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Ramadan, the military and the Bible: misplaced juxtapositions, paradoxes, nuances

Monday, July 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the paradoxes, double standards, accommodations and hypocrisies -- whatever you call them, however you see them -- that arise when religions overlap -- or bump up against one another ]
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That’s a juxtaposition of title and photo, straight out of my morning mail from Vision to America News a few days back.

As you know, juxtaposition is a particular favorite of mine, the rhetorical flourish I most enjoy — but it can manifestly be abused. Do you suppose the personnel in the photo were under orders to perform the characteristic Muslim five-times-daily prayers known as salat? Were they led, perhaps, by an officer or senior NCO? Isn’t that what this juxtaposition suggests?

Or is the photo simply a photo of Muslim members of the armed forces at prayer, in accordance with their beliefs?

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Pamela Geller uses the same photo with the title you see here:

Her text, below, begins:

Our troops must adhere to the sharia during the Islamic month of Ramadan in Bahrain and other Muslim countries. Subjected to dawah (proselytizing) by an Islamic cultural adviser at the Naval Support Activity, soldiers are forced to sit through lessons on Islam. No eating, drinking, alcohol, smoking during the month of Ramadan.

This is what the Obama administration and the US military are obsessed with as armies of jihad tear through the Middle East.

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By way of contrast, back in 2009 Army dot Mil datelined Fort Jackson, SC, FORT JACKSON, S.C., September 24, carried the same photo under the headline Soldiers celebrate end of Ramadan

with the caption:

Muslim Soldiers bow down in prayer during the celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr Sunday at the Joe E. Mann Center. Eid-Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims worldwide.

and text that begins:

About 100 Muslim Soldiers gathered at the Joe E. Mann Center Sunday to celebrate Eid-Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

“It’s a great honor and privilege to do this,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, who presided over the ceremonial part of the celebration. “We want (the Soldiers) to be empowered through the spiritual foundation that Islam provides. Eid-Al-Fitr is a culmination of the fasting during the month of Ramadan. As a result of that, we do the celebration traditionally for three days, but the biggest (part) is this particular day.”

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And the truth shall set you free.

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The fact is, though, that much as I think Vision to America and Ms Geller are playing dirty pool here, I do think we have a bit of a paradox going when we offer our troops in Dubai sensitivity training in Islamic traditions and ask them to be respectful of them…


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— even going so far as to ban and burn Bibles in Pashto and Dari sent to troops in Afghanistan, because they might be used by enthusiastic evangelicals to evangelize the locals:

Military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday.

The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said. Such religious outreach can endanger American troops and civilians in the devoutly Muslim nation, Wright said.

“The decision was made that it was a ‘force protection’ measure to throw them away, because, if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims,” Wright told CNN on Tuesday.

Hey, I have to say I sympathize with that argument —

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But I also sympathize with the Air Force kid who wanted to put a Gospel verse up on his personal whiteboard, and was ordered to take it down. As Onan Coca writing at Eagle Rising pointed out:

The truth of the matter is that no Christian would have complained had a Jewish or Muslim cadet placed a verse from their religious scriptures on their whiteboards.

I certainly hope that’s the case — Baruch haShem, and Allah knows best.

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Varieties of ecumenical alliance, in two tweets

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- let's just say the world is awesome -- and you can take that to mean amazing, tragic, infuriating, or hilarious -- your choice ]
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Let’s have the bad news tweet first, get it out of the way.

The Reuters article Laura links to tells us the Ugandan army now views Séléka, an almost entirely Muslim militia, as “in bed with” Joseph Kony‘s Lord’s Resistance Army, a group generally regarded as Christian — air quotes optional in both cases.

Here we go:

Uganda’s army said on Tuesday the mainly Muslim Seleka group in Central African Republic was now its enemy as the fighters were “in bed” with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels they are hunting there.

A spokesman for the Ugandan army said its forces in CAR had clashed for the first time with Seleka, killing 12 and suffering one casualty. A Seleka official told Reuters on Monday that 15 of their fighters and three Ugandan soldiers were killed. “Seleka had never tasted our fire. I think it was important that they taste our fire so that they are careful,” Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) said, when asked about clashes on Sunday and Monday in CAR.

