1001 Inventions

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I used to wonder about the title “1001 Inventions”, since the exhibition is not (yet) as vast as that. It turns out that it was a take on the exotic “1001 Nights” concept, showing that the history of Arab and Islamic civilisation should be seen in a new light.

Common Word: "now for action"

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There is an article at IslamOnline about a recent conference in the USA developing the dialogue initiative now well known as A Common Word:

Religious scholars, politicians and experts agree that a Muslim dialogue initiative for the Christian world needs action to address all the challenges still standing between the followers of the two Abrahamic faiths.

“I think what we are addressing… is how to develop out of ‘A Common Word’ a common work together and common partnership,” John Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, told IslamOnline.net.

Esposito was among a galaxy of international religious scholars and experts participating in a two-day conference sponsored by Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the office of Georgetown University President.

The conference, “A Common Word Between Us and You: A Global Agenda for Change”, is a follow-up on an October 2007 letter from Muslim scholars to the world’s Christian clergy urging dialogue to declare the common ground between Islam and Christianity.

For more details of the project itself, see the official website: A Common Word Between Us and You

Religious scholars, politicians and experts agree that a Muslim dialogue initiative for the Christian world needs action to address all the challenges still standing between the followers of the two Abrahamic faiths.“I think what we are addressing… is how to develop out of A Common Word a common work together and common partnership,” John Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, told IslamOnline.net.

Esposito was among a galaxy of international religious scholars and experts participating in a two-day conference sponsored by Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the office of Georgetown University President.

The conference, “A Common Word Between Us and You: A Global Agenda for Change”, is a follow-up on an October 2007 letter from Muslim scholars to the world’s Christian clergy urging dialogue to declare the common ground between Islam and Christianity.

Fridays at the Synagogue

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See this video about a “super-unusual” arrangement between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Northern Virginia.

I’m not certain of the juristic positions of the respective faiths on this matter, but I do recall a rabbi mentioning in an inter-faith discussion I attended that he would have no discomfort in performing his prayers in a mosque if welcomed, whereas he would not do the same in a church.

Three Faiths Action on Usury

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Jonathan Freedland today comments on an interesting turn of events in the City. Apparently there is a campaign brewing to revive usury laws, which would put a limit on the amount that can be charged by banks for lending money.

Some will say that we should save all this talk for the pulpit, that it’s all very well in the realm of moral exhortation but it has no place in the real world of hard-headed economics. But London Citizens’s Glasman has a good retort: “What the crash has revealed is that it’s the bankers who’ve been living in a fantasy world of virtual money, where money has no relation to assets and no connection to the real economy.” [...]

It is telling that the lead voices in this new effort are from mosques, inner-city churches and synagogues. The politicians have been left looking flummoxed by the financial crisis, apparently desperate for normal business to resume as soon as possible. It has been left to the Pope to offer the most comprehensive critique of our devastated economic landscape, in his latest encyclical. But those facing crippling debts will not be too bothered by that. When people are desperate, they will take leadership from wherever they can get it.

What Freedland seems to have missed in saying that “to charge too much interest is immoral” is that the Islamic texts prohibiting usury/interest do so absolutely, and do not merely put a cap on the rate. He provides a few scriptural quotes, and I do not get the impression that the Jewish and Christian position would be any less absolute, if based solely on these texts:

The Code of Hammurabi, written in Babylon 17 centuries before Jesus, barred excessive interest. The Book of Exodus is no less stringent: “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, do not act to them as a creditor, extract no interest from them.” Luke’s gospel insists we “lend without expecting any return“, while the Qur’an instructs believers to “fear Allah, and give up what remains of your demand for usury”.

There have been interesting developments in what is termed as Islamic banking, and even “halal (permissible) mortgages”, a term that many are uncomfortable with because it seems an oxymoron to describe something inherently usurious as religiously pure. However, there are complexities in how these transactions are designed, such that something that might look like interest is in fact something different.

While it is certainly devious and immoral to merely re-label something in order to make it seem acceptable, it is the case that two things can look the same while having a different ruling, such as two beef steaks, one of which came from a correctly slaughtered animal, and the other being incorrectly prepared.

To know the rulings on such loans, we need close consultation between the financial experts and the scholars of religious law.

"Your own personal Jesus"

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I received this by e-mail and shared my responses. It looks an interesting way to gather diverse perspectives, so do take part if interested.

The National Portrait Gallery of Scotland will be hosting an exhibition later this year entitled Rough Cut Nation.

This unique multimedia project draws together a group of young artists from around Scotland to create a dramatic collaborative installation. For the Edinburgh Festival they will construct a remixed version of Scottish history as informed by street art and graffiti culture, painted, pasted and projected directly onto the walls of the Portrait Gallery.

The project updates William Hole’s original decorative mural scheme of 1889-1898, depicting important events from Scotland’s past. This new installation exploits the empty space produced by the Gallery’s current closure for redevelopment.

The original mural by William Hole portrays elements of Scottish history with strong religious and at times Protestant overtones.

As one of the artist duos involved, we are interested in exploring religious iconography and the use of Jesus as a moral or social catalyst within both Scottish history and contemporary culture.

With that in mind we would like to ask you three questions:

1. In one word, describe who was/is Jesus?
2. In one word, what does Jesus have to do with Scottish History?
3. What impact has Jesus had on Scotland past, present and future?

The answers that we collect from these questions will potentially form part of the final artwork, but will not be attributed to any one individual.

