News in Brief: Harvard recognises Quranic verse as one of the greatest expressions of justice
- Harvard recognises Quranic verse as one of the greatest expressions of justice
Cii News | 24 January 2013
Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious institutions of its kind in the world, has posted a verse of the Holy Quraan at the entrance of its faculty library, describing the verse as one of the greatest expressions of justice in history.
Verse 135 of Surah Al Nisa (The Women) has been posted at a wall facing the faculty’s main entrance, dedicated to the best phrases articulating justice:
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted”
According to a Saudi daily, a Saudi student who studies at Harvard first highlighted the development when he published a picture of the display on his Twitter page.
“I noticed that the verse was posted by the faculty of law, which described it as one of the greatest expressions for justice in history,” Abdullah Jumma said.
Established in 1817, Harvard is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. Among its alumni is US President Barack Obama and a host of influential journalists, writers, media and business leaders and even professional athletes.
According to its official website, The Words of Justice exhibition is a testimony of the endurance of humanity’s yearning for fairness and dignity through law. “The words on these walls affirm the power and irrepressibility of the idea of justice.”
There are approximately two dozen quotations on display in the art installation created by the Law School. The three most prominently displayed at the entrance of the art installation, are quotes from St. Augustine, the Holy Quraan and the Magna Carta. According to the Harvard Law School these quotations illustrate the universality of the concept of justice throughout time and cultures.
Quotations were selected from a pool of over 150 contributions from law school faculty, staff and students. Librarians at the Law School Library researched the historical context and authenticity of each quotation and developed a website to share this research with visitors to the art installation.
Why Sochi Has No Mosques
The Winter Olympics city has 20,000 Muslim residents. Now they just need a place to worship.
—By Tim Murphy | Wed Feb. 5, 2014 3:00 AM GMT
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls Sochi, site of February's Winter Olympics, "the biggest construction site on the planet," and for good reason. Since being awarded the games in 2007, the subtropical Black Sea city has built 442 miles of fiber-optic cables, 200 miles of roads, 55 bridges, 13 train stations, nine hotels for media outlets, six post offices, five schools, a new airport, a $265 million ski jump, a bobsled track, a ski course, two Olympic villages, an 815-acre floating archipelago, and a partridge in a pear tree.
But one item on local residents' wish list was met with a pocket veto—a request to build a mosque for Sochi's 20,000 Muslim residents, many of whom have migrated to the city over the last decade to take jobs building the Olympic facilities.
The mosque issue has long been a sore spot in Sochi, where Muslim leaders have been pushing for a new place to worship since 1996. "I'm so tired of writing letters—whole files—it just drags on and on," a Muslim organizer told the Norwegian news organization Forum 18 in 2006. One decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the city's Muslims were still holding religious ceremonies in cramped basements.
In a 2009 visit to Moscow's Cathedral Mosque, the nation's largest, then-President Dmitry Medvedev was asked by the head of the Russian Mufties Council if he would support a Sochi mosque project. Medvedev said yes. But in the years since, talks between Muslim leaders and the city government have largely fizzled.
But city leaders, such as deputy mayor Anatoli Rykov, have argued that there's already a mosque nearby—50 miles outside the city in the mountain village of Tkhagapsh, population 180. Tkhagapsh is two and a half hours by car from downtown Sochi, and the city's brand new light rail line, hubbed at the country's newest, largest train station, doesn't go there. The mosque is a one-room wood-frame building.
In February of 2012, Sochi mayor Anatoliy Pakhomov reached an agreement with Vyalit Ilyasov, a leader of the local Muslim group Yasin, to build an Islamic cultural center with prayer rooms for men and women—but still no mosque.
The city's lack of accommodations for Muslims is in part a product of a dark regional history. The Russian government is largely deferential to Islamic customs in historically Muslim areas, but although Sochi is in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, a Czarist purge in the 19th century killed hundreds of thousands of ethnically Circassian Muslims and displaced many more. In the 1930s, the last surviving mosque in the region—in Tkhagapsh—was shut down.
