Muhammad

Does Islam require stoning to death for adultery and gay sex, and amputation for larceny?

Does Islam require stoning to death for adultery and gay sex, and amputation for larceny?

THE QUESTION:

This month, the Muslim nation of Brunei cited religious grounds for prescribing execution by stoning for those guilty of adultery or gay sex, and amputation of hands to punish convicted thieves. Does Islam require these penalties?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

In the Muslim world there’s no consensus that the faith requires these traditional punishments in modern times, but a handful of the 57 member nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have such legislation. One is the small East Asian sultanate officially named Brunei Darusslam (“Brunei, Abode of Peace”), which proclaimed these penalties six years ago. Due to the resulting uproar, the law did not go into effect until this month. When it did, the foreign minister responded to another round of international denunciations by stating that “strong religious values” form “the very foundation of the unique Bruneian identity.”

The punishments were commanded by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei’s hereditary monarch, who wields absolute political and religious powers and is devoted to strict interpretation and application of shariah (Muslim law). At the same time, fabled oil revenues provide the sultan  eyebrow-raising personal wealth of some $20 billion, the world’s largest home (1,788 rooms), and largest collection of rare automobiles including a gold-plated Rolls Royce.

Regarding punishment for sexual sins, Muslims point out that long before Islam arose the Bible’s Old Testament law named execution as the penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and for same-sex relations between men (Leviticus 20:13), as well as other sins. Those passages did not state what method was to be used for execution, but rabbinic law later compiled in the Talmud specified stoning for gay relationships. Stoning was also commonly cited for adulterers.

Jewish scholars say the Bible’s various laws on execution were meant to signify and proclaim the seriousness of the misdeeds but were rarely applied in practice.

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This is not a trick question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

This is not a trick question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

THE QUESTION:

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This topic hit the news February 4 when Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayebb of Egypt’s influential Al-Azhar University issued a joint declaration “in the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.” Did Francis, who was making history’s first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, thereby mean to say that the Christian God is the Muslim God?

Yes, he did, if properly understood, and this was no innovation on his part.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI and the world’s Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council approved Nostra Aetate, the declaration on relations with non-Christian religions. The decree’s denunciation of calumny against Jews gets most of the attention, but it also proclaimed this:

“The church also regards with esteem the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,” although “they do not acknowledge Jesus as God” and regard him as only a prophet. The subsequent Catechism of the Catholic Church likewise defines the belief that “together with us [Muslims] adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

Such interfaith concord is disputed by some conservative Protestants in the U.S. For example, the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry believes the Catholic Church has “a faulty understanding of the God of Islam,” and Muslims “are not capable of adoring the true God.” Hank Hanegraaff of the “Bible Answer Man” broadcast — now a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy — has asserted that “the Allah of Islam” is “definitely not the God of the Bible.” [Note that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word meaning “God.”]

Back in the century after Islam first arose, such thinking was expressed in “The Fount of Knowledge” by John of Damascus, a revered theologian for Eastern Orthodoxy. John spelled out reasons why Islam’s belief about God is a “heresy” and Muhammad is “a false prophet.”

Islam’s fundamental profession of faith declares that “there is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

How are we to understand this one true God?

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'Buuuuuuut is it true?' Readers question reporting on billboard that has outraged Muslims

'Buuuuuuut is it true?' Readers question reporting on billboard that has outraged Muslims

In Indianapolis, a billboard that insults Muhammad — the chief prophet and central figure of the Islamic religion -- has upset local Muslims.

Those concerns made their way first to the Indianapolis Star and then to USA Today, Gannett's flagship national newspaper.

Try to spot the basic journalism question here. We are talking Reporting 101.

From USA Today:

INDIANAPOLIS — An anti-Muslim billboard disparaging the prophet Mohammed that can be seen from an Indiana highway on the east side of Indianapolis is drawing concern from local Muslims.
Now, Islamic leaders in Indianapolis are challenging those responsible for what they say are offensive and untrue statements to stand by their words, shed their anonymity and explain their motivations.
"It is a horrible billboard. I'm outraged by it, but saddened at the same time ...  and I would like to know who is behind it," said Rima Shahid, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. "It seems very cowardly to me. If you have some kind of stance, you should want to stand up next to your statement. I didn't think there was any room for hate in our city. This billboard tells me otherwise.

While the faithful's outrage seems understandable, the quality -- or lack thereof -- of the reporting behind the news coverage itself has raised questions.