To take part: http://dufi-art.blogspot.com/2009/06/who-do-you-say-i-am.html

7/7 four years on

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Extremism relies on despair and is defeated by hope
Sohaib Saeed

Originally published in the Edinburgh Evening News, 7th July 2006

A YEAR ago, Thursday morning: something on the news about a power surge in the London Tube; I get some breakfast, and it looks to have been a series of bombings; by lunchtime, it was the al-Qaida network and the Muslim threat within.
In the weeks that followed, I was hot property in the media’s eyes: what can this young bearded man tell us about these Angry Young Muslims and the process of radicalisation? I don’t know, I said; I can tell you anything about facts, but I’m not going to jump on any bandwagon and point the easy finger at the mosques, the youth, the Muslim communities.

I’m not interested in agenda-driven polls like in The Times this week – I reckon poll is short for “polarise”. Muslims are horrified by terrorism, full stop. The London bombings affected people of all backgrounds and ways of life. They harmed not only all those people killed or injured, but also our whole society. Years of harmony-building effort were set back by this devastating criminal act, condemned in the sight of the Creator – whatever name we may call Him by.

Just as it was hard to remember what life was like before 9/11, 7/7 became another turning point. Headlines in the papers became hysterical: one screamed “Radical Islamists at Scots universities” – which was news to me as a student well connected to Islamic societies around Scotland. The “story” was based on assertions made by Prof Anthony Glees, labelling Dundee University as a breeding ground for extremism on the basis of precisely nothing. I recall how distressing this was for Muslim students there, who have since faced increased scrutiny and visits by Special Branch.

I learned an important lesson that summer, though: not to assume that people are like some in the media portray, or that they are shaped by the negativity they are exposed to. I hope others can bear that principle in mind when thinking about Muslims too. The Central Mosque on Potterrow opened its doors every day in August for the annual Discover Islam Exhibition. So many people came, and I was amazed and heartened by their warmth and interest to know us and what we are about.
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Islam, arts and boundaries

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Below is an interview with me which forms part of a longer article by Joe Horton, back in 2007 when I was manager of the Islam Festival Edinburgh (running again this August).

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Sohaib Saeed, manager of the Islam Festival at the Edinburgh Central Mosque, steeples his fingers carefully as he speaks. His voice, though soft, carries quite a distance in this silent library directly underneath the main prayer room of the mosque. It’s early afternoon, between the noon and afternoon prayers, so the mosque is quiet.

“For sure artists can be provocative. But in sensitive times, you have to think, will this raise up our society or just encourage bigots?” he says. “To be ignorant of one’s own ignorance is the worst. It’s narcissistic — there’s no effort to ascertain what’s the truth.”

The Discover Islam Exhibition, now an official part of the Fringe Festival welcoming 20,000 visitors per season, is in many ways the watchdog of artistic representations of Islam at the Festival. The primary purpose and goal of the exhibition, Saeed explains, is to educate festival visitors as to the true teachings of Islam and to provide a factual background to the artistic and dramatic representations of Islam and Muslims that have become increasingly common at the festival in recent years.

To that end, members of the mosque are available to answer questions for five minutes or five hours on any subject, no matter how polarizing or politically taboo. The exhibition also offers recitations of the Qur’an and workshops in Arabic calligraphy that also contribute artistically to the festival.

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Vatican praises Islamic finance

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This is news from March 2009 – Today’s Zaman reports:

As world markets suffer under the weight of the ongoing global financial crisis, the Vatican has put forward a new suggestion, arguing that the principles of Islamic finance may represent a possible cure for ailing markets.

The Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, recently published an article titled “Islamic finance proposals and ideas for the West in crisis,” prepared by Italian economists Loretta Napoleoni and Claudia Segre, in which it was suggested that the basic rules of Islamic finance could relieve suffering markets and particularly international financial systems. Noting that Islam prohibits “riba,” Arabic for the usurious loaning of money, the article argued that “sukuk bonds,” securities that comply with Islamic law, may be an alternative to interest. The article stressed that sukuk bonds are always real investments and never speculative.

The article said that in this atmosphere of crisis banks should take Muslims as an example and that the Islamic finance system may pave the way for the establishment of new rules in the Western world. The Vatican has suggested that the current capitalist system has failed. Pope Benedict XVI recently harshly criticized the capitalist system and the greediness of bank owners in the West.  In the meantime, the Vatican itself has been badly affected by the crisis. It had recorded an 18 billion euro budget surplus in 2007, but this number had declined to 6 billion euros by the end of 2008 and is expected to fall further in 2009.

And according to Bloomberg.com:

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Protecting Synagogues and Mosques

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Effective dialogue is based not on words alone, but should be manifested in actions which further mutual understanding and cooperation. One such action between faith communities is to show solidarity in the face of hostility, such as when a place of worship is attacked.

That was the reaction of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation in March 2009, when news reached them of vandalism against Edinburgh’s synagogue, apparently by two young Muslims who may have considered it some sort of ‘revenge’ on behalf of victims of Israel’s recent brutality against the people of Gaza.

Muslim leaders offer to guard synagogue (The Scotsman)

I am proud to say that by expressing solidarity in the way they did, SIF managed to shift the way newspapers would have otherwise covered the crime, as it could have been portrayed as a sign of overt tensions between Muslims and Jews in Scotland, which is of course far from the truth.

They also underlined the key fact of the distinction between Judaism and Zionism. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews. And even if particular Jews can be defined as Zionists, not all Zionism is the same, and it certainly doesn’t justify any sort of violence against them.

They proved with actions what they also stated with clarity. I helped to draft the guidance notes which were distributed to Edinburgh’s imams, several of whom made a point of condemning the crime in their sermons or announcements, and clarifying Islam’s stance on the issue.

While the private response from the synagogue was positive, unfortunately a rather negative comment appeared in the Jewish Telegraph from the spokesman of the Community Security Trust, which “provides physical security, training and advice for the protection of British Jews”.

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