June 15, 1998
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to the article Muslims Take Pride in Pakistan
Bomb (June 15, A2). This article does not portray the actual reality of
Muslim attitudes regarding Pakistan's move towards nuclear weapons. This Muslim,
and others like me, do not take any pride at all in this development. Indeed,
for many of us "Muslim Bomb" is not only a contradiction in terms,
but is also yet another excuse for maintaining stereotypes regarding Islam.
According to standard, orthodox Islamic theology, the use of a nuclear bomb
may, in fact, be "haram"-- completely forbidden.
For the first half of Muhammad's public career his followers did not fight
back in spite of torture, economic boycott, and all manner of physical and psychological
abuse. They truly, and in reality, "turned the other cheek." Muhammad
counseled patience and trust in God, as he was commanded to do by (we think)
God himself. It was only in the second half of his career, when the Muslims
were forced out of their homes and their land due to the murderous intent of
the leading tribe, that permission was given to fight back in self-defense.
In the words of the Qur'an (the literal word of God for Muslims): "Permission
to fight is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged... those
who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason
than their saying, 'Our Sustainer is God!'" Another passage states, "And
fight in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit
aggression-- for, verily, God does not love aggressors." Islam, contrary
to many stereotypes, does not permit aggression on the part of Muslims.
Other rules of the healthy Islamic understanding of just war forbid the killing
of non-combatants and the destruction of crops. Hence, the indiscriminate death
and environmental destruction dealt by a nuclear bomb appears to be contrary
to standard Islamic Law or "Shari'ah." Many orthodox Muslims thus
argue that we cannot use a nuclear bomb to defend ourselves, should we be attacked
for no other reason than our saying "Our Sustainer is God!" Rather,
we are to trust in God, and trust that justice (and mercy) is meted out on Judgment
While Pakistan may have a majority population who profess Islam as their religion,
Pakistan is not an "Islamic" country. Indeed, the fact is you will
find few Muslims who will point to any country today and say that it is "Islamic."
Rather, there are countries with Muslims or Muslim influence.
Healthy Islam fosters a community that is post-nationalist and post-ethnic--
a far cry from the politico-nationalist rhetoric that often passes for Muslim
discourse today! Healthy Islam fosters community based upon shared belief. A
community that values and works for peace and justice among all people, education,
charitable giving, and authentic religious piety. When you find a country wherein
there is no hunger, no illiteracy, no official corruption or oppression or injustice,
then, and only then, might we begin to speak in terms of an "Islamic"
April 12, 1998
To the Editor:
I was shocked to see that the editors of the Tribune-Review now feel competent
to editorialize on issues of religious faith and theology ("Dying for a
Lie?" April 12, A-6). Your treading into waters in which you are obviously
unprepared to swim causes me to question the validity of your editorial statements
on other issues, such as economics.
I have a rather strong academic background in religious studies and related
topics (though am ignorant when it comes to economics). I hold a doctorate from
Duquesne University in Formative Spirituality and am currently teaching a continuing
education course for CCAC-South entitled "Spirituality: What It Is and
How It Works." I have delivered numerous workshops on the topic of general
Religion seems to be the one area in human experience wherein many people
feel competent to opine without sufficient background and study. I challenge
the editors to compare the time they have spent studying "Plan B"
before editorializing, and the time they have spent in serious study of issues
related to religious belief. A rhetorical challenge, to be sure, if this editorial
on Jesus (may God love him!) was an accurate expression of your grasp of the
Your editorial on Jesus was naive and elementary. It displayed a conspicuous
lack of depth and breadth of understanding in issues of faith, theology, and
the interpretation of religious texts. To read only C. S. Lewis and (of all
people!) Josh McDowell is not a sufficient preparation to pontificate on matters
of faith and theology. (Bestseller or not, McDowell is not what one could consider
"an intellectual" in matters of religious studies.)
Indeed, by editorializing as you have-- in a way sure to alienate-- during
a weekend when all three of the Abrahamic traditions are celebrating some of
their most sacred and meaningful rituals, you have missed an opportunity to
foster understanding among Pittsburgh's various religious groups. It is ironic
that in editorializing as you have you appear to have violated the spirit of
community actually encouraged by people such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, may
God love them all!
