Martin Scorsese film recalls martyrdom of Japan’s hidden Christians

3 days ago

Ban on Christianity in early 1600 s, the focus of movie called Silence, forced converts to practise in secret, leading to a localised sort of the religion still practised by a few dozen people today

At low tide, Shigetsugu Kawakami can just about make out the prohibited stone from his home overlooking the beach in Neshiko, a tiny village on Hirado island in southern Japan.

According to verbal testimony, at least 70 villagers were taken there and beheaded in the early 17 th century. Their crime had been to convert to Christianity. When we were children, the adults told us that if we climbed on to the rock the village would be cursed, said Kawakami.

Today, ascension rock is a permanent reminder of the atrocities of almost four centuries ago. But the martyrdom of Japans concealed Christians is in danger of being forgotten.

Tens of thousands of Japanese Christians were executed, tortured and persecuted after the Tokugawa shogunate banned the religion in the early 1600 s. With a wary eye on Spanish rule in the Philippines, the authorities dreaded Japan could be the next country targeted by European powers that used Christian teaches as a catalyst for colonial rule.

The ban left Japans 750,000 converts with a selection: renounce their religion or continue to practise their religion in secret, in the knowledge that discovery would almost certainly mean death.

Discussion of Japans Christian heritage has largely been absent from public life since the mid-1 960 s, when Shusaku Endo explored the martyrdom of early converts in his critically acclaimed novel Silence.

Now, Martin Scorsese hopes to ensure their narrative will not be forgotten with a cinema based on Endos novel that is due for release next year.

Starring Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield, the cinema also called Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who are sent to Japan in the early 1600 s to investigate reports that their mentor has committed apostasy. They arrive to find Japanese converts in the midst of a brutal crackdown by the Tokugawa shogunate.

While no official records are kept of the number of modern-day kakure kirishitan ( hidden Christians ), local experts say perhaps merely a few dozen people still consider themselves believers.

Once its saviour, clandestine adore has contributed to a sharp decline in the number of believers. Blended with dwindling, ageing populations on the islands where it once prospered, disciples fear their crypto-Christian tradition is at risk of dying out.

Kawakami, 64, is one of the few concealed Christians who is happy to talk publicly about his faith. We dont practise our faith in public because we are effectively still in hiding, he said. We usually remain quiet and never out ourselves as Christians by appearing on Tv or giving interviews. We dont hold special ceremonies or pray in public. In fact, we dont do anything that would risk dedicating ourselves away.

Remote southern islands such as Hirado demonstrated fertile ground for Catholicism after St Francis Xavier and other missionaries introduced it to Japan in 1549. After a nationwide prohibit was enforced in the early 1600 s, converts devised ingenious ways to keep their religion alive.

They gathered in private homes to conduct religion ceremonies, and figurines of the Virgin mary were altered to resemble the Buddha or Japanese dolls. To the uneducated ear, their prayers voiced like Buddhist sutras, even though they contained a mix of Latin, Portuguese and obscure Japanese dialects. Scripture was passed on orally, since keeping bibles was considered too great a risk. None wore traverses or other religion accoutrements.

The need for secrecy during the course of its 250 years that Christianity was banned meant the version of the religion observed by Kawakamis ancestors little resemblance to its mainstream Catholic origins. Instead, early Japanese Christians incorporated elements of Buddhism and Shinto into their faith until it became a polytheistic creed of its own.

In many styles it was a very Japanese version of Christianity, said Shigeo Nakazono, curator of the Shima no Yakata museum on Ikitsuki, an island near Hirado.

But even this localised sort of Christianity met with fierce opposition from the Shogunate authorities, who devised a singularly cruel exam of loyalty to uncover converts. Suspects were ordered to prove they were not Christians by trampling on fumie images of Christ or the Virgin Mary engraved from stone or wood or face being hanged upside down over a cavity and slowly bled to death.

When the Meiji government lifted the prohibition in 1873, an estimated 30,000 secret Christians came out of hide. Now, Christians of all denominations make up less than 1% of Japans population of 128 million.

Japan was coming under the influence of European industry and technology, and that meant that old objections to Christianity weakened, Nakazono said.

Nakazono wondered whether Scorseses film would bide true to Endos novel, which some have criticised for being preoccupied with martyrdom. If all hidden Christians had been martyrs, there would have been none left, he said. But there were enough people willing to stamp on the fumie , denounce Christianity and then pray God for forgiveness.

At Neshiko beach, ascension stone physical proof that there were those who refused to abandon their faith is half submerged by the incoming tide. Even today, centuries after the last executing, locals remove their shoes before defining foot on the beachs fine white sand as a sign of respect.

Like the rites of the kakure kirishitan , the memories of the executed converts have been preserved by word of mouth a tradition that devotes Kawakami hope that their courage, and faiths, will not be forgotten.

We feel we have a duty to pass it on to future generations, he said. This is something our ancestors risked their lives to tell us.

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Atheists who bring logic to the Easter story are missing the point | Julian Baggini

11 days ago

Having faith is a complex business. To assume that religious people are either crazy or stupid is lazy, says philosopher Julian Baggini

Many years ago, I had to recount the life of Jesus to a young Taiwanese student who knew nothing about Christianity. As I told him about the virgin birth, the miracles, crucifixion and resurrection, he responded with incredulous laughter.

