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December 15, 2008 11:00 AM

A Cohabitation of Religions

By Anna Bigelow

On the first day of every month, thousands of Istanbul residents make their way down a narrow street to the swept stone courtyard of the shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A couple of Turkish lira buys a devotional candle at the entrance, which pilgrims place in sand-filled containers and light as they offer their prayers in the dark interior. Some visitors enter the underground crypt to receive holy water from a small spring, others stand in line to receive the blessings of the Greek Orthodox priest, and still others move around the church visiting the various icons of Mary mother of Jesus, St. George, and other holy figures.

What is startling to realize, especially for a Western observer in the post-9/11 world, is that half of these pilgrims are Christian, the other half Muslim. Far from being unusual, shared devotional spaces like this are common, both in Turkey and elsewhere in the Muslim world. They offer an important reminder that the current vogue for seeing relations between the Christianity and Islam in terms of a "clash of civilizations" is to place a false dichotomy on the past and present, and turn our backs on the lessons of centuries of shared plurality in the region.

At the so-called "First Day of the Month Church," which I visited earlier this year, it is impossible not to appreciate that the Christian man with his hands folded standing next to a Muslim woman with her palms upraised may well have come to the holy place for the same reasons. At these sites, stories about miraculous events circulate within and between social groups, creating webs of meaningful narratives that bind communities together. For example, both Christianity and Islam honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, to whom the First Day of the Month Church is dedicated. From the churches like this in Istanbul to the mountaintop house near Ephesos believed to be Mary's last earthly home, Muslims and Christians pray next to each other for many of the same reasons.

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December 15, 2008 10:53 AM

Indian Muslims Choose Loyalty to Country

By Wajahat Ali and Ahmed Rashid

Whilst all fingers are pointed at Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks, eminent Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, and Islam Advance's contributor Wajahat Ali, argue that the Indian government needs to address discrimination of Muslims at home for the lessons of the attack to be learned.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai tragedy, Indian Muslims have been marching overtime on the streets to demonstrate solidarity with fellow citizens and denounce the attacks. At the rallies, such as the 5,000 march by Indian Muslims in Mumbai last week, Indian Muslims held placards that read "Our Country's Enemies are Our Enemies," "Killers of Innocents are Enemies of Islam," and a few believe "Pakistan Be Declared Terrorist State."

As observers of Indian politics know, such declarations are an important act of self-defense in a country where communal tensions between the country's 140 million Muslims and 900 million Hindus periodically flare. Muslims, more often than not, are the targets of these attacks. While international attention has focused on Pakistan, where the attackers hailed from, it's important we don't paper over the iniquities faced by Muslims in India, which spawned home-grown version of al-Qaeda in recent years, and where resentment is growing.

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November 13, 2008 4:09 PM

Is Obama the Muslim World's Superman?

Muslim Americans overwhelmingly supported Obama's election earlier this month, and his promise of a more inclusive America. But as the initial euphoria dies away (a little), what can Muslims, both at home and abroad, really expect from the president elect with the middle name Hussein. Here American Muslim playwright and author Wajahat Ali explores.

Muslims, both here and abroad, are investing their collective faith in Obama as a modern political Superman who will transform U.S. foreign policy from the abrasive "Us vs. Them" ideology of President Bush to an engaging, constructive dialogue. But as Obama begins to assemble his administration, are Muslims assuming too much about the transformative powers of the president?

Certainly among American Muslims the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Specifically, a poll by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Election (AMT) found that 89 percent of Muslims who voted went for Obama, and that the Muslim turnout in the U.S. elections reached 95 percent, the highest Muslim turnout in U.S. history.

American Muslims' vote for Obama reflects a repudiation of President Bush and his administration's relentless stereotyping of Muslims as extremists and terrorists. Obama's talk of inclusiveness and multi-culturalism, while not specifically naming American Mulsims, has already fulfilled one central wish of the community - to feel included in the political and cultural life of the country (whether the President-elect can fix healthcare or the economy, other pressing issues facing the American Muslim community, we eagerly wait and see, along with the rest of America).

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November 4, 2008 4:56 PM

Islamists' Rise Could Benefit Women's Rights

Middle Eastern observers often assume that the deterioration of women's rights in the region is directly linked to the political rise and popularity of Islamist parties in countries across the region.

But this guest author argues otherwise. Dr. Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the Council's Women and Foreign Policy program, argues that the movement of these groups into mainstream politics is actually changing Islamist attitudes toward women.


At first glance, the continued strength of Islamist movements across the Middle East does not seem to bode well for women's rights in the region. Islamists' conservative, traditionalist values and narrow reading of religious texts often translate into policies that seek to limit women's public role, enshrine their legal inferiority and enforce gender segregation. Indeed, Islamists groups in various countries have taken a hard stand against reforming family laws in ways more favorable for women, resisted women's suffrage, and smeared local women's groups as puppets of an illegitimate Western agenda.

But something strange is happening on the way to the sharia court. As Islamist movements make the transition to mainstream political parties, they are increasingly recognizing the need to appeal to women as voters. They also are beginning to understand that their views on women are being closely watched by the broader society. To gain power through the ballot box, Islamist parties have to convince secular skeptics, both male and female, that they are ready to govern and have sensible policies to offer. Islamist policies that smack of creeping "Talibanization," or simply conflict with the reality of modern women's lives, alienate moderates.

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October 20, 2008 3:37 PM

Today's Boo Radley: Muslim Americans

American Muslims have had a rough time during this election campaign. The suggestion that Barack Obama is a Muslim has formed part of a concerted smear campaign, as if being a Muslim was an insult to what it means to be an American. Here American Muslim playwright and author Wajahat Ali argues that we are witnessing the emergence of an engaged, diverse and progressive Muslim voting community - one that candidates will spurn at their peril.

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October 10, 2008 2:12 PM

China's Ramadan Restrictions

Click here to read this post in Arabic.

We're used to seeing the two major preoccupations of U.S. foreign policy - China and the Islamic world - in relation to ourselves, but this Ramadan offered a stark reminder of how they interact with each other.

Ramadan is the Islamic holy month of fasting and prayer, during which Muslims are meant to reach out to the poorer members of their community.

However, Chinese authorities did their best to clamp down on Ramadan celebrations among several of its Muslim minority ethnic groups, particularly the Uighurs, a group of Turkic descent whose members make up the majority of the population of China's northwestern Xinjiang province.

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September 26, 2008 3:44 PM

Islamist Stirrings in the 'Stans

The Muslim republics of Central Asia may be far from the currents of mainstream Islam and the Islamist revival, but as James Pickett argues here, fundamentalist doctrines have found their way to the high peaks and plateaus of the region some affectionately refer to as The 'Stans. Pickett, a contributor at the excellent neweurasia.net website, explains how the region's traditional brand of Sufi and Buddhist-influenced Islam, already railroaded once by the Soviets, is now facing a new and more pervasive challenge...

The plot of David Ignatius's Cold War thriller Siro revolves around a group of CIA agents determined to overthrow the Soviet Union by striking at a vital weak spot: masses of restless Central Asian Muslims just waiting for the opportunity to throw off their atheist oppressors. In reality, the Soviet assault on religion in Central Asia was to a great extent successful: they eliminated the region's entire Islamic judicial and theological infrastructure, which dated back centuries and played a central role in governing daily life.

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.