Your Muslim-American neighbors do not believe Jesus was divine, but we do
call him "Christ," "Messiah," and "a Word and Spirit
from God." We believe he was the product of a virgin birth, a messenger
of God along with Abraham, Moses, and (for us) Muhammad, may God's peace and
blessings shower upon them all! We make no distinction among them. But such
an option was not allowed for in your editorial.
We, along with our Jewish cousins, consider talk of a person being divine
a most heinous blasphemy against the Transcendent Unity of the Deity. A bit
more theological sophistication on your part-- an education beyond the dogmatic
and elementary-- might have permitted you some understanding of why two of the
three Abrahamic traditions stand together in rejecting significant portions
of the Christian interpretation of Jesus. The Jewish and Muslim positions cannot
be dismissed so easily as you would have people believe, and as you yourselves
seem to believe in your theological naiveté.
I invite you to my web site. The URL is above. Don't let the light-hearted
presentation fool you! Within is academically valid material on issues related
to general religious studies. It is material you (and by extension your journalists)
should know before you attempt an analysis of religious language and behavior.
There is also plenty of material on Islam.
I would be happy to set up workshops for you and your writers-- or any group
in Pittsburgh-- in matters of religio-spirituality, and in the Islamic traditions.
Excerpts from audience evaluations are also at my web site. I hope I shall hear
from you. In my opinion, you owe vast portions of your readership an apology
for such an intrinsically hostile and alienating editorial.
October 13, 1997
May 5, 1996
To the Editor:
Simply by reading the review (God Has Ninety-Nine Names, May 5) I would have
to question whether Judith Miller, the author, and perhaps even the reviewer,
Shaul Bakhash, actually know anything about Islam and the variety of Muslim
practice. On the basis of the review alone, my first thought is: "Oh, oh.
Here we go again. More anti-Muslim bigotry born of ignorance."
There appears to be a failure on the part of these writers to truly distinguish
extremist practice of Islam from a more standard, healthy and mature practice,
as well as misrepresenting Islam as that which is done in the Middle East (most
Muslims are not Arab). Could this be because the author (perhaps even the reviewer)
doesn't really know much about Islam per se?
For instance, the reviewer seems unaware of the term "Islamism".
The reviewer attributes this label to the author, but any Muslim is familiar
with the term, and non-extremist literature also utilizes the term. (Such as
the publications of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon,
VA.) Did the reviewer not encounter this term before reading Miller's book?
If not, he is not as qualified to have reviewed such a book as others may have
Throughout the review, the word "Islamism" is used not for just
"militant" Islam, but for Islam itself. There is a conspicuous failure
to maintain distinctions between a healthy Islamic practice and an extremist
practice. There seems to be no awareness of what healthy, mature Islam teaches
or what it might look like, and thus the review (and book) comes across not
only as profoundly insulting, but ignorant as well. Anyone reading this review
will simply leave with a prejudiced view of Islam per se, not just of
certain groups born of Mid-East or Arab politics:
Islamic politics is a "vortex" (All Islamic politics? Or just militants?
Or just Islamists? Or are they just one big lump to both author and reviewer?)
"Islamic movements propelled by anything but the ideals of tolerance"
(All Islamic movements? Or just militants? Or just Islamists? Or are they just
one big undifferentiated lump to both author and reviewer?)
When uncertain, "turning to Islam" is "chasing the will-o'-the-wisp
of a panacea". (Turning to Islam? Or militant Islam? Or Islamism? Or again,
one big misrepresented and undifferentiated lump?)
A daughter "succumb[s] to the power of Islam". (Again, same questions.)
According to the reviewer, Ms. Miller does not believe there are moderates
within Islamic movements. Again, all Islamic movements? Clearly an absurdity!
This problem is evident throughout the review, and presumably, the book as well.
In addition, there is the repeat of Crusades-type propaganda regarding Islam's
view of minorities under an Islamic state and Islam's view of gender relations.
