Thursday, August 4, 2011

Talking about religion after Norway

Talking about religion after Norway means not letting fear define what faith is all about. Deliberate attempts to understand religion, uncomfortable as it may be, must be part of the path forward.

The recent tragedy in Norway, the worst attack the country has experienced since WWII, shocked and pained the world. It has also forced us as a global community to look more closely at religion, identity, and how we see the “other” – as well as ourselves.

In the West, religion is often an uncomfortable topic of discussion, and the recent terror attacks in Norway have forced many of us, especially in the United States and Europe, to re-examine issues of religion and identity.

So, how do we talk about religion after Norway?

In the early responses to terror attacks, blame was quickly assigned to Muslims. Once it was revealed that the perpetrator, Anders Breivik, was actually an anti-Muslim right-wing extremist who self-identified as Christian, the proclivity to blame his actions on religious fundamentalism quickly vanished. It’s easy to point to the hypocrisy – to call people out on their inclination to assume Islam promotes violence while at the same time being quick to wash Christianity’s collective hands of any hint of wrongdoing.

Pointing fingers merely addresses the symptoms and not the actual problem of a worldview that chooses to view the other from a position of fear instead of love. And to address this problem, no matter how uncomfortable, religion must be part of the conversation.

Our religion, or lack thereof, shapes who each of us are and how we function in the world. When we believe in an idea, faith expression, or sacred text, these beliefs form our very identity – influencing everything from our politics to our relationships. For many, these beliefs are what give us hope that a better world is possible – a world where fear does not reign, and where compassion and service drive our actions instead.

Yet religious identity can also influence people to commit acts of violence and hatred. Common to fundamentalists of any religion are fear-based attempts at control. By insisting upon being right at all costs they reject the Christian discipline of trusting in God, or the Muslim call to submit to Him.

But for those who allow themselves to be formed in ways that respond to the other with love instead of fear, religion grants the means to build a better world. Orienting oneself around the needs of others strengthens the common good instead of selfish individual desires. Reclaiming love of neighbour as a religious and not merely a political mandate is therefore a necessary step in addressing the corruption of religion by fundamentalisms.

As a person of faith, I see this “lived out” faith looking like the response of Hege Dalen and her partner, Toril Hansen, to the attacks. When they heard screams and gunshots from their campsite opposite Utöyan Island, they immediately hopped in their boat and dodged bullets in order to save some 40 people. We can’t all be heroes, but choosing a life of helping those in need, no matter who they are, is the basis of any religion that would rather build than destroy. Speaking up about the religious values that motivate us to reach out, and being willing to listen to those who do the same but who come from other traditions can help change the way our cultures view religion.

Talking about religion after Norway means not letting fear define what faith is all about. Examining our own beliefs and living out our faith through selfless acts of love can move the conversation past the toxicity of fear.

Deliberate attempts to understand religion, uncomfortable as it may be, must be part of the path forward. Engage in conversation or read a book by someone who is “other” than yourself. Partner with people of other beliefs on relief or community development projects to understand how our different faiths motivate the same generous actions. And join in honest discussions about our differences to discover what we can learn from each other.

Living in secular societies does not mean ignoring our religion. Instead, we can choose to use that part of our identities to build a better world.

Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.