Athletes in Sochi, at least, won't have to worry about finding a place to pray. "The Sochi 2014 Organizing committee is ensuring that prayer rooms are available for various religions during the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games," the Sochi Olympics organizing committee said in a statement. "As with previous Games, multi-faith centers will be available in the Olympic and Paralympic villages with five separate prayer rooms in each for followers of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism."
And there's a chance Sochi may yet get its mosque. In January, Askerbiy Kardanov, chairman of the spiritual administration of Muslims of Adygea and the Krasnodar Territory (which includes Sochi), told reporters that plans for the long-awaited mosque project would pick up again after the Olympics, when the city would be looking for new uses for its Olympic villages and acres of asphalt. "The first thing [is] to find a suitable place for the construction of God's house," he said, according to Caucasian Policy.
But Sochi's impasse only underscores the larger issues facing religious freedom in Russia. The mining city of Kostomuksha recently scrapped a mosque construction project, approved six years ago, due to local protests. Another approved plan, for a mosque in the steppe city of Novokuznetsk, also fell through. And as international religious freedom advocate Katrina Lantos-Swett pointed out at an event at Washington's Heritage Foundation last week, Moscow "has 2 million Muslims, but only four mosques"—a number that's not likely to change now that Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said the city has reached its limit.
In Putin's Russia, there's at least one construction boom the government can't seem to get behind.
Fresh clashes kill 12 in China's Xinjiang region
Six die in explosions and another six are shot dead by police in Xinjiang, home to Uighur ethnic minority
theguardian.com, Saturday 25 January 2014 09.05 GMT
Six people have died in explosions and another six have been shot dead by police in fresh violence in China's restive western region of Xinjiang, home to the Uighur ethnic minority, state media have reported.
Assailants threw explosives at police in Xinhe county in the Aksu prefecture on Friday, triggering a clash in which police killed six and captured five suspects, according to the Tianshan news outlet, which is run by the regional Communist party.
Another six people died in blasts, the news outlet said, without providing details.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that the Uighur town of Xinhe had been shaken by three blasts that hit a hair salon, a produce market and a vehicle that exploded after it was surrounded by police. The case is under investigation.
Xinjiang is home to low-intensity insurgency by Turkic Muslim Uighurs against what they see as discrimination and religious suppression by China's majority Han people. The government has responded with a crackdown on what it calls terrorism incited by separatists who are influenced by radical Islam.
The Tianshan report called Friday's violence an act of terrorism.
Last year, clashes between authorities and members of the minority group left scores dead, including 40 police officers.
The violence included an unprecedented attack on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing that killed three Uighur assailants and two tourists last year.
Muslims flock to Bangladesh for festival
Millions attend Bishwa Ijtema, the second largest event for Muslims after the Hajj to Mecca.
Last updated: 25 Jan 2014 07:46
One of the largest gathering of Muslims, Bishwa Ijtema, is under way in Bangladesh.
Millions from around the world congregate for prayer and religious discussions just north of the capital Dakha.
For retailers in the area, the gathering also means big business.
Bishwa ljtema is only second to the Hajj to Mecca in the number of people it attracts.
Al Jazeera’s Maher Sattar reports from Tongi.
Muslim rebels sign Philippine peace deal
Government says deal reached with 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front to end four decades of conflict in south.
Last updated: 26 Jan 2014 03:15
The Philippine government and Muslim rebels have announced that they had cleared the last hurdle in long-running peace negotiations, paving the way to end a deadly decades-old insurgency in the country's south.
Negotiators of both sides said Saturday marked the conclusion of years of peace talks ahead of the signing of a formal deal to seal their work.
Mohagher Iqbal, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator, said the deal was expected to be signed "very soon" to pave the way for peace.
"From A to Z, it has been full of challenges. But with the cooperation and determination of all parties, I think no obstacles will stand in the way, God willing," Iqbal said.
President Benigno Aquino hopes to secure a final peace settlement before leaving office in mid-2016 to end the rebellion by Muslim groups, which has left around 150,000 people dead.
Edwin Lacierda, Aquino's spokesman, said that he hoped the deal could be signed as early as next week.
The Philippine government says it has signed a deal with the country's largest Muslim rebel group to end four decades of conflict in the south that has killed tens of thousands of people.