Most nonbelievers in traditionally Christian cultures would prove a bit more respect. But inside, our reaction is often pretty much the same: how can people actually believe this stuff? Rising from the grave isn’t even the most preposterous part of the Easter tale. Far more bizarre is the claim that God had to send his son to die for our sins. And if God genuinely wanted the whole of humanity to heed his message, why did the resurrected Christ merely reveals himself to a few select people before ascending to heaven?

Vociferous atheists don’t shy away from revealing their mock bemusement at all this. Those of us who induce decided efforts to understand and debate with religious believers might be too polite to acknowledge it, but we often feel just as baffled.

The laziest route to try to cross this credulity gap is to shrug our shoulders and accept that people are often crazy, stupid or both. Yes, there are plenty of people celebrating the resurrection who are sane, intelligent and well-educated, but the objective is statistical anomalies in a world where higher levels of education are strongly correlated with a lack of religious belief.

Smart people can have blind spots, but this quick and easy justification does not do justice to the complexities of religious belief. If we genuinely accept that a disciple in the resurrection can be intelligent, but also think that any intelligent person would find the idea of the resurrection preposterous, the most charitable explain is that intelligent believers are as well informed the implausibility of their beliefs as anyone else. This is indeed what you tend to find if you bother to talk to a Christian. They don’t use the word “miracle” for nothing- they know their religion eludes laws of logic and nature.

Some believe the unbelievable because they have had religious experiences so strong that they are literally unable to doubt their veracity of. It’s hard for those of us who haven’t had such an experience to appreciate how powerful it is feasible to. But once you accept the existence of a divine inventor who has a personal relationship with you, almost anything else is possible. It is not crazy but logical to conclude that what such a God says or does will sometimes be beyond our comprehension. It follows that there is nothing irrational in accepting a narrative that we are unable to make sense of rationally.

What atheists often forget is that many- perhaps most- religion believers are less than completely convinced anyway. Many of them are fully aware of the dissonance between what their faith and their rational intellect tell them. Religion offers many tools to help manage this. It tells people that faith is superior to belief based on evidence.” Because thou hast find me, thou hast believed ,” Jesus told” doubting Thomas”, adding:” Blessed are they that have not insured, and yet have believed .” Religion also tells believers that doubt is to be expected, even welcomed, as part of the journey of faith, all the time reassuring them that God is beyond our understanding. The Easter story thus aims up instead like quantum theory: if you find it easy to believe, you haven’t is understandable. Illogicality is a design feature , not a design flaw.

Anyone astonished that people manage to sustain this dissonance all their lives hasn’t been paying enough attention to what psychology has taught us about our capacities to assert contradictions. What we call our “selves” are far less unified and coherent than common sense suggests. When we say ” a part of me” believes one thing and another part something else, we are being more literal than we suppose. Rejecting disciples as simply deluded could therefore itself has become a way for us atheists to deal with our own dissonance between the belief that Easter is palpable nonsense, and the awareness that apparently intelligent people believe in it. If we really do find implausible beliefs offensive, we ought at the least to have more plausible explanations for why others have them.

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Inside the sprawling, controversial $500 m Museum of the Bible

17 days ago

The museum conceived by the billionaire chairman of Hobby Lobby and set to open next month has attracted scepticism over its ideological mission

It is a museum of biblical proportions- and it is stirring disputes to match.

Opening next month in Washington, the Museum of the Bible expense half a billion dollars to build, spans 430,000 sq ft over eight floors and claims to be the most hi-tech museum in the world. Reading every poster, considering every artifact and experiencing every activity would take an estimated 72 hours.

But while it is not the monument to creationism that some liberals feared, the sprawling museum has attracted scepticism over both its ideological mission and the provenance of its collection. It is the brainchild of evangelical Christian Steve Green, the billionaire chairwoman of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain that won a supreme court case allowing companies with religion objections to opt out of contraceptive coverage under Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

Green, who since 2009 has amassed a vast collection of biblical texts and artifacts, is making a big statement with the museum’s place: two blocks south of the National Mall, home to the US Capitol and Smithsonian Institution museums- including the National Museum of Natural history, which has exhibits on dinosaurs and human evolution– and could hardly be closer to the centre of power.

The US Capitol is seen from the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC on Wednesday. Photograph: Zach Gibson for the Guardian

Gaining a sneak preview the coming week amid workers in hard hats, the Guardian passed through giant bronze “Gutenberg Gates” that framed the entrance withhand-carved letters spelling out a Latin quote from Genesis( the gates even have their own Twitter account ). Inside the main atrium there is the obligatory gift shop, where cuddly animals are already on the shelves- presumably a reference to Noah’s Ark- and a “children’s experience” room where young Samsons can push column and stimulate them collapse.

Visitors- admission is free, though a donation of $15 is suggested- will each be given a digital guide on which new information is triggered each time they approach a gallery or artifact. High above them in the bright, airy atrium of what used to be a refrigerating warehouse and design centre is a 140 ft” digital ceiling” proving biblical images, including church frescos.

