Muslims

Have most Protestants in the United States gone soft on drinking alcohol?

Have most Protestants in the United States gone soft on drinking alcohol?

THE QUESTION:

What do today’s U.S. Protestants believe about the use of alcoholic beverages? Have attitudes softened?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Yes, without question. And there’s been a bit of soul-searching about this in America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Its press service reports ongoing concern especially about teen alcohol abuse has increased somewhat since recent Senate testimony about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Catholic prep school experience.

Further, just afterward USA Today reported a study showing from 2007 to 2017 U.S. deaths attributed to alcohol increased 35 percent, and 67 percent among women (while teen deaths declined 16 percent). These fatalities well outnumber those from opioid overdoses that have roused such public concern.

Not so long ago, total abstinence predominated among many or most Protestants, who effectively mandated this for clergy and expected the same from lay members. (Other faith groups such as Muslims and Mormons elevate abstinence into a divine commandment.)

In a 2007 survey of Southern Baptists, only 3 percent of pastors and 29 percent of lay members said they drink alcoholic beverages. This survey showed that across other U.S. Protestant denominations 25 percent of pastors and 42 percent of lay members said they drink.

A 2016 Barna Group poll showed 60 percent of adults who are active churchgoers (both Protestants and Catholics) said they drink, compared with 67 percent for the over-all U.S. population. Among evangelicals there was a nearly even split with 46 percent who drink. (Barna defines “evangelicals” by conservative beliefs, not the loose self-identification political polls use.) Only 2 percent of evangelicals admitted they sometimes over-indulge.

Otherwise, Barna found, regular churchgoers consume smaller amounts on average than others. Asked why they don’t drink, 10 percent of abstainers acknowledged it’s because they are addicts in recovery. Notably, 41 percent of the population said alcohol causes trouble for their families.

The Bible does not teach total abstinence, and says wine can be a blessing (Psalm 104:15) and helpful medicine (Proverbs 31:6 or 1 Timothy 5:23).

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Danes, Muslims, Christmas and why immigration is always a religion-beat story

Danes, Muslims, Christmas and why immigration is always a religion-beat story

Know what’s new from the land of hygge and hot chocolate and high standards of living?

Denmark, which has consistently polled as one of the happiest places to live on Earth apparently isn’t so happy according to a spate of articles just out. 

The reason is about a quarter-million immigrants from the Middle East and Pakistan who have sought asylum there from nasty conditions in their homelands and for the rich benefits Denmark hands out to whoever’s fortunate enough to reside there. To the point where Danes are seeing their place as the world’s happiest place to live slipping by the day.

What’s not so apparent in some stories is how big a part religion plays in it all, being that the overwhelming percentage of these new arrivals are Muslim whereas Danes are Lutheran (at least in name). The Danish government says 4 percent of its 5.7 million population is Muslim, which comes out to 228,000 people.

This piece from CityLab sees a set of new rules as a rich/poor issue instead of a religious one. The word “Muslim” is mentioned only once.

Time magazine pulled the same trick in its reports on “parallel societies” that now exist in Denmark. Remember, Denmark just passed a "burka ban" law early last month.

So I turned to a July 1 piece in the New York Times, which had a more accurate account about what’s at issue here:

COPENHAGEN — When Rokhaia Naassan gives birth in the coming days, she and her baby boy will enter a new category in the eyes of Danish law. Because she lives in a low-income immigrant neighborhood described by the government as a “ghetto,” Rokhaia will be what the Danish newspapers call a “ghetto parent” and he will be a “ghetto child.”

Starting at the age of 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in “Danish values,” including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.

Denmark’s government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.

This sounds to me like some pretty desperate measures that are just short of kicking all these immigrants out.

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Muslim reporter helps the Seattle Times grasp the complexity of Ramadan in schools

Muslim reporter helps the Seattle Times grasp the complexity of Ramadan in schools

While zipping through the Seattle Times website for stories about religion, which are usually scarce, what should appear but a piece about how local schools are adapting to students who observe Ramadan while playing sports and attending graduation ceremonies.

The article showed an insider knowledge of local Muslims, a group most reporters would not have access to. It's pretty obvious when you are dealing with a reporter who is getting the details and facts right.

Investigating further, I saw one of the writers, Dahlia Bazzazz, is not only Muslim herself, but her family was from Iraq. She was born in Oregon, grew up close to my alma mater (Lewis & Clark College in Portland) and was editor-in-chief of the Daily Emerald, the student newspaper for the University of Oregon.

More recently, she’s been covering the education beat for the Seattle Times, which is how she came to write this:

As Renton High School seniors walked across the graduation stage on Wednesday, fellow graduate Sawda Mohamed stayed home with her family.

The 18-year-old had purchased her cap and gown, but earlier in the school year decided to skip the ceremony. Despite her mother’s protest, Mohamed described her choice as a fitting end to years of frustration she experienced in a school system she felt had little respect for her Muslim faith.

