Thoughts from My Teacher

Here is a great op-ed written by John Esposito, one of my former professors at Georgetown.

John Esposito

His piece addresses the wide-spread and unnecessary backlash against the planned Cordoba House, an Islamic and interfaith community center that is to be built blocks from Ground Zero.  Esposito’s views to me seem like common sense, but sadly, there are many in the U.S who still adhere to the fear of Islam that is so destructive to our supposedly tolerant and democratic society.

Illustrations of Islamophobia

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the proposed bans on the niqab and other Islamic religious clothing in many European countries.  The case I’ve been following most closely is in France, where the law is expected to pass soon.  It would ban the few thousand women who wear the niqab (face veil) in public from doing so, and if women refuse to comply, they will be fined or be required to attend a “citizenship” class.

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These European cases, along with the campaign to halt the building of an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan near Ground Zero, are, to me, illustrations of the ever-growing and irrational Islamophobia in the Western world.  Here is an example of the irrationality that surrounds this issue: In an interview with Al Jazeera English, a French parliamentarian claimed that he was made a “victim” by women who choose to wear the niqab because he cannot see their faces.

I recognize, of course, that many Westerners cannot be blamed for their phobic behavior when confronted with the people and symbols of Islam.  The portrayal of Muslims in mainstream T.V. news, especially on cable news channels, leaves Americans with an uninformed and fear-based view of Islam—a view that is hard to shake if a person has no access to other information about the religion and its people.  Only when the media changes its ways in its coverage of Islam will people realize that these campaigns in Europe and in the U.S. are misguided and are driven by fear, as opposed to true concern.

Al Jazeera English has done some good reports about the proposed niqab ban in France, and here’s the most recent report.

Also, guests on the Diane Rehm Show yesterday discussed this issue. I haven’t listened to the whole piece yet but I will post it here, too.

Please respond with comments if you have any!

Speaking of Faith

One of my favorite programs from American Public Media is Speaking of Faith, hosted by Krista Tippett.  I first listened to the program at home in Indianapolis, but because it is on the air at a really bad time (7am on Sunday mornings) I started to listen to the podcasts, which are downloadable on iTunes.  The show discusses a range of topics relating to religion, spirituality, and morality, and the intersection of those things with politics, culture, and everyday life.

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Some of my favorite shows have been…

-“Religious Passion, Pluralism, and the Young”: a discussion with Eboo Patel about the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, Ill.

-“The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi”: a look at the Muslim mystic and poet who has popularity has recently grown in the U.S.

-“The Spirituality of Parenting”: a conversation with a rabbi from Indianapolis about the importance of raising your children in a religious tradition

-“Reflections from a Former Islamist Extremist”: an interview in which a former extremist explains his previous mindset and rationale

-“The Beauty and Challenges of Being Catholic”: Catholics reflect on their experiences. (This is probably my favorite, because I relate so well to it.)

All of the pieces on Islam are great, but I don’t want to list them all here.

I hope you subscribe to Speaking of Faith.  I find it particularly useful to listen to while doing work around the house.

Why ‘witness’?

Welcome to my blog, Witness.

For the past several months I have been hoping to launch this blog.  Throughout my freshman year of college, many thoughts have come to mind that I have wanted to share with a wider audience.  These reflections have been spurred by classroom discussions, campus events, interactions with friends, and incidents in world news during the past year.

Over the summer, I will finally have time to put to paper (or virtual Word Document) the things I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had.  I’ve been putting off a lot of writing that needs to be done, and I hope this blog will give me the incentive to write and continue posting into the upcoming school year.

You can expect the topics discussed here to be wide-ranging.  My previous posts on Facebook are a good indicator of what will appear here shortly–posts about news and writing, politics, culture, and religion, both in the U.S. and abroad.  Some days I’ll merely post links with short blurbs, and occasionally I’ll write longer reflections on an article, a news event, or an experience from my life.  I would love this blog to become a place of discussion, where we all can express our thoughts on issues we find significant.  I welcome you to challenge my positions, correct my mistakes, and share your own thoughts in the comments section.

I wanted to come up with a theme and title for this blog that brings my passions–specifically journalism and the relationship between Christianity and Islam–together.  ‘Witness’ seemed perfect.  Let me explain.

For several years, I was a member of a youth journalism organization in Indianapolis.  Along with other factors, my time spent in Y-Press convinced me to pursue a career in journalism.

The word witness connects directly to journalism.  As journalists, we witness and document an event to bring it to those who are not present to experience it.  But journalism is not a passive state of watching; it is an intentional engagement that transcends passivity and requires questioning, challenging, and immersing ourselves into our subject.  All of this is done with the goal of seeking truth, providing greater understanding and knowledge to our readers, and for me, ultimately creating more human connections between reader and subject.  (More on this topic in future posts.)

Another one of my interests is religion–specifically Christianity and Islam–and how it influences or is influenced by culture, politics, economics, location, etc.  Aside from its impact on world events, I am also concerned with religion’s intrinsic value–what it can do for us individually and spiritually. I enjoy learning about the theological similarities and differences and how those things are translated into ritual practice, cultural traditions, etc.

The word witness has had a significant impact on both Christianity and Islam.  It appears in similar contexts in the Bible and the Quran, and the evolution of the word has developed almost identically in the respective religions.

In Isaiah 43:10, the Lord says, “You are my witness…and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.”  In Surat al-Baqara, God also says, “And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.”

God calls on His people to be witnesses, but what does the role of witness entail?

In the Bible, the word martus (Greek for witness) refers to someone “who testifies to a fact of which he has knowledge from personal observation…[A] witness of Christ, is a  person who, though he has never seen nor heard the Divine Founder of the Church, is yet so firmly convinced of the truths of the Christian religion, that he gladly suffers death rather than deny it.” 1

In Islam, a shaheed (شهيد, Arabic for witness) “sees the truth physically and thus stands by it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he is prepared to struggle and fight and give up his life for the truth.”  A witness’ goal is “struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth.” 2

Today, the English word “martyr” has replaced “witness” in translations in both religions, and sometimes carries a negative connotation.  However, a martyr is simply a person who struggles to defend a greater truth, and is prepared to die in the protection and promotion of that truth.

The religious role of a witness and martyr relates well to the role of a journalist.  I have already discussed how a journalist seeks to uncover and testify to certain truths.  But the journalist also must be prepared to sacrifice.  Not necessarily sacrifice life–though many parts of the world where journalists report are quite dangerous.  As with any work that attempts to benefit the common good, some form of self-sacrifice is necessary and ultimately positive.

Practitioners of journalism, Christianity, and Islam are all seekers of truth.  I see this blog as a way for me and others to continue searching for truth, truth that not only occurs on factual and historical levels, but also on religious and human ones.  I hope you too will participate in that process.

Peace,

سلام

Jordan

جوردن

“… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8