Upstairs, there is a floor devoted to the historical and cultural impact of the Bible, including on America, bound to be closely scrutinised for any hints of political bias. Among the Europeans who sailed across the Atlantic, a display panel says, were” many English dissenters trying religion freedom. Each group brought its own version of the Bible, and some professed intentions to convert Native Americans to Christian beliefs “.

The main lobby of the Museum of The Bible. Photo: Zach Gibson for the Guardian

There is a scale remake of the Liberty Bell , which is inscribed with scripture, and an account that many settlers seeking independence from Britain described inspiration from the Bible, especially Moses,” who led his people out of bondage to a land of autonomy “.

With independence and the presidency of George Washington, the tradition of swearing the oath of office on a Bible began. A surge of evangelical arrivals in the late 18 th century helped renew devotion to the Bible and ignite a campaign to abolish bondage, the narrative continues.” Southern slaveholders, however- some of them also involved in the revivals- interpreted the Bible as affirming slavery .” Each side in the civil war” espoused the Bible to justify its cause “.

Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are quoted and Charles Darwin gets a mention.” In 1925, John Scopes, a high school teacher in Tennessee, was charged with infringing a country statute that proscribed teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution ,” an exhibit countries, in a reference to the infamous” Monkey Trial“, which, it tells,” placed the Bible in the center of an intensive national debate between traditional and more progressive interpretings of the Bible and modern science “.

More unexpectedly, a display on the Bible’s influence around the world makes claims for links between science and the Bible and contains statues of Galileo Galilei, whose assert that the earth revolved around the sunlight was challenged by the church, Isaac Newton, a dedicated student of the Bible , and George Washington Carver, who rose from slavery to become a scientist, botanist and discoverer and considered the Bible as a guide to the natural world.

Likely to raise eyebrows, an info panel countries:” Are the Bible and science mutually exclusive? There is broad agreement today among historians that modern science owes a great deal to the biblical worldview. The notion that the natural world is orderly springs from the Bible. As the biochemist and Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin said, the conviction that’ the universe is governed by a single God … seems to be the historical foundation for modern science ‘.”

A full-size jail cell allows visitors to reflect on the biblical roots of the western notion of justice. A heap of blackened and charred Bibles illustrates how the book has been burned, for example in China’s Cultural Revolution . Various multimedia displays depict the influence of the Bible on manner, movies, literature and the visual arts. A room with a giant wraparound screen called ” Bible Now” promises” a spectacular live-feed of global data “.

Upstairs, the floorspace is divided roughly proportionately between Old and New Testament. Merely the latter was available to view the coming week, and most striking was ” The World of Jesus of Nazareth”- an unapologetically Disney-style walk-through recreation of Nazareth two millennia ago, complete with stone walls, trees( each foliage made by hand ), dwellings with period cuisine on dining tables, heaps of grapes and baskets full of olives and even a temple. Three actors in period dres will interact with visitors.

Text from an architectural recreation of the publish bed of the first page of Genesis from the Gutenberg Bible, near the entrance to the Museum of the Bible. Photograph: Zach Gibson for the Guardian

The” History of the Bible” title is styled in an Indiana Jones typeface and is expected to house wide-ranging objects including Torah scrolls and 14 th-century illuminated manuscripts- but not the Qur’an or Book of Mormon. The museum has a long-term alliance with the Israel Antiquities Authority .

This week’s preview tour also included a ballroom and 472 -seat theatre( about to host the musical Amazing Grace ), two eateries named Manna and Milk and Honey, a glass-enclosed top floor with the opinions of the Mall and a rooftop garden to be given to biblical plants. Another attraction will be the amusement park-style” Washington Revelations” ride, which purportedly tricks a person’s mind into thinking they are flying over sites bearing scripture such as the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and supreme court.

But preparations have been far away from smooth. In July this year, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a$ 3m fine and forfeit thousands of smuggled ancient Iraqi artifacts that the US government alleged were intentionally mislabeled. The artifacts- including up to 300 small clay tablets, bearing inscriptions in the cuneiform script- were reportedly destined for the museum. Green admitted that Hobby Lobby” should have exerted more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled “.

An exhibit at the Museum of the Bible. Photo: Zach Gibson for the Guardian
Organisers contend that the museum is non-partisan , non-sectarian and educational rather than evangelical, appealing to people of all faiths or no religion.
Cary Summers ,~ ATAGEND its president, told:” We want this museum to be enriching and engaging to all people. To that aim, we have tapped many of the world’s resulting intellectuals with expertise across many topics and faith traditions, including those with Jewish, Protestant and Catholic proficiency and perspectives, to help us craft the storylines and narrative themes of this museum .”

But that is not how it began. According to media reports, its first nonprofit filing in 2010 declared that its mission was ” to bring to life the living word of God, to tell its compelling narrative of preservation, and to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible “.

By 2013, this had been watered down to:” We exist to invite all people to engage with the Bible. We invite Biblical exploration through museum exhibits and scholarly pursuits .”