“Honestly, because everything I’ve dealt with in the past, just let it be,” Mohamed said earlier this week. “I bought the cap and gown for memories of the hard work and everything I accomplished, but it’s just not worth it at this point.”

This year, the most stressful time of the school year coincided with the holiest time for Mohamed: Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for a month in order to focus on spiritual growth, family and charity.

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American Muslims and guns: The New York Times bursts some stereotypes

American Muslims and guns: The New York Times bursts some stereotypes

Rarely do photographers put together religion stories, but the New York Times just came out with a piece on gun-owning American Muslims that truly stands out.

Egyptian documentary photographer Amr Alfiky, together with Adeel Hassan, who writes for a Times newsletter on race, assembled vignettes on nine such Muslims in Ohio, Florida, Oklahoma and northern Virginia.

It’s the kind of piece that definitely stands stereotypes on their heads. The familiar surroundings (the local gym, the tree-lined neighborhood streets, a university library) in which these folks are photographed convey the idea they could be us.

What these Muslims want to say in this story is they are us. As for the Second Amendment,  they own it.

American Muslims ... say they own guns for the same reasons as anyone else: for protection, for hunting and sport shooting, for gun and rifle collections or for their work.

They also cite another factor: fear of persecution, at a time when hate crimes against Muslims have soared to their highest levels since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But owning a gun is no assurance of security. Muslim gun owners are viewed with suspicion by gun stores, ranges and clubs, and occasionally met with harassment. ... Gun ranges and gun shops in several states have declared themselves “Muslim-free zones.”

Guess I had no idea such thing existed. Then again, I googled "Muslims and guns" and saw non-stop images of ISIS, jihad, you-name-it.

What the Times is offering is a whole different side of God and guns.

One gun range owner in Arkansas, Jan Morgan, gained national attention in 2014 when her business was one of the first to declare a ban on Muslims. (She used her newfound prominence to run for governor, losing in the Republican primary last month.)

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Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

Open for hurricanes: Mosques in the South got the best public relations coverage

I’m writing this from Alabama, just after having attended the Religion News Association’s annual confab in Nashville. While visiting friends near Huntsville, I learned that hotels and motels on every nearby interstate are booked out with Florida refugees.

Those who can’t find lodging are bunking up with friends or in churches

Also in mosques. Unlike church sanctuaries, which are filled with pews, mosques have wide open large carpeted spaces for worship that can easily be transformed into places where people can camp out. (Of course churches and synagogues have community or parish halls that can accommodate people but mosques can offer the actual worship space.)

The website Mic.com has especially concentrated on mosques, such as this feature about an Orlando mosque offering shelter from Irma and this piece about Houston mosques offering shelter from Harvey.

The Tampa Bay Times managed to insert a bit of religion into this account

TAMPA — For now it's their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.
More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque's multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations
Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.

It's the first time, the Tampa paper said, that the newly built mosque has been used as a hurricane shelter. The Washington Post ran a piece about mosques in Atlanta as did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, also ran a list of available mosques.

Were mosques getting better PR than other houses of worship?

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Vandalism and repentance: New York Times tells story of a mosque and its attacker

Vandalism and repentance: New York Times tells story of a mosque and its attacker

A 21-year-old drifter helps deface a mosque in Arkansas and gets prison time for it. Who’d think there was much of a story in this?

But the New York Times just ran a beautiful piece on the main actors involved and it's worth the read.

I just finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” the J.D. Vance bestseller that spotlights the hopeless multitudes of poor whites in shattered families across Appalachia. Relocate them to Arkansas and you have the perfect setting for what happened next.

FORT SMITH, Ark. -- Abraham Davis was sitting on a thin blue pad on the concrete floor of Cell 3 in a jail in western Arkansas when a guard came around with stamped envelopes and writing paper.
The first person he wrote to was his mother. Abraham, just shy of 21, had barely spoken to her since his arrest a few days before, and he had a lot to explain.
It all began on a night last October when he borrowed her white minivan and drove to the home of a friend. They’d gotten drunk on cheap whiskey. Kentucky Deluxe. Abraham agreed to drive his friend to a mosque in town. His friend drew swastikas and curses on the mosque’s windows and doors while Abraham stood watch in the driveway.
The next day, the vandalism was all over the news. Abraham watched the reports over and over on his phone, his stomach curdling with regret.

I used to live in a city much like Fort Smith. Rich and poor, black and white were at opposite ends of a southern town situated on Interstate-40, but in west Tennessee instead of west Arkansas.

Gangs from nearby Memphis drove up our crime rate. Hospitals and clinics were the largest employers. Neighboring Arkansas was much poorer and destitute but Fort Smith differed from my city in one way: A lot of folks from other countries were moving in.

