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Revisiting “Yes, I Am Afraid”

Earlier this month Tanenbaum’s CEO Joyce Dubensky penned an Op-Ed in the Huffington Post titled Yes, I Am Afraid. The article expressed a sentiment that evoked responses from many readers and we wanted to share some of their comments with you.

A look at history – compassion combats hate:

“These are frightening and dangerous times. ISIS and others are spreading terror in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, and here in the U.S. Some are claiming to “fight” this by proposing actions as un-American, dangerous, as these terrorists…playing right into their hands.

Cheering crowds at speeches calling for the banning of all Muslims from the U.S. remind many, including Germans, of what happened with the Nazis in the pre-World War II period. This also bears a striking resemblance to the McCarthy era. While it is natural for people to group together with others of the same background, especially in times such as these, it is not the right answer.

The big question is what will happen as we go forward…will more people be infected with hate? Will the bad side win? I think not, history shows us not.

The compassion of all major religions (do unto others as you would have them do to you)—The American way of life which has served as a beacon of hope to the whole world for more than 250 years: Life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness— always have ultimately won. Let’s overcome our fears, stay true to the right human principles, and we will win again.”

– American journalist

The goal of fear is power:

“Fear is most dangerous environment for human beings – nothing does so [much to] dehumanize people as fear. In our war in Bosnia I discovered the evil of fear when I was facing dehumanized soldiers— they were product of fear.

One German theologian Drewermann finds that opposite to faith is not unfaith, but fear.  [The] Bible is full  of warnings and encouragements: Don’t be afraid.

Terrorism is spreading of fear (fear = terror) with goal to have power on people. Many politicians and religious leaders spread out fear convincing people that they are endangered so expecting to have power on them. All humans who put people in ambient of fear are criminals, terrorists.

Our Peacemaker mission is to unmask production of fear as it is in a manner of peace witness. We Peacemakers are an alternative to fear– while we don’t allow fear to settle down in us, encouraging people not to be victims of fear.

Religions are very opportune tool for spreading fear – religions as ambient of God’s presence are most positive strength in the world, but misuse of religions is most dangerous evil in the world.

There is no Islamic terrorism, but there is misuse of Islam in politics and war. What is happening now inIslam we Christians had more times in history, and also other religions. We have to learn something from the history.”

Friar Ivo Markovic

Reflections on disproportionate fear:

“I think it is important to not “be afraid” and realize there is a difference between not wanting something to occur and being afraid of that occurring. Fear, except in the acute instances of immediate danger, is a most unwelcome emotion.  Most scientists have shown how bad it can be for our chronic health, and how it can lead to horribly bad decisions as your brain becomes hijacked by its reptilian origins.

More importantly, people need to understand that there are other more effective ways of expressing a negative want. If you don’t want something to occur, like a terrorist attack, there are reasonable things that can be done to prevent them. But people have to also understand that all attempts insure ourselves against such danger have costs. The cost of living in perpetual fear is a society where trust has eroded and everyone looks over their shoulders. Even if we prevent such horrible things such as terrorist attacks, we still have to live in such a trustless society. That doesn’t seem like a win-win. In fact, it is clearly a lose-lose.

To put this in perspective, let’s look at two other kinds of risk that somehow people are OK with — driving cars and the huge amount of guns prevalent in America. We all know that about 30,000 people will die in car accidents and another several hundred thousand will be seriously injured. We can immediately put in place a policy that would reduce this tremendously, by reducing driving speeds to 25 mph everywhere, for example. Similarly, we can put an end to the majority of gun violence tomorrow if we just agree to confiscate all civilian owned guns. Both are unacceptable to our society because we’ve collectively decided that fear isn’t worth it — that bad outcomes is a reasonable price to pay for our freedom.

What is shocking about the response to Islamic extremism and terror is that people haven’t come to similar conclusions. That is, that some acts of terror (and other crimes) will always be possible in an open trusting society, and that is a reasonable price to pay for having an open trusting society. People have decided to respond to this negative want with fear, and when fear enters the equation, the only response is the reptilian brain’s response, which is to do anything and everything to avoid and prevent what we’re afraid of.”

Tanenbaum supporter

Claiming the mantle of faith:

“I am a Christian and my color matters not. If a person claims to be a Christian but belongs to any hate group like the KKK or any other group hating certain peoples than they are not Christians based on God’s written word. Don’t be afraid of those hate groups because that is how they grow. When we give in to fear we than start looking at groups of people we might want to join to protect ourselves but in turn we become one of the groups we fear.”