This propaganda can only be repeated in an atmosphere of almost total ignorance
of healthy Islamic teachings. For instance, the reviewer repeats the famous
mistranslation that seemingly gives men permission to beat their wives. Not
only is the Arabic mistranslated as "beat" ("striking" as
in "dramatic" would be more accurate), but as is usual with anti-Muslim
writings, this verse is presented completely outside of context and the totality
of the Islamic ethos, much less with a reference to the hadith literature
which is the first resource for proper interpretation of the Qur'an. Clearly,
neither the author, nor the reviewer are aware of this context and ethos and
literature. An "intellectual's" attempt to explain away this misrepresentation
of healthy Muslim teachings is dismissed by the author as "Islamic cant".
What arrogance from someone who does not seem to know the first thing about
healthy Islam, or at least such a knowledge is not at all reflected in the review
of her book.
Undoubtedly, the subject matter of Ms. Miller's book is worthy of study, and
undoubtedly she performs a service by presenting the voices of people who live
in the Mid-East as they seek to respond to the problems they encounter. However,
it would appear that she also has another agenda. Hopefully, it is only born
of ignorance, and not a knowing encouragement of pure bigotry.
To the Editor:
I am aghast at Douglas Jehl's gross misrepresentation of Qur'anic teachings
concerning murder ("Saudi Islamic Council Condemns Bombing, in a Rebuff
to Militants", front page, July 2).
Mr. Jehl writes that the Qur'an does not explicitly condemn the murder of
non-Muslims. Nothing could be further from the truth! So egregious is this error
that both he and your fact checkers owe your readers a correction.
In a discussion of Cain's murder of Abel the Qur'an states that God ordained
that "...whoever killed a human being, except as a punishment for murder
or other villainy in the land, shall be looked upon as though he had killed
all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as though
he had saved all mankind." (5:32)
At (6:151) we read "...you shall not kill-- for that is forbidden by
God-- except for a just cause."
The debate among the Muslim theologians is whether or not there is a just
cause for violence. Perhaps you will in the future report on why some think
there is just cause-- such as colonial style "villainy in the land"--
rather than fanning the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry through gross journalistic
errors and blatent misrepresentations of the teachings of a major world religion.
I certainly hope to see some sort of acknowledgement of this error.
July 5, 1996
To the Editor:
Today I was given a copy of a letter published in your paper by Alvin Laidley
of Carmichaels headlined "Islam enemy of whole Western World". I do
not know the date of publication.
I must say that I am aghast that your editorial team publishes extremist statements
that have as their only basis ignorance, bigotry, or both. I do not read the
Observer-Reporter and so do not know if you are inclined towards extremist
and racist editorial positions. The publication of this letter was the equivalent
of printing "true" statements about Jews from the fraudulent "Protocols
of the Elders of Zion" or other statements about them such as "they
eat Christian babies".
The anti-Muslim propaganda of the Crusades, such as Islam being a "religion
of the sword", has long been discredited as nothing but propaganda with
absolutely no basis in reality or authentic historical studies. Indeed, the
Qur'an quite clearly states that "there is to be no compulsion in matters
of religion". Islam spread by the beauty and gentleness of its authentic
teachings and by the example of its most healthy and authentic adherents. Incidentally,
while Jews were being slaughtered by European Christians, they were finding
sanctuary and positions of authority in Muslim countries. Contrary to Mr. Laidley's
understanding, the Qur'an quite clearly, and repeatedly, states that among non-Muslims
are true believers who on Judgment Day will have "nothing to fear nor regret".
Sincere believers in God shall be forgiven their sins and admitted to Paradise
along with Muslims. The Qur'an points to "tenderhearted" Abraham as
an example for all people. Abraham, the first true monotheist, "was neither
Jew nor Christian", nor Muslim for that matter.
Mr. Laidley, and by extension your editorial board, portray Islam as something
exclusively defined by Arab or Saudi Arabian concerns and culture-- and so thus
confuse Arab or Saudi Arabian social, political, and economic problems as somehow
"Muslim". Such a confusion is far from the truth. Most Muslims are
not even Arab, but Indonesian. Many, if not most Muslims do not support much
of what is done in the Middle East in the name of Islam, though they may be
sensitive to the pain of the complainants who couch their social and economic
anger and despair in religious language. The rank racism of Mr. Laidley's statements
is clear to anyone who is actually educated in these matters. It is unfortunate
that an editorial board is also so ignorant, or lacking in journalistic ethics
and judgment, as to publish such racist rantings. You could have at least done
some fact checking.