The final talks were held in Malaysia, which has been brokering the negotiations.
Negotiators met from Wednesday on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur to tackle a "normalisation" deal detailing how the rebels will hand over their weapons, and the creation of a security force to police what would be a Muslim self-rule area.
The deal is the last of four power-sharing accords that must be agreed between the government and the Moro rebels, before a final peace deal can be signed.
Miriam Coronel Ferrer, the chief government negotiator, said: "The peace process ... is aimed to really bring about a good foundation for sustainable peace and development in Mindanao and in that sense we consider this a very important development.
Poverty and instability
Apart from the Moro rebels, many other armed groups operate in the south, including former rebels who had resorted to crime.
The conflict has left parts of the southern Philippines mired in deep poverty and instability.
The US congratulated the Philippine government and the MILF for concluding negotiations towards a peace deal.
"This agreement offers the promise of peace, security, and economic prosperity now and for future generations in Mindanao," John Kerry, secretary of state, said in a statement.
He also commended the Malaysian government, as the facilitator of the talks, "for its constructive role in helping resolve a decades-long conflict".
Apart from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, many other armed groups operate in the south, including former rebels who have resorted to banditry and terrorism.
The insurgency, which began in the 1970s, has left parts of the southern Philippines mired in deep poverty and instability.
A previous peace agreement in 2008 was struck down by the Philippines' Supreme Court, which rejected it as unconstitutional, leading to renewed fighting.
Biblical films flood Hollywood
A number of films this year are based on biblical stories or have strong Christian themes.
Last updated: 16 Jan 2014 20:15
Australia according to Pyne: White, Christian and at war
Australian government wants to change current syllabus to reflect 'the significance of Judeo-Christian values'.
Last updated: 15 Jan 2014 12:57
Religious schools rise in Bangladesh
Estimated 15,000 madrasas teaching four million students amid heated debate over spread of political Islam.
Last updated: 10 Jan 2014 19:45
With a controversial war crimes trial and the rise of an Islamic group called Hefazat-e-Islam, the past year has seen political Islam become a heated topic in Bangladesh. Al Jazeera's Maher Sattar takes a look at the madrasas, or Islamic schools, that form the backbone of the Hefazat movement.
Christian Militias Slaughter CAR Muslims
OnIslam & News Agencies
Thursday, 19 December 2013 00:00
Muslims of France
What challenges have generations of immigrants faced in a country torn between secularism and religious diversity?
Special series Last updated: 03 Jan 2014 07:18
As issues of immigration and integration raise Europe's political temperature, this three-part series examines the history of Muslim immigration to France - a country where debate continues to rage over how to reconcile a long-standing tradition of secularism with religious diversity.
Today, there are an estimated five million Muslims living in France. A century ago, they were referred to as "colonials". During the 1960s, they were known as "immigrants". Today, they are "citizens". But how have the challenges facing each generation of immigrants changed?
How to attain Humility in Prayers
12/10/2013 - Religious - Article Ref: IC1201-4971 - See more at: http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IC1201-4971#sthash.JAnV9HHj.dpuf
In an environment with increasing distractions how do we make our prayers more beneficial for our selves? Following is an excerpt from "Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship", a compilation of Imam Ghazali's works that can inspire us to develop humility and become closer to God through prayer.
Too busy to Pray Five Times?
2/4/2014 - Religious - Article Ref: IC1112-4943
Saudi Grand Mufti condemns suicide attacks
Government-appointed cleric quoted as referring to such attacks as a sin, with attackers condemned to hell.
Last updated: 12 Dec 2013 13:16
Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority in the country, has condemned suicide bombings as grave crimes, reiterating his stance in unusually strong language.
The Saudi cleric, whose views influence those Muslims who adhere to the kingdom's hardline version of Islam, denounced suicide attacks after al-Qaeda's 2001 assault on US cities, but his latest comments, published on Thursday, recast the message in sharp terms.
"Killing oneself is a grave crime and a grave sin," Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh was quoted as saying by the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper.
"Those who kill themselves with explosives are criminals who are hastening their way to hell."