– Paolo Vescovi

Confronting Religious Violence

Union Theological Seminary
October 2-3, 2015

3,000 female captives held by ISIS. American Journalist Eliza Griswold told the story of one of these women, relating how, with the intervention of her father, she managed to survive and became one of the lucky few who escaped her captors.

Griswold offered poignant narratives obtained from members of the Iraqi minority communities living under ISIS during her remarks that marked the first day of the conference on Confronting Religious Violence hosted by the Union Theological Seminary early in October. Injecting a personal and human element into her remarks, Griswold spoke of a father she had interviewed who was forced to pose as a member of ISIS to purchase his daughter in order to get her back from the ISIS traffickers who had kidnapped her. Although there was a happy ending for this family, the tragic realization that so many others will not have such good fortune is heart wrenching.

Griswold spoke eloquently of the fine line she must always walk as a journalist and the need to avoid any appearance of being an activist. Although most people would agree that the powerful stories of the people who live amidst this terror are essential to the discussion of religious violence, they give rise to the question of “what do we actually mean by ‘religious violence?’”

Rev. Serene Jones, President of the Union Theological Seminary, started the conversation with the concepts of “Informed piety” and “compassionate wisdom,” tenets of the Seminary, along with “intellectual responsibility and a seriousness of focus” that must pick up where “religious violence” has become a trite reference when framing the complex nature of the conflicts we face today. We must understand current global conflicts contextually and not simplify their complex births with crude and ironically loaded terminology that has become ‘obsolete,’ ‘irrelevant’ and ‘ambivalent.’ In an effort to do just that, the conference sought to bridge the divide between the scholarly, religious and policy-making worlds. The historical, theological, political and legal discourse regarding the causes as well as the interpretation of and response to current trends of religious violence were explored. Speakers spanning a broad range of disciplines highlighted the shortcomings of the current mainstream understanding of “religious conflict” and specifically addressed the fallout from the war in Iraq and the current crisis in Syria. The conversation, although occasionally heated, found a consensus when the term “religious violence” came under review. However, while all agreed that religion does indeed matter, their thinking diverged on how it matters.

Father Patrick Ryan S.J., the McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University stated, “We people of faith have seldom looked inter-subjectively at war.” Father Ryan’s examination of the “fatal subjectivities” of the Abrahamic faiths, both in antiquity and modernity, was a powerful moment of reflection during the conference, which revealed how deeply religion does indeed matter.

In contrast, scholar Dr. Hossein Kamalay of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department at Barnard College sought to highlight the deficiencies in using the history of Islam and its theological underpinnings to understand today’s religious violence. Paraphrasing his argument, he suggested that violence could not be solely understood in terms of religion and belief but that it must be understood within the context of the economics, politics and the ever importance of power relations in a particular situation. Moreover, what we choose to study from the past greatly matters and it is in what we do not examine in history that may hold a key to understanding our present circumstances, i.e., what could have been done to create a situation of peaceful coexistence. It matters what people believe but let us not just speak of belief.

Dr. Scott Tenner presented a unique legal and historical perspective of the current crises in the Middle East. After his presentation, one was left to ask why longstanding international legal bodies have been underutilized and rendered futile during this extensive crisis. Continuing the legal discussion, Dr. Najam Haider of Barnard College spoke of the evolution of Islamic law from antiquity to the present. In contrast to what most people believe, it should be noted that Islamic law is inherently flexible and was therefore never codified.

Solutions remain elusive, but understanding the nature of conflicts will allow policymakers, academics and activists to respond in an appropriate, opportune and effective manner, which is what all those who work in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding seek to accomplish!

Maysoon Zayid & The First Ever Muslim Stand-Up Comedy Festival

Maysoon Zayid

Pictured: Maysoon Zayid; Photo Credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Too often, when people hear the word “Muslim” they have one-dimensional images pop into their mind. Women wearing all black and covered, so only their faces – or just their eyes – can be seen. Bearded men carrying weapons. Terrorism.

Such associations stereotype 1.6 billion people. And fabulous comedians will make that point. Take a look and even go and laugh with them at America’s first ever Muslim stand-up comedy festival, The Muslim Funny Fest. From July 21 to July 23 in New York, the not-for-profit festival features top Muslim American comedians from the United States, Canada and Dubai.