It is the height of ignorance to state the Muslims are in worship of some
deity other than that worshipped by our Jewish and Christian cousins. I challenge
Mr. Laidley to support his statement regarding this with any legitimate academic
source. He cannot. Even the Pope realizes we (Jews, Christians, Muslims) are
in worship of the same, and One True God.
"Allah" is simply the Arabic word for "God". Only the
most bigoted disregard the integrity of linguistic meaning to put forth their
misshapen views. Do the French say "God" when they pray? Of course
not! Does that mean they are praying to a different God? Of course not! How
can the Observer-Reporter possibly justify printing such claptrap? Muslims
worship the God spoken of by Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. This is a simple fact.
The very words "Islam" and "Muslim" mean "submission
to the will of God" and "one who is in submission to the will of God".
I would refer you, your readers, and Mr. Laidley to Muhammad: A Biography
of the Prophet and A History of God both by the fine historical and
religious (non-Muslim) scholar Karen Armstrong. In addition, I am more than
happy to travel to Washington County to provide presentations on Islam to any
interested group. I give the Observer-Reporter permission to provide
my phone number to any such group, and encourage your reporters and editors
to make use of such an opportunity so that their reporting and editorial decisions
might not be so egregiously out of touch with reality.
To the Editor:
Rabbi Abraham Cooper's (Bomb, They Said; Forum, March 10) perplexity over the silence of Muslim religious leaders in the wake of suicide bombings is certainly understandable. However, it also betrays a lack of understanding of authentic and healthy Islam, as well as the dynamics of media coverage of Muslims.
Muslims have as much theological variety as do our Jewish and Christian cousins. It is a minority who, as in every tradition, go to an extreme and pervert teachings of peace in order to justify destruction. As it would be unfair, even ridiculous, for the British to ask the Pope to respond to every incident of IRA violence, so too, is it unfair to generalize to all Muslims for everything done by Muslims. Many Muslim associations have issued statements condemning extremist activities. Are these associations given a voice?
Regardless, one fact of fundamental Islamic practice, perhaps unusual to Jews and Christians, is that we have nothing comparable to priests or rabbis. To ask a mature and healthy Muslim who his or her "religious leader" is can elicit only one answer: "It is God who gives guidance." In spite of many who would like to reduce the sublime beauty of Islam to a socio-political movement, we simply don't have a religious hierarchy. Islam speaks to the person primarily as an individual, not as part of a corporate entity. We don't have religious leaders other than the examples of those we think are messengers from God such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.
When the media identifies a certain individual as a "Muslim cleric" they are betraying a profound ignorance of fundamental Islamic thought, in addition to misleading the public. It is also misleading to present beliefs held by a small percent of those who identify as Muslims as being the norm. While Muslims do hold their religious scholars in high esteem, and certain Muslim groups have, at times and in places treated them as de facto clerics, such a practice is undoubtedly contrary to Qur'anic teachings. Distress over such apparent silence as was raised by the good Rabbi is understandable, but somewhat misplaced in light of these considerations.
I am sure that one would undoubtedly find Muslims who would approve of Hamas'
violent activities. For what it is worth, every Muslim I know and respect would
not approve, nor do I. I don't think Muhammad would approve either.
April 29, 1996
To the Editor:
I must voice my concern over your choice of articles reporting on the annual
Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj Draws to Fiery Conclusion in Mecca by
Hamza Hendawi, section A-4, April 29.) The title alone bespeaks of a slanted
and unfair portrayal of Islam that only feeds a public perception that Muslims
on the whole are enraged and hate-filled.
The Post-Gazette has its own religious writer, Anne Rogers-Melnick,
who has done a fine job reaching out to Pittsburgh Muslims and attempting to
report on us, our beliefs and activities in a fair and non-biased manner. So
why does the editor choose to run a report from the Associated Press? Indeed,
some Pittsburgh Muslims made the pilgrimage this year which would have given
you a local take on the event as well as on any statements made by Muslim "clergymen".