Nearly two months ago, the mufti, who is appointed and paid by the Saudi government, urged Saudis not to travel to Syria to join Sunni Muslim rebels battling to unseat President Bashar al-Assad.
Riyadh broadly backs the rebels, but with the rise of factions in Syria that claim to be Islam-oriented, the country has grown increasingly worried that Saudis who fight for the anti-Assad cause might one day return home with the aim to unseat the kingdom's government.
The mufti did not refer to suicide bombings in a specific country. Such attacks have most frequently occured in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan lately.
Bangladesh hangs opposition leader
Abdul Quader Mollah execution is the first for crimes related to the country's 1971 war of independence.
Last updated: 12 Dec 2013 22:33
Bangladesh has hanged opposition leader Abdul Quader Mollah over war crimes, making him the first person to be put to death for massacres committed during the country's bloody 1971 war of independence.
Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, was hanged on Thursday at 10.01pm (16:01 GMT) in a jail in the capital, Dhaka, government officials said.
The legal case against Mollah has heightened political tension in Bangladesh less than a month before elections are due. Jamaat-e-Islami is barred from contesting elections but plays a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Security was tight around the jail where Mollah was hanged. Extra police and paramilitary guards were deployed on the streets of Dhaka, while hundreds of people gathered at a major intersection in the city to celebrate the execution.
Moqbul Ahmed, JI's acting leader, said in a statement on the party's website that people would revenge Mollah's execution by deepening the role of Islam in Bangladesh. The party called a nationwide general strike for Sunday.
Micro-level civil war
Al Jazeera's Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, said that judges' ancestral homes had been attacked in the wake of the decision.
"It has been a very tense atmosphere in which this review is going on," our correspondent said.
"People are worried, it's almost like a micro-level civil war."
While a strong reaction to the decision from JI was expected on the streets of Dhaka, the city remained relatively calm.
But at least five people were killed earlier on Thursday near the port city of Chittagong as clashes broke out between opposition activists and police.
Party activists also clashed with police, torched or smashed vehicles, and set off homemade bombs in the cities of Sylhet and Rajshahi, TV stations reported.
Scores of people were injured in the latest violence to hit the South Asian country, which has seen weeks of escalating tension as it struggles to overcome extreme poverty and rancorous politics.
In eastern Bangladesh, security officials opened fire to disperse opposition activists, leaving at least three people dead and 15 others wounded, Dhaka's leading Bengali-language newspaper, Prothom Alo, reported.
The violence broke out in Laxmipur district, 95km east of Dhaka, during a nationwide opposition blockade after elite security forces raided and searched the home of an opposition leader, the report said.
Life sentence overturned
The Supreme Court passed the order of a review petition filed by Mollah against its verdict, awarding him the death penalty for his wartime offences. He had originally been due to be hanged on Tuesday, his lawyer said, but the court delayed the execution to consider his petition.
His original life sentence had been overturned by the Supreme Court in September, after mass protests called for him to be hanged.
A panel of five judges led by Chief Justice Mohammad Mojammel Hossain rejected the petition after hearing arguments on the appeal against the death penalty, a state prosecutor said.
Mollah is one of five opposition leaders condemned to death by Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), set up in 2010 to investigate atrocities perpetrated during the 1971 conflict, in which three million people died.
Critics of the tribunal say it has been used as a political tool by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is locked in a political feud with BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, as a way of weakening the opposition ahead of January 5 elections.
"The execution of... Mollah should never have happened," said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International's Bangladesh researcher. "The country is on a razor's edge... with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests."
But many Bangladeshis support the court, believing that those convicted of war crimes should be punished, underlining how the events of 42 years ago still resonate in the impoverished, divided nation of 160 million people.
Budapest Masjid in the Heart of Europe
More Than a Place of Worship
By Aya Timea
Thursday, 05 December 2013 00:00
It is a small country on the map of Eastern Europe, which is usually unknown to most people outside Europe (and sometimes even among Europeans themselves). If you mention the name of a famous footballer like Puskás, some of them start to enlighten a bit, but still many have no idea about Hungary. Islam in Hungary has a long history; the 150 years Ottoman occupation is one of the main reasons behind this history.