The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, is using CAR as one of its rear bases for attacks across regions straddling CAR, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda heads a 5,000-strong African Union force tracking down the rebels but has no specific mandate to confront Seleka, which seized power in CAR in March last year and was pushed out under international pressure in January. “We know we don’t have that mandate but since they are in bed with our enemy, we’ll treat them as such,” said Ankunda, accusing Seleka of forcing civilians to give food and medicine to the LRA and trading ivory and minerals with them. Seleka’s time in power in Bangui was marked by rights abuses, prompting mainly Christian self-defense militia to spring up across the country. Nearly a million people – around a quarter of the population – have been forced from their homes in cycles of sectarian violence. Tit-for-tat killings continue and Seleka fighters still occupy pockets of the country.

Colonel Christian Djuma Narkoyo, deputy spokesman for Seleka’s armed wing, dismissed Uganda’s claims as “lies.” “If they have proof, let them show it. … There is no reason for us to collaborate with the LRA,” he said.

Enough of that.

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Now for the good news:

Mmmm, yes! That’s what I like to see.

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Dialectic, or a waltz within revelation

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on three-fold movements in time in Islam, Christianity and Judaism ]
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The three ages of Joachim of Fiore, in the latter's Venn-like diagram

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The question of how Islam in its many varieties views other religions is a compelling one, and perhaps never more so than in our own times. Today I was informed that many of William Chittick‘s papers were available for download on Academia.edu, and the first couple I wanted to read were these:

  • The Theological roots of peace and war according to Islam
  • A Sufi Approach to Religious Diversity — Ibn al-Arabi on the Metaphysics of Revelation
  • While scrounging around the net for an easily quotable form of the second paper, I ran across Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Universal Validity of Religions and the Issue of Takfir — and like a dutiful netizen, I stopped off to read a little, and ran across the gem I’d like to bring you this morning>

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    Shaykh Faraz Rabbani offers a fascinating example of the dialectic three-step in the prophetic books of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (Tawrah, Injil and Qur’an), writing:

    A familiar example cited by ulama is the law of talion, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, which was obligatory in the religious law of Moses (upon whom be peace), subsequently forbidden by the religious law of Jesus (upon whom be peace) in which “turning the other cheek” was obligatory; and finally both were superseded by the law of Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), which permits victims to take retaliation (qisas) for purely intentional physical injuries, but in which it is religiously superior not to retaliate but forgive.

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    In general, Christianity — having the Tanakh and New Testament for its scriptures — offers a binary or two-step process in place of this movement of the dialectic: the lex talionis is commanded in the Old Testament and rescinded in the New. Only in the work of Abbot Joachim of Fiore do we find a three-fold dispensation, in which the first term or “age of the Father” follows the many laws (mitzvot) of the Old Testament, the second follows Christ’s abridgement to include simply the two commandments of Matthew 22. 37-40:

    Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    And the third?

    Mirabile dictu, it is the age in which the presence of the Holy Spirit liberates us from all necessity of law. Gianni Vattimo, writing in After Christianity, expresses Joachim’s vision thus:

    Three are the stages of the world indicated by the sacred texts. The first is the stage in which we have lived under the law; the second is that in which we live under grace; the third is one in which we shall live in a more perfect state of grace. . . . The first passed in slavery; the second is characterized by filial slavery; the third wiII unfold in the name of freedom. The first is marked by awe, the second by faith, the third by charity. The first period regards the slaves; the second regards the sons; the third regards the friends. … The first stage is ascribed to the Father, who is the author of all things; the second to the Son, who has been esteemed worthy to share our mud; the third to the Holy Spirit, of which the apostle says “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

    The Archdruid’s Report discussed Augustinian and Joachimite views of the nature of time a while back, and while his entire post is worth your attention, here I would like to pick out this one paragraph:

    What made Joachim’s vision different from any of the visionary histories that came before it—and there were plenty of those in the Middle Ages — was that it was a story of progress. The Age of Love, as Joachim envisioned it, was a great improvement on the Age of Law, and the approaching Age of Liberty would be an improvement on the Age of Love; in the third age, he taught, the Church would wither away, and people would live together in perfect peace and harmony, with no need for political or religious institutions. To the church authorities of Joachim’s time, steeped in the Augustinian vision, all this was heresy; to the radicals of the age, it was manna from heaven, and nearly every revolutionary ideology in Europe from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries drew heavily on Joachimist ideas.