(We don't have a clergy.)
In spite of the reporter's Arabic name, and in spite of what the Grand Mosque's
preacher may or may not have actually said, this article cruelly mis-reported
the nature and significance of the Muslim pilgrimage. Your editorial choice
reduced a meaning-filled, week-long, ancient ritual to one man's "fiery"
speech! At the very least, do journalistic ethics not require some kind of reaction
(pro, con or mixed) from those who may have heard the speech, or at least from
the local Muslim community? Please be fair to us! We are not the stereotypes
rooted in the centuries-old propaganda of the Crusades.
October 13, 1997
To the Editor:
It is no wonder Muslims feel they must stand up to what they perceive as "slights"
with writers such as Youssef M. Ibrahim portraying them. (Echoes of Mideast
Conflict on Line; Taking in the Sites; October 13; C4.)
Though there must be thousands of web sites on Islam Mr. Ibrahim chooses to
focus on only those sites that express "a deep rage." Though there
are web sites representing every permutation of Islamic theological variety
he quotes from a Saudi national that these web sites "of course" need
to be watched-- "even the harmless ones." This monitoring has "yet"
to result in an arrest for terrorism. I guess this is inevitable?
Isn't it precisely this type of coverage of Islam that Muslims deplore and
protest? Is there any other global, multi-cultural group so consistently reduced
to its least savory members by the press?
Mr. Ibrahim could just as easily have chosen to highlight and advertise Islamic
web sites that speak of art, or of spirituality, or of history, or seek to educate
about Islam. He could have focused on domestic Muslim organizations such as
the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He could have even portrayed the
great range of theological variety among Muslims, from Sufi to Wahabi. He could
have even taken a look at my site's material on Islam! But no, he chose to propound
stereotypes, and the editor saw fit to print these stereotypes.
Islam cannot be reduced to the social, economic and nationalist strife in
the Mideast. It would be delightful if the American press would at least present
Islam in its fullness and in its variety. A good opportunity to truly educate
people about Islam, in its variety, was missed by your reporter and your editors.
Instead, you may have merely fed the fires of hatred.
In addition, I simply must question Mr. Ibrahim's portrayal of The Islamic
Gateway web site and the mailing list Momin-net. I know this site well and fail
to find a cause for Mr. Ibrahim's statement that the site "brims with anger."
This site has extensive links to other sites. Perhaps Mr. Ibrahim confused a
link with the IG site? His implication that Momin-net (to which I subscribe)
also "brims with anger" is a simplistic misrepresentation, imho.
Surely the editors and reporters of this great newspaper can do better than
this when it comes to reporting on Muslims and Islam.
January 9, 1998
Dear Dr. Holst,
As an Irish-American Muslim, and supporter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, it is with some distress that I've followed the story regarding the University's decision not to rent its facilities to the local Muslim community so they may worship the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus as a community on a special feast day.
I must say, your decision in this matter, and especially your institutional response to the ruckus it has caused, appear to contradict principles that underlie both the United States and-- more disturbingly-- belief in the God of Abraham.
I see from your web site that you encourage and assist students to make use of financial aid from state and federal sources. Indeed, according to your web site, 86% of your students make use of financial aid. It seems safe to say a large percentage of that group is paying their tuition by means of-- to use a cliché-- my tax money. For some of this aid you even require disclosure of student and family tax records. Given all this, as an American tax payer, it is disturbing to hear of discriminatory practices at Concordia.
Though many in the States appear fearful of the cultural, ethnic and religious variety in this country, I am of those who consider this variety to be a unique blessing. Indeed, it is a blessing that is at least partially responsible for the ongoing dynamism and inventiveness of Americans. As a descendent of immigrants to this country who were themselves victims of discrimination it is disturbing to hear of such practices in any American institution. To my mind, institutional discrimination threatens American dynamism and inventiveness. (Not to mention its social peace and justice.)