Green, the Washington Post reported , has promoted a public school curriculum based on the Bible as a factual historical text, while Summertimes consulted for the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which teaches creationism as fact, with exhibits depicting dinosaurs and humen living side by side on a 6,000 -year-old Earth.

Hobby Lobby calls itself a” biblically founded business” and is closed on Sundays. The Green family has been criticised for objecting to having to provide employees with contraceptives for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare. In 2014 it was granted an exemption to the mandatory contraceptives by the supreme court, a landmark ruling that widened religious rights to some corporations.

Jacques Berlinerblau , a prof of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University in Washington, said Green” has a view of the role of religion in public life. Maybe people should know that before stepping in. The museum has to be very clear about its objectives. I think there’s a lot of misdirection and even duplicity regarding its goals and theological premises. There is something at the core of this museum that has to enshrine what evangelical Christians do .”

Berlinerblau, author of The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously, set the museum’s place in the context of the rise of the conservative Christian motion over the past four decades; Vice-President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian , has been invited to the opening ceremony on 17 November. Nine in 10 members of Congress describe themselves as Christians, compared with seven in 10 American adults who say the same, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of congressional data compiled by CQ Roll Call.

” If you are building a $500 bn museum close to the most powerful deliberative body in the world, you have to understand the optics. This edifice could represent the coming out, again, of evangelical America. I can assure you the museum is going to become a convening platform for conservative Christian activism .”

Atheists, he added, would find the museum” laughable and deplorable “.

Nick Fish, national program director of American Atheists , an activist group that promotes the separation of religion from government, told:” With many of these religion’ museums ‘, the tendency is to dress up evangelism and creed with a veneer of academia to lend an undeserved cape of neutrality.

” I don’t want to prematurely pass judgment on the museum without having find it, but based on previous statements by the Green family, it seems clear that there will be at least some editorialising in favour of the backers’ religion views, rather than a serious look at the historic accuracy( and lack thereof) of the Bible .”

Casey Brescia, a spokesman for the Secular Coalition for America, added:” Steve Green perfectly has the right to open a Bible museum. That’s of no fear to us. What we would be worried about, as we’ve seen with the Creation Museum in Kentucky, is that he’ll try to get taxpayer money to pay for it.

” By claiming that the museum is intended to’ train’ rather than evangelise, it’s possible that Green is hoping the museum will become a field trip destination for public schools. That would be unconstitutional. Green was already fined$ 3m after he was caught illegally smuggling artifacts into the country for this museum. Hopefully, he learned his lesson .”

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Atheist Group Files Suit To Remove ‘In God We Trust’ From Currency

1 month, 28 days ago

A group of atheists seeking to drop the phrase “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency filed a federal suit this week in Akron, Ohio, arguing the expres contravenes the separation of church and state.

The group of 41 plaintiffs is led by Sacramento attorney Michael Newdow, who has previously sued the governmental forces to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, but was unsuccessful.

Because the plaintiffs regularly handle fund as a part of daily life, the suit argues, the phrase “In God We Trust” imposes upon them each time they do so.

One plaintiff “handles U.S. currency almost daily. As a Humanist, she does not believe nor trust in any g-d, ” the complaint reads, substituting “God” for “g-d.”

It continues, “Rather, her beliefs require that she trust in her own abilities and a general responsibility to lead an ethical life. In handling the money, therefore, she is repeatedly unwillingly confronted with the words ‘In G-d We Trust.’ Thus, she is forced against her will to accept and re-distribute to others a message that runs wholly against her belief. Yet it is neither realistic nor reasonable for her to abandon the nation’s currency and use other forms of pay for all of her transactions.”

Manuel Balce Ceneta/ Associated Press
Michael Newdow, an atheist lawyer from California who challenged the Pledge of Allegiance, leavesthe Supreme Court after a hearing in 2004.

Unsurprisingly, the campaign has encountered resistance from religious commentators., which is associated with the nonprofit religious organisation Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, Inc ., framed the suit as an “attempt to eviscerate our National Motto – and with it our religion heritage.”

Newdow didn’t immediately respond to a request for remark from The Huffington Post. However, in a 2015 blog on Patheos, a website focused on religion, spirituality and religion, he argued that the phrase “In God We Trust” not only infringes the First Amendment of the Constitution( “Congress shall attain no statute respecting an established in religion” ), but also infringes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which proscribes the government from burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it furthers a “compelling governmental interest.”

“There is obviously no compelling government interest in having ‘In God We Trust’ on our fund, ” Newdow wrote. “We did penalty for the 75 years before the phrase was ever used at all, and continues to do penalty for the subsequent 102 years before such inscriptions were constructed mandatory on every coin and currency bill. Similarly, the vast majority of nations manage to function without religion verbiage on their money.”

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The beauty of art can counter Islamophobia- but it won’t be easy

2 months, 23 days ago

A Qatari-funded Arab and Islamic art museum is opening in New York to challenge delusions but has the US already made up its mind?

What kind of Islamic art has the power to open American hearts and intellects, at a time when Donald Trump has relaunched his attempt to ban entry from several Muslim-majority nations?