    Indeed, Norman Cohn in his classic Pursuit of the Millennium sees Joachim’s Third age in the Drittes or Tausendjähriges Reich (the Third or Thousand Year = Millennial Kingdom) of Nazism, and in Friedrich Engels’ notion of the “withering away of the State” — both great tolitarian systems of the last century thus being under the spell of Joachim’s apocalyptic notion of utopia.

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    And Judaism?

    Judaism has its own developmental scheme, in which sacrificial Temple worship gives way to the synagogues, talmudic scholarship and the diaspora — yet always with the Pesach refrain:

    Next year in Jerusalem.

    Here too, it may be surmised, time moves to the music of the dialectic.

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    Theology matters: sun god moon god

    Saturday, June 21st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- on soundbite mischaracterizations in a volatile and complex world ]
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    Isn’t it time we stopped maligning each others’ religions with third-rate “theological” speculations?

    The upper panel here is taken from a WND piece by Joel Richardson in which he describes the conspiracy-laden “Muslim” video-tube series “The Arrival” depicting the Christian savior as a sun god, while the lower one is taken from one of the “Christian” Chick tracts describing Islam as worshipping a moon god.

    The idea in each case is to score points preaching to one’s own “choir” — but any Muslim will tell you that the God they worship is in fact the One without a second, and any Christian will tell you that neither the Savior nor his Heavenly Father is the sun god Ra.

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    Speculating about the origins of religions is an interesting business, and David Fideler does just that in his book, Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism. He’s not, however, the only person investigating the rich brew of religious ideas from which Christianity emerged — the Nag Hmmadi and Qumran documents between them have made this a fertile field of study and speculation, and the theories range as far afield as the distinguished linguist John Allegro‘s claim that Christ was a mushroom.

    Islamic texts have not until very recently been subject to the same kind of scrutiny that Textual Criticism has brought to bear on Biblical studies since the time of Julius Wellhausen, but if time allowed me a second life in parallel with this one (and with less of an attention deficit?) I’d be very interested to read and compare Keith Small‘s Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts with Ahmad Ali Al-Imam‘s Variant Readings Of The Quran: A Critical Study Of Their Historical And Linguistic Origins.

    For those of us who lack the linguistic and scholarly chops for post-doc level research, however, and particularly those of us inclined to polemic, it may be wise to avoid citing any particular version of Islamic or Christian origins as definitive, and concentrate on the actual theologies, extreme as well as mainstream, of our contemporaries, and of major historical thinkers on the order of St Augustine and Martin Luther, Ibn Arabi and Ibn Taymiyyah.

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    Telling Muslims they worship a moon god is as unlikely to dent their faith as telling Christians they worship the sun — it is more likely simply to hurt or anger them. It is falsehood — and as the saying goes:

    the truth shall make you free.

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    Daveed Gartenstein-Ross twitterstreaming re Iraq & ISIS…

    Friday, June 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- today's source of understanding addresses the tensions within the ISIS alliance -- with a question about the Naqshbandiyya tagged on for our readers ]
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    Here, including a “ramp-up” from two days ago, is a series of related tweets from Daveed G-R:

    Nota bene:

  • We reject Sharia.
  • IAI may eventually have to fight ISIS.
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    While we’re at it, here are two other DG-R tweets on significant topics:

    Daveed’s Spectator cover-article is (appropriately) spectacular, btw.

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    Of particular interest to me, in case you read this and know where to point me, is anything re the strength or nominality of connection between the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi or Naqshabandi army and the Sufi Naqshbandiyya order.

    Thanks!

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