Dr. Holst, what is most disturbing to me was the statement of
your attorney that the University was indeed engaging in discrimination,
but it is legal discrimination. I am not a lawyer, and
that may well be the case, but is this the attitude and response
of believers in the God of Abraham? It seems more in keeping with
that of an atheistic multi-national corporate shark in a dog-eat-dog,
cutthroat business world! Is this what the Lutheran community
stands for, approves and encourages? Is this lawyer expressing
the attitudes prevalent at Concordia University? Is this the fruit
of a Christian education? God forbid!
As a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus and... yes!... Muhammad (May God love them all!), and one who stops to pray to this God at least five times a day, I am not only disturbed by what was implied in your attorney's statement, but am frightened. Very frightened.
I urge you, as your cousin in faith and fellow citizen, to reflect upon the direction Concordia is taking under your presidency, and to reflect upon whether your recent decision and institutional response in this matter is truly in keeping with the Good News proclaimed by Jesus Christ, and with the underlying values of the United States.
December 19, 1997
Dear Mr. Rosenberg,
As a Muslim of Irish-American descent, a supporter of the Council
on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and a regular customer of
Dunkin' Donuts, I was quite distressed to hear of your handling
of a recent situation regarding an employee's wearing of a traditional
Muslim head scarf.
According to CAIR you "have declined to even discuss the
situation in a serious manner."
I know you must treasure the religious freedoms we enjoy in this
land as much as I do. Some of these freedoms include the reasonable
accommodation of religious clothing and practice in a place of
business. Other companies, such as Nike, Seagate and many others
recognize that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United
States and are making efforts to understand Islamic practice and
to welcome Muslims as full members of their various corporate
I am sure you realize, without needing to be told, that a traditional
Muslim head scarf is not unreasonable attire for a Dunkin' Donuts
employee-- especially since you are probably under health laws
that require the wearing of headgear of some sort anyway.
I urge you to clarify your company's policy in such matters, and
to reinstate the employee with full compensation for time missed.
I might add that in the Pittsburgh area I believe some of your
franchise owners are Muslim.
To the Editor:
It was with a heavy heart that I read your front page article "Fundamentalists Impose Culture on Egypt" by Youssef M. Ibrahim in today's edition. I am an Irish-American who was raised Roman Catholic. After studying Islam for about three years in preparation for my dissertation I concluded that I believed Muhammad was a messenger from God and that the Qur'an was, quite literally, the word of God. This means that I am a Muslim.
Not all Muslims are violent, hate-filled extremists, but it does seem that we who are not are a minority-- and thus easily intimidated into silence. I myself have felt fear when faced with the dishonesty, transparent rationalizations, hatred and name-calling that seems to delight many in my local community.
My Jewish and Christian cousins in faith, and all men and women of good will, must know that the attitudes and actions as portrayed in your article (as well as those pertaining to the World Trade Center bombing and the Nation of Islam) are possible only when there is an almost complete disregard for the commandments of the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad's life. May God forgive us all, but it seems as if Islam has entered its own "period of Inquisition" with all the evil that implies. There is no greater evil than that which is done with the name of God on one's lips.
It is quite clear from the Qur'an and the practices of Muhammad that Muslims are not permitted to initiate acts of violent aggression, nor are they even permitted to unduly indulge the emotion of anger. They are to treat all, even inveterate enemies, with justice and courtesy. We are told in the Qur'an that among Jews and Christians are true believers in God who "will have nothing to fear" on the Day of Judgment. We are told by Muhammad that the "greater" jihad (properly translated as "the struggle against evil", not "holy war") is the struggle against our own individual propensity to evil, and that the "lessor" jihad is that of warfare. In short, in spite of current Muslim practice, Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.
I would chastise my Muslim brothers and sisters with words from the Qur'an itself, words we all believe are literally from the One True God, Creator of us all: "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).
And yet, we in the United States must beware of our outrage when we read about Muslim extremists. Recent studies indicated that approximately 90%-95% of us claim to believe in God. Given the problems we face such as crime, domestic abuse, homelessness and continuing racism, I would posit that when it comes to religion we are as duplicitous as the extremists. If we really believed in God, as we claim, our country would not have these problems. Sincerely,