suburban life, big business and ridicule environmental concern These new style conservatives, whom Dreher dubs “crunchy cons,” borrow the critique of the 1960s counterculture against mass culture, viewing the proliferation of suburban sprawl, chain restaurants, and scorn for the arts as an inauthentic way of living that are inimical to true conservatism.
Dreher finds that for many crunchy cons, “religion is the starting point from which beliefs about everything else follow.” Thinkers such as Russell Kirk and Wendell Berry are popular among these conservatives. Many are converts to rigorous faiths, such as traditional Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and conservative Calvinism, and tend to see nature as sacramental — something “to be revered, embraced, and celebrated within limits . . .” Many religious crunchy cons have large families and practice homeschooling, viewing the family as a bulwark against the wider culture.
Global faiths face new opportunities, obstacles
Religious groups — from new Eastern groups to evangelicals — are going global, retooling their programs, even their language to reach the world community, but the move is also generating some conflict.
Those are just some of the conclusions on the relation of globalization and religion in the current issue of the quarterly Hedgehog Review (Summer). Globalization has become a catchword for several different trends and phenomenon, but in articles by sociologists Peter Berger and Jose Casanova (in an interview), the process is seen as bringing religion and all other human activities into one “world system.”
Some religions will be better able to adapt to this system than others: For example, Casanova asserts that both Catholicism, because of its international (increasingly Third World) membership and resources, and Pentecostalism, with its ability to foster international networks while remaining indigenous, are the likely to be the leading global faiths. In fact, the evangelicals, including the Pentecostals, closely resemble secular corporations and other groups in the vanguard of the new global culture, writes Joshua Yates.
The author examines the global outreach programs of such large international ministries as Focus on the Family, World Vision and Campus Crusade for Christ. He finds that they are generally “no less enthusiastic about the prospects for their faith under the conditions of globalization than [are] the captains of international finance and business…about the prospects for economic growth under the same conditions.” Most stress the capabilities of technology in their missions and have borrowed the vocabularies of the market, social sciences (especially in the need to quantify and substantiate their claims with research), human rights (they speak of the “universal human right of all people to hear the gospel”) and multiculturalism.
There is also a growing trend of evangelicals exporting the “culture wars” to foreign countries, trying to influence these societies on issues of abortion, the family and sexuality. Also active in this field are Western groups, such as Planned Parenthood attempting to foster liberal change overseas. Yates writes that a “race to win-over key decision makers is seen most clearly as opposing groups attempt to gain access to the public schools in other societies” (for instance, Focus On the Family has been very successful in getting their abstinence-based “Sex, Lies, and the Truth” curriculum in Guatemala’s Public Schools).
Meanwhile, an article on the Sai Baba movement suggests that a religion’s move to globalize its may not always please its own members. Tulas Srinivas writes that the movement, which is based around worship of the 76-year-old Indian guru and miracle worker Sai Baba, has spread all over the world with over a half a million devotees. As it has grown, the movement has increasingly taken on Western clothing. Recently, the Sai organization is attempting to “emulate the global corporate model” in the need to formalize their organizational structure.
The movement consists of “cells” representing four geographic zones covering the globe. Information and resources are controlled through the Sai movement in India. Members complain that things are more complex now; today Sai Baba performs fewer miracles, as many of his middle-class devotees are suspicious of such wonders. Most devotees prefer the older model, and persist in pressing for a more personal, disorganized approach. Cherished personal interviews with Sai Baba are still organized through personalized routes.
But there will be a major obstacle as religions, particularly Christianity, go global– the growing polarization between the conservative Christian South and the liberal Christian North. In Atlantic Monthly magazine (October), Phillip Jenkins discusses his thesis (found in his book The Next Christendom) that the gap between northern and southern world churches will concern clashing theologies and moralities. It will do no good for Northern churches to attempt to export their teachings on interfaith tolerance and other practices to the South (a problem for global faiths such as Catholicism and Anglicanism), since this part of the world is rapidly developing its own indigenous religious groups marked by an intense supernaturalism (often stressing healing and exorcism), a “Puritan” lifestyle, and a confrontational style with non-Christian faiths (particularly Islam).
Southern exports will also find a not very eager following in the North, except among very conservative groups. Added to the division is that the Southern churches are still stress the importance of the text and maintain older ideas of community and traditional authority while the technological North is moving toward “decentralized and privatized forms of faith.”