Unfortunately, today Islam has become a stranger in the country. There are approximately 26,000 Muslim residents; most of them have Arab or Turkish background. However, the number of revert Hungarians is increasing as well. Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, has more than one Muslim community among which the interaction can be sometimes difficult.
Onislam.net had an interview with Szultan Sulok, head of ’The Organization of Muslims in Hungary’ (MME) to know more about the situation of Muslims in Budapest, challenges, the opportunities and what kind of activities the organization offers for Muslims as well as non-Muslims, who are interested to know about Islam.
Editor: Would you tell us about the Organization of Muslims in Hungary and since when does Budapest Masjid exist?
Mr Sulok: The Organization of Muslims in Hungary was established on September 22 in 2000 under the law on religious freedom. But this organization was not a new one; it has integrated all the experiences of Islamic activities in Hungary since 1987 when the very first Islamic organization, the Muslim Students’ Association, was founded.
We started as a very poor organization sharing a place with another Islamic foundation called Dar As-Salam Mosque. It was not an easy task to be under the same roof with another group; we had continuous debates mostly on the theoretical and practical ways of working. After some time, an opportunity came to us to move into another building, which could provide place for approximately 100 individuals. But the community has started to expend and we needed a much bigger place.
Asking for support from different Muslim countries, al-hamduliAllah, we reached a donator in one of the golf countries who helped us in this project. So, we managed to buy a building and we transformed it into a masjid, naming it Budapest Masjid.
The Masjid’s gates were first opened up in Ramadan, 2011. It is a huge building with 3 floors and a parking place. It can host the approximately 200 students of our Saturday school as well.
Since then, the people who usually pray in the masjid make some donations that cover the expenses of the masjid.
To be honest, it is very hard to maintain a whole masjid this way we are struggling a lot with the bills. It is much easier to find donators abroad if you want to publish Islamic books or organize a summer camp for Muslim children, but maintaining a masjid is considered to be the responsibility of the people who pray in it. Unfortunately, the majority of Muslims in Hungary are under the national average, therefore –despite their being in the European Union – most of them do not have enough money to donate for the masjid continuously.
Editor: Is there any restrictions that the government put on your organization?
Mr Sulok: Well, I would not call it a restriction, but we went through a hard time recently. The law of 1990 regarding religious freedom was a very liberal law. There were more than 300 registered religious organizations in Hungary, and many of them were actually nothing to do with religion. Actually, many of them business organizations but seized this opportunity to make bigger profits.
That is why a new law was adopted to sort out such institutions and that is where our struggle has started. It was more than a one-year struggle for being accepted as a religious organization by the Parliament. AlhamduliAllah, finally we managed to get the official permission as a religious organization.
Now we are among the 35 organizations, which are mentioned in the law as established “churches” representing established religions.
Editor: Didn’t you wish to build a traditional mosque with a high minaret in Budapest?
Mr Sulok: Let alone that building a mosque is two or three times more expensive than buying a building which can function as a mosque, you need lots of permissions and you may find some regulations too strict to be able to build a real masjid. Our brothers in the Dar al-Salam Foundation have been trying this project for maybe almost 10 years by now - without any success so far. Therefore, we preferred to buy an institutional building for this purpose.
Editor:What kind of activities do you offer to Muslims?
Mr Sulok: Besides running the Budapest Masjid, we have summer camps in different places of Hungary and a Saturday school for children. We translate, or I would say we compile Islamic books from different sources, because we do not follow one specific school of Islamic jurisprudence (madhab). Every Saturday, we offer lectures on different aspects of Islam and from time to time,we organize courses in specific topics (this month’s course is about educating our children according to the teachings of Islam) and we have charity activities as well.
We try to represent Islam and Muslims in all possible forums; we participate in the interreligious dialogue to clarify the misunderstandings that others have about Islam.
Furthermore, werun another masjid in Budapest, in the city of Szeged and we have a good community in the city of Pécs and Salgótarján . We also maintain good relationship with the Hungarian speaking Muslims in Slovakia and Romania as well.