Co-organizers of the festival, Dean Obeidallahand and Maysoon Zayid, are mainstays in the comedy circuit. “We’re not censoring any of the comics,” Ms. Zayid said to The New York Times. “They can talk about whatever they want. We’re not telling anyone, ‘Oh, this is a Muslim comedy festival, so you can’t talk about the fact that you love bacon sandwiches.’ ”  Zayid can also boast having the most viewed TED Talks session of last year, in which she found humor in growing up in New Jersey as a Palestinian American with cerebral palsy.

In addition to stand-up, Zayid tries to battle discrimination with humor via Twitter. In one tweet she jokes, “A lot folks don’t realize you can be Muslim and American. They’re all, “Go back to your own country!” and I’m like, “You mean NJ?”

But there is a serious issue that underlies the festival. “We didn’t start doing the ethnic comedy and Muslim comedy until we felt our community was under siege and that we could no longer just step onstage and be treated as an equal,” Ms. Zayid said in a phone interview with the New York Times.

Whether Muslim or not, we all love to laugh. Humor is a universal joy that binds us all and one we all can support

For details about the festival visit http://muslimfunnyfest.com

Ramadan Karim! Resources for Teachers

Ramadan Karim!

Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria by Kipp Jones

Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria by Kipp Jones

This year, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins the evening of June 17. During Ramadan observing Muslims pray for forgiveness and guidance and seek to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. Many abstain from eating and drinking during the daylight hours, ending each daily fast at sunset with a large meal, known as the Iftar. The month concludes with Eid-al-Fitr, a three-day celebration with family and friends. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recommends a few simple accommodations for students observing Ramadan:

  • Schedule exams and other major events around Eid Holidays.
  • Do not mark students with an unexcused absence for the Eid holidays.
  • Allow students to study in the library or elsewhere during lunch.

This Ramadan, you can promote knowledge about Islam and create a safe, inclusive environment for your Muslim students. Tanenbaum is here to help! Click below for…

For those of you in the final stretch of the school year, congratulations and have a restful summer!

 

The Tanenbaum Education Team

What the spring equinox means to Rufai Sufis

For people all over the world, the spring equinox is symbolic of renewal, rejuvenation and revitalization. For a group of Sufis in Kosovo, it is the mark of something much more. It is at this time that members of the Rufai branch of Sufism – Islamic mysticism – hold an annual ritual ceremony wherein they celebrate the birth of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and a revered figure in Islam. The ceremony also commemorates the celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz. The uniqueness of this ceremony is exemplified by music, chanting and dancing, fused with the clashing of cymbals and incantations of prayers in the languages of Arabic, Turkish and Albanian.

Photo Credit: Faisal Anwar

Photo Credit: Faisal Anwar

As men chant and sway in conjunction with one another, Sheikh Adrihusein Shehu, who presides over the practice today in Kosovo, removes an iron needle known as a zarf from the mihrab – the enclosed prayer space – behind him, blesses it with his lips, and inserts it slowly into the cheek of those taking partaking in the ritual.

The practice is said to be painless. Shehu’s eldest son, Sejjid Xhemal, expresses that “it is a good feeling, I feel spiritually stronger.” He also emphasized that those partaking are neither intoxicated nor in a trance, but that they are conscious of their practice.

During a tradition Nowruz ritual, a member of the Sufi sect pierces himself with a zarf - an iron skewer. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

During a tradition Nowruz ritual, a member of the Sufi sect pierces himself with a zarf – an iron skewer. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

The practice is rooted in an ancient tradition founded by a spiritual leader Pir Sejjid Amhed Er Rufai, whose practice is upheld until this day. “Our founder Pir Sejjid Ahmed Er Rufai made a miracle in his time to show others that God exists, and now we do this for tradition,” Xhemal said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Friar Ivo, a celebrated Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action and Catholic Franciscan interfaith worker in Bosnia, praised Sufism by stating that Sufi spirituality and practice is “very dedicated to peace and cooperation,” and that practitioners “are open to other religious experiences.” Friar Ivo expressed that despite Sufism having different branches, as a whole it should be should be celebrated.

In Kosovo, a relatively young country still recovering from political turmoil, Sheikh Shehu preaches a profound message of peace, tolerance and understanding, calling on his followers to look past incidental differences and to look towards transcendental commonalities.

“We all have faith, but in form we are different … one goes to church, one to synagogue, one to the mosque. But we are all going because of belief in God. We must turn toward love, who gives you the right to hate?” said Shehu in the interview with Al Jazeera.

Prior to the start of the Nowruz ritual. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

Prior to the start of the Nowruz ritual. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

In a world where we too often find the prevalence of darkness and hate, Shehu and his followers offer a radical and compelling message:
One of illumination and love.