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Top notch New York Times who-done-it story comes up short on Hindu roots of India's caste system

Top notch New York Times who-done-it story comes up short on Hindu roots of India's caste system

The New York Times ran a fascinating story out of rural India over the weekend that to my mind underscored -- with one big caveat -- some of the complicated mechanics and very best qualities of foreign reporting.

Headlined, “How to Get Away With Murder in Small-Town India,” the piece, written in the first person by a veteran correspondent, showed — without explicitly explaining — the powerful connection between religion and everyday cultural expression. The writer was Ellen Barry, who shared a staff Pulitzer Prize while previously working in the paper’s Moscow bureau.

Conveying the daily experiences of ordinary people living in a distant and different culture requires a level of empathetic insight and writing skill greater than that of the average newspaper reporter. Barry’s that kind of journalist; she’s able to turn the travails of ordinary individuals into highly readable copy

This story focuses on how a man got away with murdering his wife -- a circumstance that unfortunately happens far too often in rural India.

For that he can thank corrupt local officials and ingrained male disrespect for women -- particularly poor women -- rooted in South Asia’s Vedic-origin caste system. The Vedas are Hinduism earliest scriptural writings and are estimated to be between 2,500 to 3,500 years old.

This, despite Indian laws making caste discrimination illegal.

(Before any non-Hindu readers dismiss this as solely a Hindu problem, note that the Wikipedia link in the previous paragraph, repeated here, makes clear that in India and neighboring (and primarily Hindu) Nepal, some Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews also have adhered to caste system protocols over the years.)

Barry’s story is long, around 3,500 words, but it stays interesting to its conclusion and it's worth reading in full.

I like how Barry documented her dogged reporting technique, returning time and again to re-interview people, often asking the same reworded questions over and over. That kind of intensive reporting becomes more rare with each passing news cycle.

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Could Facebook officials censor religious content? Many people say they already do

Could Facebook officials censor religious content? Many people say they already do

Have you ever been in “Facebook jail?” Censored if you try to start dialogue about something that’s religiously or ethically noxious?

I’m spotlighting a very interesting Washington Post piece about the inner workings of Facebook, which in my mind are harder to figure out than a CIA organizational chart. For the sake of this blog, we’re interested in news coverage of the religion part of this equation and what this has to do with the power that Facebook has over a good portion of the globe.

An accompanying photo shows Zahra Billoo, a hijab-clad woman who is the executive director of the San Francisco office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. So, two weeks after Trump was elected, 

Billoo ... posted to Facebook an image of a handwritten letter mailed to a San Jose mosque and quoted from it: “He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”
The post -- made to four Facebook accounts -- contained a notation clarifying that the statement came from hate mail sent to the mosque, as Facebook guidelines advise.
 “I couldn’t tolerate just sitting with it and being silent,” Latour said in an interview. “I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin, like my kids’ innocence was stolen in the blink of an eye.”
Facebook removed the post from two of the accounts -- Billoo’s personal page and the council’s local chapter page -- but allowed identical posts to remain on two others -- the organization’s national page and Billoo’s public one. The civil rights attorney was baffled. After she re-posted the message on her personal page, it was again removed, and Billoo received a notice saying she would be locked out of Facebook for 24 hours.
“How am I supposed to do my work of challenging hate if I can’t even share information showing that hate?” she said.

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Hijab hypocrisy: Why the BBC gets it

Hijab hypocrisy: Why the BBC gets it

Every now and then a piece comes out that is so insightful, one must call attention to it. I don’t usually run into stories like that on BBC’s web site but the following one made me take notice.

The headline “Why catwalk hijabs are upsetting some Muslim women” made me take notice.

A lot of us have noticed that fashion brands have been capitalizing on the hijab-like scarves that look glamorous enough but probably wouldn’t pass muster on the Islamic street. Head coverings are supposed to take one’s attention away from the woman -- whereas these scarves certainly drew attention.

So I was not surprised that some women are objecting. Better still was how the pros at BBC saw beneath it all. This passage is long, but it sets of the crucial insights.

Dolce and Gabbana, H&M, Pepsi, Nike: just a few of the big brands putting women wearing a hijab -- a traditional Islamic headscarf -- front and centre in advertising campaigns.
The hijab has long been a contentious topic of conversation; feminists, religious conservatives, secularists are some of the online communities that have engaged in passionate debate about what it represents. But this time, online and using social media, it's some Muslim women who are questioning the use of such images.
Tasbeeh Harwees, a journalist, recently wrote in the online magazine Good about a recent viral Pepsi advert starring Kendall Jenner. The advertisement was controversial because of its alleged trivialisation of street protests -- but some Muslim women took issue for a different reason, the casting of a hijab-wearing woman who photographs the rally.
"A multi-billion dollar company was using the image of a Muslim woman to project an image of progressiveness that it may not necessarily live up to," Harwees tells BBC Trending radio.

Then came some really interesting paragraphs.

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