"'Buuuuuuut is it true?" was the subject line on one email received by GetReligion. In other words, are any of the statements on the billboard accurate or even topics scholars have debated in the past?

The writer said:

Being from Indy, I occasionally check in on my old city. Today I discovered this article
Now, I obviously don't think this is a productive way to start a discussion, so I'm not defending the billboard. But is it not worth even asking if the accusations in this billboard are, you know, true? I get the "people are offended by this" angle, but shouldn't a journalist seek to discover, to what extent, that offense is justified?

Another GetReligion reader -- in a Facebook message -- passed along the link to the USA Today version of the story. That reader suggested that the report could be good fodder for a critique on this journalism-focused website:

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Another loaded question in the news: What does Islam teach about violence?

Another loaded question in the news: What does Islam teach about violence?

DAVID’S QUESTION:

Why don’t mainstream Muslims acknowledge that the Quran orders them to do just what ISIS does?

MIKE’S QUESTION:

Does the Quran tell Muslims to kill anyone who doesn’t become a Muslim?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

David’s full question -- posted before the latest slaughter aimed at Christians in Pakistan, children included, and the bombings in Belgium -- asks why Quran passages “explicitly order the killing of non-Muslims.” Mike, posting after those atrocities, wonders “why there is so much violence and murder in the Muslim faith.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Sohrab Ahmari observes that “Islamic terrorism is now a permanent and ubiquitous hazard to life in every city on every continent” and “not a single day now goes by” without an attack somewhere. With much of today’s terror enacted in the name of God, fellow Muslims are the majority among innocent victims. The Global Terrorism Index counts 32,685 killings during 2014, an 80 percent increase over 2013. Not all were Islam-related and, notably, in the West only a fifth of them were.

The Islamic State and similar factions claim to follow precedents from Islam’s founding, in the holy Quran and collected hadith teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Nabeel Qureshi writes in USA Today that his conversion from Islam to Christianity, described in “Answering Jihad,” resulted from “the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations” of Islam that provides terrorists’ “primary recruiting technique.” Graeme Wood of The Atlantic documented the importance of the early religious texts for current terror ideology.

Yet Muslim scholars say the revelations often applied to specific circumstances and some passages abrogate earlier ones.

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Sunni vs. Shi'a Muslims worldwide: What? Why? Where? How many?

Sunni vs. Shi'a Muslims worldwide: What? Why? Where? How many?

JIM ASKS:

Muslims in the U.S.: Sunni or Shi’a? And a second reader asks about the two groups’ numbers and over-all relationship on the international level.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This two-sided split underlies the increasingly dangerous Mideast rivalry between a rising Shi’a axis under revolutionary Iran and a bloc led by Saudi Arabia with its strict Sunni regime. A 2012 Pew Research survey asked people in Sunni lands “do you personally consider Shi’as to be Muslims or not?” Those  answering “no” ranged from 37 to 52 percent in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Tunisia. This troublesome rejection of Shi’a religious legitimacy is enforced with a vengeance by the bloodthirsty “Islamic State” that purports to have restored the Sunni “caliphate” within Iraq and Syria.

On Jim’s question, there’s considerable dispute about the total of U.S. Muslims but Pew estimates 10 to 15 percent are Shi’a,  roughly the same as in Canada and Britain. Iran contains some 40 percent of the world’s Shi’as, followed by sizable populations in southern Iraq, India, and Pakistan, and smaller numbers across Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Globally, the Muslim population estimated at 1.5 billion is heavily Sunni, with a Shi’a minority of perhaps 13 percent. Some say followers of Sufi mysticism form a third branch of Islam, which is more or less true, but they overlap the other two categories and are hard to count. (This over-simplified discussion will omit many Muslim variants and those regarded as heterodox.)

The Sunni vs. Shi’a schism was as much political as religious.

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Why is it so important to certain Muslims to practice beheading?

Why is it so important to certain Muslims to practice beheading?

TERRY’S QUESTION:

What is it with Muslims and beheadings? Where does that (tradition) come from?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Islam has no hesitation about capital punishment when proper legal procedures are observed and death is hudud (mandatory) under Sharia (religious law). Traditionally this covers such infractions as murder, adultery, homosexual activity, political rebellion, and apostasy, including (under the strictest regimes) conversion to a different religion.