Editor: How is the community in Budapest? Do only Hungarians visit the masjid?
Mr Sulok: The majority of Muslims in Hungary live in the capital. 60 % of them have Arabic origins, 30% are from different backgrounds like Turkish, Persian or African Muslims and only around 10% are native Hungarian.
The Friday sermon and some lectures are in Arabic with Hungarian translation, but we usually teach in Hungarian language at the school and the Saturday weekly lectures.
To tell the truth, the biggest problem among the Muslim communities in Hungary, is the segregation between Muslims. For example, Arabs go to certain mosques, Turkish go to others, and sometimes, there is a kind of mistrust between the different groups.
Of course, this issue affects Muslims reverts as well. If they have reverted in one place, usually they get influenced by the thoughts of that particular community and they tend to follow their madhab (without knowing that other madhabs exist and their rulings are also correct and worth following). Thus, in many cases,Their creed would form without any reference to the authentic Islamic sources and they never or rarely visit other communities.
Editor: Budapest Masjid has recently opened a weekend school for Muslim children. Tell us more about what the young Muslims study there and how many students Nur school counts?
Mr Sulok: We have started the Saturday school 2 years ago in the Budapest Masjid. Currently, Nur School teaches about 200 children, which is, I believe, quite a big number, Alhamdulillah. The school welcomes students from the age of 7 till 16 for whom we teach Arabic language, the correct recitation of the Holy Quran and fiqh in a basic level e.g. how to pray or how to make ablution properly.
The students are very enthusiastic, but we face many problems originating from the parents. If they do not practice Islam properly at home showing a good example for their children, then a few hours lesson once a week in the Saturday school will not have a significant effect on them. We really need the daily help of the parents in order to raise up well educated and pious Muslims.
Editor: How does the masjid welcome non-Muslims? Is it hard to make dawah for Hungarians?
Mr Sulok: We offer Arabic language courses for free, and we are opento anyone who wants to visit us and ask about Islam. Not long time ago, even a tourist group came to the masjid. But we are not able to do street dawah or other kinds of direct callings to Islam for two reasons: firstly, the number of Muslims is not as big as in the West, and we think that something like a street dawah is just not working with the Hungarian people. Secondly, we lack the human recourses needed for such activity; I mean there are few Muslim people who are educated enough in religious issues and have that much free time to start certain voluntary dawah activities in the city.
Nevertheless, our organization involves in interfaith debates, and participates in any kind of forum where Muslims are welcomed. For instance, there is a project in the University of National Defense in Budapest concerning the minority groups in the country. We were invited to contribute to a course book writing the chapter on Islam and Muslims. We are very glad to participate in the project and present Islam as it really is.
Review: “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World”
December 2, 2013 By Dan Wilkinson
In the West, Islam is popularly depicted as a religion rooted in hate and violence, as a belief system inherently antagonistic towards other religions — particularly Christianity — and as synonymous with terrorism and totalitarian theocratic rule.
But there is another face of Islam, a face that garners little attention on the evening news and is virtually ignored by those who traffic in — and profit from — divisive fear mongering. This is an Islam practiced by millions around the world, an Islam defined not by violence but by respect, an Islam that remains true to its founder’s revelation.
In The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World (Angelico Press), John Andrew Morrow sets out to offer concrete textual reasons, from the Prophet Mohammed himself, for an understanding of Islam that moves beyond stereotypes and reasserts the truly inclusive foundations of Islamic belief.
Morrow presents six covenants written by Muhammad to Christian communities and argues that these letters and treaties, which proclaim and define peaceful and mutually respectful relationships with Christians, have the potential to serve as a foundational source of Islamic belief and practice, on equal footing with the Koran and the hadiths.
