Ever since the ushering of the Enlightenment in the early 18th century, religious dogma has increasingly been questioned. In the contemporary era scientists offer clear and logical explanations for the evolution of life, the formation of the solar system, etc. In the face of such indisputable scientific evidence, it is no longer possible to accommodate religious dogma. Religious fundamentalism or the literal interpretation of scriptures offered a degree of solace to primitive people when their lives and livelihoods were under constant threat from natural disasters, epidemic diseases and barbaric warfare. But as civilization has progressed, modern societies are reasonably well-equipped in regulating nature and offering protection from its extremes. Therefore, there is no longer any necessity to hold on to blind faith as a source of consolation in a brutish world. If I was invited to a public debate on the conflict between religious fundamentalism and the methods of . . . Read More
The Divine Comedy is a classic Christian theological text that uses strong poetic imagination and allegorical allusion. Though originally written in Italian between 1308 and 1321 AD, the book is widely translated and its themes are drawn upon by generations of writers since. Written in first person narrative, the comedy is about the imaginative events and experiences of Dante as he traverses through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso (Hell, Purgatory and Heaven) in his afterlife. The people and conditions he encounters in these places pose moral dilemmas and questions to Dante. By successfully resolving such challenges, Dante (and by extension anyone with faith in Christ) steadily attains spiritual salvation.
The first part Inferno begins on the eve of Good Friday in the year 1300. The world of the Inferno is dangerous and dark. Dante is lost in a thick forest (a symbol for sin) and he is haunted by wild carnivorous beasts such as lions and wolfs. . . . Read More
Khayr Al-Din Pasha is a pivotal reformist figure in Tunisian political history. Indeed, he is such a polymath that he contributed reformist ideas in the areas of Tunisian military, socio-politics and beyond. At a time when Tunisia was suffering the excesses of Ottoman imperialism, Khayr Al-Din galvanized the spirit of the whole nation through his reform agenda. Khayr Al-Din was a truly enlightened thinker and he aspired for the most ideal Tunisian society and polity. He viewed the established conception and orthodox methods of governance as the major hindrances to real progress.
Khayr Al-Din understood the importance of the principles outlined in Aqwam al-Masalik. The work outlined how to bring about the co-operation between statesmen and theologicians and how to make them work toward a common reform agenda. Not only did Khayr Al-Din devise ingenious ways of achieving this cooperative atmosphere, but he also worked toward creating a fresh and forward-looking . . . Read More
In the brilliantly articulate essay titled ‘Muslim Politics’ by Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori, we understand that the term ‘Muslim Politics’ is a broad and sweeping conceptualization. By virtue of it being so broad in its scope, it has ended up losing a compact and technical usage. To this extent it is not to be treated as a term in sociological or political science discourse. Nevertheless, by stating its various manifestations in diverse contexts, the authors do make clear the centrality of ‘Muslim politics’ to the followers of the religion. One of the prominent expressions of Muslim politics in recent decades is the permissibility of ‘hijab’ and ‘niqab’ (a set of conservative dress codes for Muslim women) in public spaces. While this dress code is mandated in some of the orthodox Islamic nations in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is a point of debate in the context of secular and democratic settings. The recent flare up of the issue in France . . . Read More
When we look at geo-political and social conflicts across the world today we can see how religion is a factor in most of the conflicts. In this backdrop, it is fair to claim that the world would be a more peaceful place to inhabit if more people practice religious toleration. What is true today has been a fact for centuries past. A cursory look at world history shows how religious intolerance has played a major role in several calamitous military conflicts of the past. Just as there are these negative examples, there were also leaders who took a contrarian and compassionate position of practicing religious tolerance. The late medieval and early modern period, spanning from the beginning of the 15th century to the middle of 18th century was an era that is witness to both the tendencies. This essay will showcase how religious tolerance was the dominant stance in this bygone era, where leaders in the fields of philosophy, politics, science and religion . . . Read More
The Holocaust is without doubt the greatest human tragedy of the twentieth century. The literature surrounding Holocaust speak of the profound alienation of personality and loss of divine faith experienced by those affected. Those who survived to record these experiences are both lucky and unlucky. They are unlucky in that they had to continue to live the rest of their lives with tormenting memories and unanswered questions about human nature and God. Elie Wiesel is one such survivor, whose post-liberation life would be filled with mental anguish. In his seminal book Night, first published in Yiddish in 1955 and later appeared in English in 1960 we evidence how his faith in God as well as faith in humanity is challenged by the grave circumstances faced in German ethnic cleansing operations. The following passages will analyze how Wiesel’s faith in God and humanity is shaken to the core in the face of compelling circumstances and consequences.
In a poignant passage . . . Read More
The two films in discussion – ‘Persepolis’ and ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and …Spring’ are very dissimilar in terms of techniques employed, but share common themes. Persepolis tells the story of Marjane from her childhood through adulthood in the backdrop of hostile political atmosphere in Iran. It is one of a kind movie, for it is rare that politico-historical subjects are treated in an animation format. This cinematic experiment has worked out well, as symbolism and abstract depictions are well suited to socio-political drama. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and…Spring is a masterpiece in its own right. This film treats such difficult subjects as nature v nurture, religion, meaning of life, human tendencies for sin, methods for salvation, etc. Broad and yet profound in its interpretative scope, the director conveys his musings mainly through visuals set amongst brilliant natural scenery. Dialogues playing second fiddle as a narrative device but . . . Read More
Members of the Christian sect Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusion. This restriction is mandated by the religious doctrine and has been in existence since 1945. The rationale is that life is God given and that human agency shouldn’t intervene in its termination. Hence, in all medical situations, including emergencies, the faithful are prohibited from taking or giving blood and blood products. This can create dilemma for doctors and nurses attending to a patient, especially in the emergency room. Should medical professionals heed to the Hippocratic Oath and do their best to save a life? Or, should they respect patients’ religious beliefs and compromise on quality of healthcare?
Since there is no straightforward answer to these questions, healthcare professionals will have to tread the balance between medical ethic and cultural sensitivity. Such discretion is all the more necessary in a country like the United States, where there is such diversity . . . Read More
Our nation is quite advanced in terms of religious freedoms it affords its citizens. Often billed as the melting pot of religions and cultures, the nation exhibits a truly cosmopolitan ethos. Yet, religious tolerance, prejudice and discrimination do crop up in public affairs. Christianity being the religion followed by a majority of the population, there is a perceived negative bias toward minority religions and their adherents. Jews were historically much ostracized and distrusted in American society, although their acceptance and assimilation into mainstream society has increased over the years. (Gaustad, 2004, p.15) Since 9/11 terror attacks on American soil, Islam and its followers have been unfairly targeted on grounds of security for all. Hence, a glance at the history of religious freedom in the United States suggests both successes and failures.
In this context, in order for our country to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, greater . . . Read More
The first text in question is Milestones by Sayyid Qutb. One of the pioneers of the idea of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, his martyrdom for his cause has enhanced his standing in contemporary Islamic revivalist movements. Qutb is a passion advocate of his beliefs about nationality in the Islamic context. He begins his essay emphatically by stating
“The day Islam gave a new concept of values and standards to mankind and showed the way to learn these values and standards, it also provided it with a new concept of human relationships. Islam came to return man to his Sustainer and to make is guidance the only source from which values and standards are to be obtained, as He is the Provider and Originator. All relationships ought to be based through Him, as we came into being through His will and shall return to Him…Islam came to establish only one relationship which binds men together in the sight of God, and if this relationship is firmly established, . . . Read More