In May, a new Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, set up by Qatars Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani, will open in downtown Manhattan. The timing is not accidental. Al-Thani is trying to humanise Islam and broaden perceptions of it in the US. He hopes the institute will not only showcase the breadth of art and culture from the Arab and Islamic worlds, but also challenge certain stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder cross-cultural appreciation, he told the Art Newspaper.

Some hope, you may say. The depth of prejudice flaunted by Trump( and apparently shared by many of his voters) is so aggressive in its refusal to engage with a complex world that it seems unlikely to be healed by a little bit of Islamic art in New York. Surely thats the wrong location, anyway the hearts and intellects that need opening are barely those of Manhattanites who voted Hillary.

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Photo: Rolf Hicker/ Getty Images/ All Canada Photos

Yet thats too pessimistic. If there is one thing that can communicate across every border and cultural gap it is art. Where terms define and definitions divide us, visual art is open, ambiguous and allows imaginations to stray in time and space. Appearing at Islamic art allows non-Muslims to feel the inner beauty of faiths and traditions we do not share, to appear with another heart/ And other heartbeats.

Islamic art beckons me with its beauty. The Alhambra in Granada is the most enrapturing place in the world, a palace of dreamings where ethereal intricacy of design, and craftsmanship of quiet genius, turn brightly lighted rooms into caves of pleasure. Crystalline ceilings and harmonious tiles glitter everywhere you looking, illuminated by windows filled with the Andalusian sky. It is truly like being on a cloud halfway between heaven and Earth.

Of course, it is not feasible to to set this medieval building in an art gallery. It is very difficult to capture the wonder of any Islamic art in a gallery. The rich, subtle weave of decorative patterns and textures that builds the Alhambra so seductive is, in fact, typical of many of the greatest Islamic artistic accomplishments. All-embracing abstract design, rather than the iconic masterpiece tradition of western art, is what devotes Islamic marvels from Isfahan to Cordoba their magic. The best advice is to go to these places. A couple of days in Marrakech would do wonders for any Islamophobe visit the gorgeous Ben Youssef madrasa and feel the warmth and gentleness of the city that surrounds it.

Paradisiacal, 2014, by Waqas Khan. Photograph: Juan Cruz Ibaez/ courtest of Sabrina Amrani Gallery

So the task of an Islamic art gallery is not so much to display masterpieces as to find a way to connect them in a living flow of colouring and pattern that gets across the multidisciplinary rapture of these places. One place that does this very well is the V& A in London, which use low lighting and aesthetically harmonious arrangements to unify ceramics, carpetings, architectural fragments and calligraphy in a serene, entrancing installation. Islamic art is emotional; it changes your relationship with space and time. To open American minds, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art needs to replicate that sublime psychological effect. It should be like wandering into the old part of an Arab city: less a museum than a medina.

Some Islamic art is more effective than others. If I was creating a dreaming collect, I would concentrate on the medieval caliphate of north Africa and Spain, where art reached the sumptuous yet reserved heights of delicate beauty that can still be savoured in Morocco and Andalusia. For instance, the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech is identical to the former minaret that is Sevilles cathedral bell tower. They were both built by the 12 th-century Almohads. The abstract glory of north African and Andalusian art can still be savoured in portable works, though. A wooden minbar or pulpit carved in the medieval Moorish style would be the most enchanting object this new gallery could show.

Art being made today shares the liberating effects of medieval Islamic creations. The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art apparently intends to show work by Mona Hatoum that dramatises global tensions. But is her run likely to change how Americans watch Islam? I would recommend it display the much more utopian, visionary art of Waqas Khan. His huge and intricate abstract drawings share the ethereal freedom of the greatest Islamic art. Here is an artist to change your mind, your soul.

Then again, America has never lacked culture curiosity. In the 19 th century, Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra and Edgar Allan Poe raved about the poisoning of arabesques. Khans work not only elicits medieval Islam but American minimalism, too for there are close affinities between the American feel for abstract art, from Jackson Pollock to Donald Judd, and the Islamic world, where art always has been largely abstract.

So we come back to the basic problem. The US already has great museums full of liberal good intentions. The problem is that Trump has appealed to the worse angels of our nature, and they have howled acclaim. How can beauty assist when voters have shown they favor the animal?

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Celebrating Eid: ‘As a conflicted Muslim, this day doesn’t gone easily’

3 months, 18 days ago

At the end of a Ramadan marred by violence, Fahima Haque reflects on how her relationship with Islam has changed from active rejection to thoughtful resilience

Growing up, whenever a classmate would wail fucking Hindu at me, I was devastated. It felt like no one could see me, that all they could see was yet another brown person. I was lumped into some incorrect category driven by ignorance. Then, September 11 happened and I realise how different it was to be the subject of active hate.

As far as insults went, Hindu was inaccurate and ignorant. But being asked if their own families were terrorists or being told to go back to where I came from cut right through me.

And so as Ramadan ends and Muslims across the world joyously celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with feasting and presents, I am grappling with the faith I was raised with.

My parents are devout, and it became clear to me as a child that straying from Islam was not an option. There was no exploratory period of what Allah meant, what other religions meant, or what not believing in a higher power could mean. It was suffocating and with every surah I memorized, I felt more stifled. Did I really want to be Muslim? Would I be more enamored with another religion? I wanted a chance to find out for myself, but doing so was out of the question.