Bringing modern historical scholarship and textual criticism to bear in his study of these rare and largely forgotten documents, Morrow refutes the notion that Muslims and Christians necessarily stand at odds with one another, instead offering “a compelling case that the original intent of Muhammad was not to create a strictly Muslim state, but rather a confederation of the People of the Book,” (xii) and presents persuasive reasons for believing that “tolerance of Christians who are at peace with Muslims forms an intrinsic part of the Islamic tradition.” (108)
Morrow opens his book with a detailed but accessible biography of Muhammad, focusing in particular on the Prophet’s formative interactions with Jews and Christians, interactions that were characterized by mutual respect. This respect didn’t stem from watered-down syncretism, but rather from a robust adherence to core beliefs and an honest acknowledgement of the similarities and the differences between the Abrahamic faiths. This tolerance was “… undoubtedly founded on the recognition that theological matters that went beyond the most fundamental tenets of monotheism … were best discussed among scholars, theologians and esoterics, in line with the wise and balanced Islamic separation between the Outer and the Inner, between that which must be accepted by all Muslims and that which will necessarily be understood only by the few.” (59)
It is against this historical backdrop that Morrow presents the six covenants, devoting a chapter to each and offering commentary and critical evaluation of these “controversial and highly disputed document[s].” (65) His discussion is even-handed, though at times overly sympathetic. Morrow interacts with textual difficulties adroitly, but invariably casts his lots in favor of authenticity, even when at times evidence supporting such a conclusion is entirely lacking. For Morrow, the spirit of Islamic belief is able to bridge such evidential gaps. Fortunately, Morrow doesn’t allow this tendency to trump the evidence itself, and he readily acknowledges shortcomings in the textual traditions.
The middle section of the book consists of the texts themselves: Arabic transcriptions, photographic reproductions of extant manuscripts and a variety of corresponding English translations. I appreciate the inclusion of actual source documents, but as a lay-person, they meant little to me — I assume that scholars will find them useful.
In the final section of the book, Morrow discusses the specific challenges facing our understanding of these texts, including the records of witnesses associated with the various covenants, the transmission of the documents themselves and the broader contextual implication of the covenants. He concludes with suggestions for areas of further study in this nascent field. The book closes with an extensive appendix, detailed bibliography, maps, photos and a detailed index.
Thoughtful, accessible and scholarly, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World offers important evidence for understanding Islam as a religion founded on ideals of respect and tolerance, ideals that, if evinced today in the way that Muhammad originally intended, have the potential to redefine modern religious and cultural interactions.
More information about the covenants themselves can be found online at The Covenants Initiative , which also features an online petition for Muslims to sign declaring the binding nature of the covenants. More details about the book can be found on the Patheos Book Club page.
“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with a means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury); but say, “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; and our God and your God is One, and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” Qur’an 29:46
Finally justice for Bosnia's Muslims?
The uncovering of a mass grave in Prijedor could reveal some of the darkest secrets from Bosnia's ethnic conflict.
Last updated: 28 Nov 2013 07:10
Flaminia Giambalvo is a reporter/producer for Islam Channel and a freelance journalist.
As members from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) gather in Sarajevo to mark the tribunal's 20th anniversary, the uncovering of a mass grave near the northern Bosnian town of Prijedor could yield vital evidence for the former Yugoslavia's war crime trials.
Forensic teams are confident they have found one of the biggest mass graves from the deadly war that gripped the region in the 1990s. As of late November, the bodies of over 400 victims of Serbia ethnic killings have been found at the Tomasica site.
For those like Sudbin Music, a concentration camp survivor, this is a particularly difficult place to be.
After surviving the ethnic cleansing of his village, during which his father was killed, Sudbin and his younger brother were taken to the Trnopolje concentration camp. "I was a normal young boy, 18 years old, and at the best moment in my life, at the end of the 20th century something unacceptable happened to us," he said as he stared into the grave.
As the secretary of Prijedor 92, an NGO, which supports families of former concentration camp detainees, his daily job is to liaise between forensic teams and the local community. "I was here two days ago and my neighbour, Hassan, was excavated," he said. After a brief pause he added, "Two hours later, I went downtown to the city centre and I met his mom. She asked me, 'Sudbin is there any news?' And I answered no Sura, nothing's new. It was too difficult for me to give her that information."
Sudbin is one of Bosnia's thousands of "returnees"- those who fled the country during the war and have come back over the past decade. However, he and many of the other Bosniaks living in the Serb dominated Republica Srpska, no longer feel they belong in their own country.