Beheading has a long human history, but what’s remarkable in the 21st Century is its continued use by certain sectors of Muslims while, as the question implies, much of the world regards it as repugnant. Today’s terror sects demonstrate that decapitation remains singularly effective for striking fear into the hearts of subjects and for expressing contempt toward victims. The current “Islamic State” caliphate, a.k.a. ISIS, proudly posts its bloodthirsty videos for another purpose, inspiring excitable youths to join its revolt against traditional religious authorities and attack despised fellow Muslims and non-Muslims.

We also have official incidents -- minus video publicity -- such as Saudi Arabia’s mass execution January 2 of 47 alleged terrorists and political dissidents. The event included beheadings, including of a popular Shia activist, along with deaths by firing squad. Such executions are not unusual for the kingdom. By media accounts, it decapitated some 1,100 defendants in 1984-2004, and at least 57 in 2014 alone, for crimes ranging from drug-running to religious apostasy. Several Muslim regimes that formerly used this method of execution have abandoned it. That leaves Saudi Arabia as unique, and especially noteworthy because it purports to preserve pure and authentic Islamic practice.

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Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology -- and the lives of women

Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology  -- and the lives of women

No matter what else is going on in the world, the Islamic State is still out there attacking cities and seizing territory, constantly striving to create its new version of a heaven on earth, which in this case is called a "caliphate."

By definition, a caliphate is an Islamic state led by a "caliph." So what precisely is a "caliph"?

A typical definition offered by a Western dictionary defines this term as:

* an important Muslim political and religious leader
* a successor of Muhammad as temporal and spiritual head of Islam -- used as a title

So a caliph is both a political and religious leader, quite literally a man who is claiming to be a "successor of Muhammad."

Now, with that in mind let's look at a key passage in a new Washington Post story -- " 'Till Martyrdom Do Us Part" -- about the lives of woman inside the territory controlled by ISIS. This includes women who have volunteered to be part of the Islamic State, as well as those who have been kidnapped. This story is part of an ongoing Post series about life inside the caliphate.

Let me stress that this feature is quite well reported, which is amazing in light of the restraints under which reporters are working when attempting to cover the Islamic State. Much of the attributed information is based on ISIS social media and, I found this amazing, Skype conversations with people living inside the caliphate.

Then there is this summary material that serves as a kind of thesis statement:

In the Islamic State’s ideology, a woman’s place is in the home, tending to her husband and producing children.

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Religion Writing 101: Parsing the language of true believers at the Dome of the Rock

Religion Writing 101: Parsing the language of true believers at the Dome of the Rock

Let's talk Religion Writing 101 for a moment. Which of the following statements is most appropriate in a mainstream news publication? 

I. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the tomb where Jesus Christ was raised from the dead."

II. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the remains of a tomb where Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead."

III. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the remains of a tomb that early Christians said is the place where Jesus was raised from the dead."

What is going on in these three wordings?

The first accepts a statement of Christian faith as historical fact, with no attribution of any kind. This language is often seen -- appropriately so -- in traditional Christian publications.

The second uses the word "believe" as part of this journalistic equation, noting that this fact claim is something Christians believe, while others may disagree.

The third statement adds more content with its factual reference to the early church, which gives the claim some authority, yet also accurately implies that (a) many Christians (especially Protestants) disagree that this sanctuary contains the site of the resurrection and/or (b) that some doctrinal progressives reject belief in the resurrection, yet continue to identify as Christians. Whenever possible, I'm an option III guy.

Why bring this up? This is actually a relevant topic in light of some interesting language in a Washington Post story that ran under the headline, "Meet the Israeli mom who called Muhammad a pig -- at al-Aqsa mosque."

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Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Religion reporters should look beyond their ghetto for story themes, and here’s a good one: Why does science lag so notably in the Muslim world, and what can be done about it?

That question was raised by assistant editor Ross Pomeroy at www.realclearscience.com. Some religionistas may recall his 2012 piece for biologos.org titled “Why Strict Atheism is Unscientific.”

The latest Pomeroy headline is equally controversial: “Can Islam Come Back to the Light of Science?” He presents data to highlight the problem, which is far broader than simply Mideast sheiks flying to London or New York for medical treatments:

In 2005, Harvard University alone produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking nations combined. The Muslim population of 1.6 billion has produced only two Nobel Prize-winners in chemistry and physics in history, and both moved to the West to work.

Now, Jews are outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims globally yet boast 79 such Nobel laureates. The 57 nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation spend less than a percent of their collective gross domestic product on research and development, a third of the global average; Israel spends 4.4 percent.

What went wrong?

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