As I get older, I had more and more reservations about Islam. Things like not being able to wear shorts when my brother could, to knowing women in a Muslim nation like Saudi Arabia still cant go anywhere without a chaperone were very hard to reconcile with my budding sense of my ego as a feminist.

So, as a adolescent, I adopted the age-old liberal trick of disavowing religion; because religion is for the ignorant and narrow-minded. I knew enough to know that the sky is blue because of scattering light and tiny molecules , not merely because Allah said so. In college, I avoided telling people I was raised Muslim. I didnt observe Ramadan, and the prayer carpeting my mother so lovingly packed for me gathered dust in the back of my closet as I eventually wore what I wanted freely for the first time.

While I can now honestly tell I never genuinely stopped believing in God, I definitely tried. I publicly called myself an atheist and smirked at those who needed religion, but secretly I never abandoned simple rites like telling a short prayer before eating or absentmindedly asking a higher power for guidance when lost.

But that all changed because of Isis. Islam requires real allies in in the face of such barbaric acts like those we have seen in Orlando or my familys home country or Turkey or Iraq or Saudi Arabia. So, within the last five years I started to double down on Islam. I am the one now initiating discussions on Islam and its role in politics, race and feminism in my social circles . I am no longer ashamed to say Yes, I am Muslim but No, I probably will never wear a niqab and yes, I too have a lot of questions myself. By having such frank discussions, I had to admit to myself that being a Muslim was ingrained for me and I could never abandon it but I did have to find a way to practice.

Like any other religion, there is a spectrum of notion for Muslims. I never had progressive Muslim role model growing up, but thats changing. People are speaking up, use their experiences to rally on behalf of the members of inclusion, that really helped me see how identifying as a Muslim was not mutually exclusive with me being an American, a liberal or feminist. People like Hasan Minhaj poignantly talking about being different in his one-man prove, London mayor Sadiq Khans delightfully frank essay on fasting, faggot Muslim photographer Samra Habib sharing the stories of other LGBT Muslims, Muslim American teens in New York City coping with identity and books like Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women are freshening and inspiring. The Muslim experience is no longer a monolith.

When youve spend the majority of members of their own lives as a confused Muslim, days like Eid dont arrived easily. I dont have many Muslim friends, despite grown up in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Queens, and their own families never truly expend it as a cohesive division principally because get the day off from run or school wasnt a guarantee.

So for me celebrating Eid has become a sort of political act. My attitude towards celebrating has changed now that my six nieces and nephews are older. Their version of Islam can be full of merriment and adoption. In fact, this Eid I will be at my brothers home with his white, American wife and their newborn son, and I cant think of a more all-inclusive route to celebrate.

With every scaring terrorist attack that is being wrongfully blamed on Islam, Muslims across the world understand Aziz Ansaris fearing for his familys safety or comedian Dean Obeidallahs feeling of immediate, internal commotion that happens whenever theres a terrorist attack. And I cant do much to stop any of that.

But what I can do, is celebrate Eid with gallantry and indicate by example what it means to be Muslim as varied and complicated as it is to be human.

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Here’s What Happens When Your Parents Choose Their Faith Over You

4 months, 14 days ago
When we talk about religion and family, its usually in a jokey conservative uncle at the dinner table various kinds of style. We dont take seriously how severely religion can change someone, or how it can color every aspect of your relationships. In anticipation of the second season of Hulu’s Original Series The Path( now streaming on Hulu ), I’m opening up about my experience growing up in a fundamentalist cult with Christian notions .

What people dont understand about leaving a strict religious group is that you have to leave behind.

Your identity is made up of those people around you, those things that you believed for so long because you were a kid and you did what made your mothers happy. Imagine looking back at the first half of your life as if you lived it on an alien planet. When you leave there is a scorched earth in your rearview mirror and you have absolutely no notion where to drive.

You leave your family and friends — your entire social network and support system is gone. You have to make this intensely scary decision of becoming a person who has after growing up in a tight-knit community. Its lonely and disorienting and you maintain wondering if you should have just tried harder to believe so you could have stayed.

I grew up in an extreme, very fundamentalist group that considered itself a sect of Christianity. It can most accurately be described as a cult, though technically its a non-denominational training institution, homeschooling program and series of seminars. I have to put quotes around everything because theres a huge difference between what they call stuff and what it actually is.

People think when they hear Christianity that they understand what Im talking about, but they dont. This was an extreme sect. I was homeschooled, kept away from secular culture, and received information that people outside the community were fallen and sinful influences that would distract me from my walk with God. I was basically altogether ostracized from anyone who didnt believe what their own families believed. Imagine walking out into the world after that?

My father and the other elders in our community would use our religion to justify anything they wanted to do. By utilizing the bible, they had complete power over me and if I complained I wasnt questioning, I was questioning our religion. I was questioning. So plainly, this wasnt permitted. Even though I was one of the most questioning( aka rebellious) people I knew, I internalized what I was taught and I spent a long time believing I was a faulty human being because I couldnt accept on faith what everybody I loved could.