Lack of recognition
Rumours about the existence of the Tomasica mass grave have existed for decades. But in the absence of witnesses to provide information as to its exact location, local authorities decided that it was not possible to begin an excavation.
Begnt Norborg, a journalist for the Swedish State Broadcaster SVT, reported on its existence in 1996. After being tipped off by a human rights group, he and his team headed to Bosnia to investigate the story. He drove to the outskirts of Prijedor where he found a few houses owned by Croats. Many of them had seen trucks filled with bodies, driving to Tomasica and leaving empty. One resident had also been a close friend of a Serb who worked at the Tomasica site and told him stories of mass executions, which took place there.
Based on evidence provided by the recent excavation, the team from the Chief Prosecutor's Office has been able to confirm these eye-witness accounts.
When I visited Bosnia earlier this month, I noticed a group of houses less than 100 metres from the Tomasica site. I asked Sudbin who lived in those houses. "These were the first houses built here, they are owned by Serbs," he said. Then he looks at the 800 square metres of dug up soil and added, "How could they not have known?"
But secrets are hard to keep, and it was a former Serb soldier, originally part of the team tasked with hiding the bodies, who came forward in April unable to live with the guilt he has carried for 21 years.
Eye-witness statements have now established that the grave originally contained 1,000 bodies, some were stolen from the site and re-buried at a nearby grave to cover up the crime.
Bosnia's ethnic conflict was brutal; as Yugoslavia disintegrated, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks fought for control of the land. In the region of Prijedor, where this grave has been found, it has been determined that it was the Serb forces that were responsible for most of the deaths as they forced out Croats and Muslims.
A UN report, which compares figures from the 1991 official census with a population count dating 1993, shows a decrease of the Muslim population in the district of Prijedor from over 49,000 to just over 6,000.
To this date, local authorities from the Republika Serpska, deny that ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks took place in this area. In this city, there are no memorials to commemorate non-Serb victims of the war. For over eight years, people have asked local authorities for permits to install a memorial dedicated to the Muslim and Croat war victims, but so far none have been granted.
Murder without trial
More than 1,000 people from Prijedor are still missing.
Forensic teams are working tirelessly, hoping the evidence will not only bring peace to the families, but also provide answers to questions being asked in the trials in the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
The depth at which they were buried means that many of the bodies have been preserved in a mummified state and could provide some of the best evidence to prove crimes committed in this area.
Once excavated, the bodies are taken to a nearby morgue for DNA testing. On my visit to the morgue, I met Dzafic Nusret, a local police officer, who was collecting evidence on the abduction of bodies. He didn't speak English, but pointed to a photo hanging on the wall. It was one of the conflict's iconic images, showing an emaciated detainee standing behind barbwire. "Trnopolje, year 1992. I was standing right next to him," he said. He told me about the people he met while in Trnopolje - many of whom he had personally identified over the past few weeks. He added, "I hope it will be proven that genocide took place here. We did not deserve this to happen to us."
Tomasica is one count of the indictment in the trials of former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who stand accused of genocide and crimes against humanity in eight municipalities, including Prijedor.
In 2012, the Appeals Chamber dismissed the count of genocide in the municipality of Prijedor, on the basis that the prosecution was incapable of proving certain types of genocidal acts as well as "relevant genocidal intent" by Karadzic. The Appeals Chamber unanimously reinstated this count on July 11.
In total, 16 Bosnian Serbs have been found guilty in the area of Prijedor, where Tomasica has been dug up. Most of these were leaders and high-ranking generals believed to be responsible for inciting ethnic hatred, and ordering many of the war crimes. However, the uncovering of Tomasica has opened a new set of questions as to who carried out the orders.
Public recognition of the past is the only way to shift the stigma attached to a race or nation onto individuals and allow the reconciliation process to begin. For the time being, ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslvia are still a dangerous spark, buried under the thin soil of the many war memorials.
The uncovering of Tomasica has opened the old wounds of the country's violent past. The way in which the ICTY and local authorities will handle its aftermath will bear heavily on the tribunal's legacy for the next two decades.
Flaminia Giambalvo is a reporter/producer for Islam Channel and a freelance journalist.