One of the grossest aspects of it all was the emphasis placed on cheerfulness. In order to be a good member, you had to be happy all the time — even when you were doing something like scrubbing lavatories. Cheerfulness was the only acceptable outcome of any situation.

My dad controlled me by telling me what it was dangerous in order to be allowed to do — which was basically anything that would have given me confidence or allowed me to have any kind of relationship with an outsider. He wanted me to be completely cut off and dependent on him. He and my mommy also taught me that my body was inherently sinful. Modesty was drilled home from an inappropriately young age. It was my responsibility to keep men from seeing my body in a way that may trigger sexual thoughts. I didnt even know what immoral guess were when I started having to be concerned about this!

I suppose my mothers religion is suspicious as hell, but I get why people dont leave. I expend a lot of time wishing I wasnt the kind of person who to leave.

I knew when I left we wouldnt have any kind of relationship. They would never accept me outside of the church, and I knew theyd always prefer the church over me.

My parents refuse to speak to me. Full stop .

At first they would have short, rehearsed dialogues where they recurred the same phrases about how they were worried about me and how I could repent and ask God to induce me stronger — but those tapered off. I think they pretend I dont exist now. People from the church are likely polite enough to have stopped asking about me.

As for me, Im doing okay now. I dont guess Ill ever stop feeling weird and left out and like part of me is missing, but Im still happy I left. Most people dont understand why its such a big deal and I just tell them to imagine leaving an entire half of their own lives behind. If you do that you might begin to understand what its like when your mothers choose their religion over you. Theres a reason they call that kind of stuff roots, “youre feeling” unstable without it.

Season 2 of The Path is Now Streaming on Hulu. New Episodes Wednesdays .

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Icelanders flock to religion idolizing Sumerian divinities and tax rebates

5 months, 6 days ago

Ancient Zuist movement enjoys revival as thousands join as part of protest against requirement that citizens pay taxes to state church

Icelanders opposed to the state fund of religion have flocked to register as Zuists, a motion that worships ancient Sumerian gods and perhaps more importantly promises its followers a tax rebate.

More than 3,100 people almost 1% of Icelands population have joined the Zuist movement in the past two weeks in protest at paying part of their taxes to the country church and other religion bodies. Followers of Zuism will be refunded the tax part earmarked for religion.

Icelanders are required to register their religion with the state, with virtually three-quarters of the population affiliated to the established Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. There are more than 40 other registered religious bodies that qualify for parish fees paid through the taxation system. The sum set in next years budget is the equivalent of about $80( APS5 3) per taxpayer over a year.

There is no opt-out. Those who are unaffiliated or belong to unregistered religions effectively just pay higher taxes, said Sveinn Thorhallsson, a Zuist spokesperson. An opinion poll published in September demonstrated 55% of respondents want an aim to the system.

Zuism, based on the venerate of Sumerian deities, registered as a religion in Iceland in 2013. But inactivity put it at risk of being de-registered by the authorities earlier this year.

A group of citizens opposed to the country fund of religion mounted a takeover, promising converts that they would be refunded their parish fees.

The English section of the Zuists website says: The religious organisation of Zuism is a platform for its members to practise a religion of the ancient Sumerian people. Zuists fully support freedom of religion, and from religion, for everyone. The organisations primary objective is that the government repeal any law that awards religious organisations privilege, fiscal or otherwise, above two organizations. Furthermore Zuists demand that the governments registry of its citizens religion will be abolished.

Zuism, it adds, will cease to exist when its objectives have been met.

Some politicians have claimed that Zuism should be de-registered because it is not a true religion. But the real question is, what is a true religious organisation and how do you measure belief? said Thorhallsson, who describes himself as agnostic.

Perhaps astonishingly, some newly registered Zuists were also presenting an interest in Sumerian worship, he added. We had a service, with a read of ancient Sumerian poetry. Were scheming another.

According to article 62 of the constitution, the Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.

Thorhallsson said: We want people at the very least to be able to opt out[ of the parish fee ]. He added it was equally important that in a modern society the state should not keep a register of peoples religious beliefs.

StefA! n Bogi Sveinsson of the Progressive party urged the Zuists to de-register as a religious motion. No one has registered in the organisation to practice Zuism itself, he wrote, according to a report in the Reykjavik Grapevine. Their reasons for registering are rather twofold: to get fund in their pockets, or to protest against current legislation about religious organisations.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church had no one available to comment.

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I Don’t Find Religion Fascinating

5 months, 13 days ago

I grew up with a Jewish parent, a mom inspired by Wicca,
and agnostic teachings.

Essentially, parents who told me I could choose what I wanted to be.

It was up to me to question what needed to be questioned.

, they’d say.

I try to study religion documents but bore easily.

I can’t relate to ancient text and consider the man on the corner hollering scriptures at the sinners walking by far more terrifying than the choice to live with uncertainty.

I don’t have a concrete decide of beliefs. I am amenable.
An ear to the ground, I am willing to listen and admit when I’ve been wrong.
I have no interest in idols. Worship has never been in my vocabulary.

If there is a God, I believe she would be less interested in the specifics.
There would be no tally system of how often you prayed to her or who you successfully converted.

If there is a God, I believe she would be amenable, too.

An ear to the ground, hands outstretched.

She would ask you to question,
To never let faith be the only force driving you.

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How Islam took root in one of South America’s most violent cities

6 months, 6 days ago

The Colombian port of Buenaventura is home to a small Muslim community who have successively embraced the Nation of Islam, Sunni and Shia interpretations

Blaring salsa music from a neighbouring bar does not perturb Sheik Munir Valencia as he bows in prayer at a family-home-turned-mosque in the poor, violence-racked Colombian city of Buenaventura.

His prayers finished, Valencia sheds his brown tunic, sits down at a plastic table and describes his role as the spiritual leader of an Islamic community like few others.

The small community of Afro-Colombian Muslims in Colombias main Pacific port city have over the years espoused the teachings of the Nation of Islam, mainstream Sunni Islam, and the Shia denomination.

First attracted to the faith by the promises of black power, Buenaventuras Muslims say that they have found in Islam a refuge from the poverty and violence that racks the city, which has one of the highest slaying rates in Colombia.

Islam first arrived here in the late 1960 s thanks to Esteban Mustafa Melndez, an African American sailor of Panamanian origin, who spread the training courses of the Nation of Islam the US-based group that mixes elements of Islam with black patriotism among port workers.

He talked about the self-esteem of blacks, and that philosophy had a big impact. Those teaches reached the heads and hearts of a lot of people, says Valencia, adding that the message came during a period of profound social change.

Melndezs visits came at a time when many rural Colombians were migrating to cities, losing in the process the social connections of their extended households, said Diego Castellanos, a sociologist who has examined different religions in Colombia, an overwhelmingly Catholic country.

The Nation of Islam offered an alternative identity and it was a way to fight back against the situation of structural racial discrimination in the port, he said. 90 per cent of the population of Buenaventura is Afro-Colombian.

colombia map

That first wave of converts tended to be more political than spiritual: they said their prayers in English or Spanish, read more political pamphlets than the Quran, and had a shaky understanding of Islams central tenets, said Valencia.

The appeal of the Nation of Islam gradually waned as Melndezs trip-ups came less frequently and the message of black supremacy began to sound hollow to a community that while victim of severe structural discrimination based on their race never suffered the same racial hatred and segregation laws that had existed in the United States.

Following the example of Malcolm X who broke with the Nation of Islam and embraced Sunnism before his death in 1965 the states members of the Buenaventura community travelled to Saudi Arabia to study Islam and came back to convince the group to embrace a more orthodox religion.

Just like that we were Sunni, says Valencia, who was raised Catholic and planned to become a clergyman before turning to Islam. We learned to read Arabic, we read the Quran, we no longer looked toward the United States and started looking toward Saudi Arabia, he says.

Buenaventuras Muslim community turned to other Sunni groups in the country for support, but their two worlds could not have been more different.

The Muslims from Buenaventura, defined between vast expanses of jungle and the Pacific Ocean in Colombias south-west, were black, poor and relatively new to the beliefs and traditions of Islam. The established Colombian Sunni community was of Arab heritage, made up of prosperous traders and based predominantly in Maicao, a bustling commercial township set in the north-eastern desert on the border with Venezuela.

A barge loaded with renders heads out to ocean in Buenaventura, Colombias largest Pacific port and home to a small Muslim community. Photo: Bloomberg/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

Aside from a few food donations from the Arab community, relations were distant.

The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran inhaled new life into the Buenaventura community. Shia missions contacted the group and offered scholarships and financing support. Valencia won a scholarship to study at the At-Tauhid mosque in Buenos Aires and then continued his surveys at the University of Qom in Iran.

As Valencia tells his narrative, his mobile phone lights up, his ringtone a chant in Arabic. He answers: Salaam alekum , then launches into a conversation in the rapid-fire Spanish of Colombias Pacific coast.

Today, portraits of Malcolm X and the Ayatollah Khamenei adorn the walls of a back room in the home that serves as community center and mosque for the approximately 300 current members of the community. A colourful mural covers another wall, depicting a leafy family tree titled Islamic genealogy of the oracles. On any given Friday, between 40 and 50 show up for prayers.

Valencia says his links with Iran have been the target of secret and not-so-secret investigations by both Colombian and US intelligence services. I have nothing to hide, he says.[ The Iranians] supporting us. But we are not jihadists.

Valencia also operates two private charter schools where 180 children of some of the most severe neighborhoods of the city not only learn their ABCs but their alif ba ta s as well. Housed on the ground floor of an ill-maintained three-storey building, the Silvia Zaynab school is set in one of Buenaventuras most violent neighbourhoods, where criminal gangs fight over territory control and residents often get caught in the crossfire.

The school offers a small haven from that reality. Students greet guests with anthems in Arabic about the greatness of Allah. In Spanish, they sing about the five prophets of creation: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. One second-grader rushes to the chalkboard to proudly write out a random three-digit number in Arabic.

Only five of the children who attend the schools are members of the Muslim community. We are not trying to convert anyone, says Valencia. Were only proving the children to respect different religions and other traditions.

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