Friday, July 31, 2009

America is still better than Saudi Arabia!

Islam and Human Rights
16 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com

America is still better than Saudi Arabia!


The stories of Deaths and Torture in Detention that keep coming out of the US of A tell us that perhaps there is nothing much to choose between America and a totalitarian state like Saudi Arabia. After all, they are close allies too.  But one has to admit that we at least know – even though human rights bodies seem helpless in trying to DO anything about it – of some glaring cases of torture going on in American prisons, but that is not the case with the bastion of Islam, the religion that can be called the original champion of Human Rights, which practically invented the term "Human Rights" (Huqooqul Ibad ). So perhaps America is still better than Saudi Arabia. Also, while America can kill someone who spent 15 years working in the country and was seeking a Green Card, in Saudi Arabia, the very question of someone applying for some sort of indefinite stay would not arise even if he – and of course, not she - lived and worked there for a hundred years or more. All said, however, it is shameful for America, I suppose, to be compared to its closest ally in the Middle East.

The following is a heart-rending tale of torture and death in detention of an innocent man who simply happened to believe in what Americans love to call 'the American Dream" and paid for it. Ill and in Pain, Detainee Dies in U.S. Hands by NINA BERNSTEIN, New York Times





Ill and in Pain, Detainee Dies in U.S. Hands



Published: August 12, 2008


He was 17 when he came to New York from Hong Kong in 1992 with his parents and younger sister, eyeing the skyline like any newcomer. Fifteen years later, Hiu Lui Ng was a New Yorker: a computer engineer with a job in the Empire State Building, a house in Queens, a wife who is a United States citizen and two American-born sons.


But when Mr. Ng, who had overstayed a visa years earlier, went to immigration headquarters in Manhattan last summer for his final interview for a green card, he was swept into immigration detention and shuttled through jails and detention centers in three New England states.


In April, Mr. Ng began complaining of excruciating back pain. By mid-July, he could no longer walk or stand. And last Wednesday, two days after his 34th birthday, he died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a Rhode Island hospital, his spine fractured and his body riddled with cancer that had gone undiagnosed and untreated for months.


On Tuesday, with an autopsy by the Rhode Island medical examiner under way, his lawyers demanded a criminal investigation in a letter to federal and state prosecutors in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, and the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the detention system.


Mr. Ng's death follows a succession of cases that have drawn Congressional scrutiny to complaints of inadequate medical care, human rights violations and a lack of oversight in immigration detention, a rapidly growing network of publicly and privately run jails where the government held more than 300,000 people in the last year while deciding whether to deport them.


In federal court affidavits, Mr. Ng's lawyers contend that when he complained of severe pain that did not respond to analgesics, and grew too weak to walk or even stand to call his family from a detention pay phone, officials accused him of faking his condition. They denied him a wheelchair and refused pleas for an independent medical evaluation.


Instead, the affidavits say, guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I., dragged him from his bed on July 30, carried him in shackles to a car, bruising his arms and legs, and drove him two hours to a federal lockup in Hartford, where an immigration officer pressured him to withdraw all pending appeals of his case and accept deportation.


"For this desperately sick, vulnerable person, this was torture," said Theodore N. Cox, one of Mr. Ng's lawyers, adding that they want to see a videotape of the transport made by guards.


Immigration and detention officials would not discuss the case, saying the matter was under internal investigation. But in response to a relative of Mr. Ng's who had begged that he be checked for a spinal injury or fractures, the Wyatt detention center's director of nursing, Ben Candelaria, replied in a July 16 e-mail message that Mr. Ng was receiving appropriate care for "chronic back pain." He added, "We treat each and every detainee in our custody with the same high level of quality, professional care possible."


Officials have given no explanation why they took Mr. Ng to Hartford and back on the same day. But the lawyers say the grueling July 30 trip appeared to be an effort to prove that Mr. Ng was faking illness, and possibly to thwart the habeas corpus petition they had filed in Rhode Island the day before, seeking his release for medical treatment.


The federal judge who heard that petition on July 31 did not make a ruling, but in an unusual move insisted that Mr. Ng get the care he needed. On Aug. 1, Mr. Ng was taken to a hospital, where doctors found he had terminal cancer and a fractured spine. He died five days later.


The accounts of Mr. Ng's treatment echo other cases that have prompted legislation, now before the House Judiciary Committee, to set mandatory standards for care in immigration detention.


In March, the federal government admitted medical negligence in the death of Francisco Castaneda, 36, a Salvadoran whose cancer went undiagnosed in a California detention center as he was repeatedly denied a biopsy on a painful penile lesion. In May, The New York Times chronicled the death of Boubacar Bah, 52, a Guinean tailor who suffered a skull fracture and brain hemorrhages in the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey; records show he was left in an isolation cell without treatment for more than 13 hours.


When Mr. Ng died last week, he had spent half his life in the United States, his sister, Wendy Zhao, said in a tearful interview.


Born in China, he entered the United States legally on a tourist visa. Mr. Ng stayed on after it expired and applied for political asylum. He was granted a work permit while his application was pending, and though asylum was eventually denied, immigration authorities did not seek his deportation for many years.


Meanwhile, his sister said, Mr. Ng (pronounced Eng), who was known as Jason, graduated from high school in Long Island City, Queens, worked his way through community technical college, passed Microsoft training courses and won a contract to provide computer services to a company with offices in the Empire State Building.



 In 2001, a notice ordering him to appear in immigration court was mistakenly sent to a nonexistent address, records show. When Mr. Ng did not show up at the hearing, the judge ordered him deported. By then, however, he was getting married, and on a separate track, his wife petitioned Citizenship and Immigration Services for a green card for him — a process that took more than five years. Heeding bad legal advice, the couple showed up for his green card interview on July 19, 2007, only to find enforcement agents waiting to arrest Mr. Ng on the old deportation order.


Over the next year, while his family struggled to pay for new lawyers to wage a complicated and expensive legal battle, Mr. Ng was held in jails under contract to the federal immigration authorities: Wyatt; the House of Correction in Greenfield, Mass.; and the Franklin County Jail in St. Albans, Vt.


Mr. Ng seemed healthy until April, his sister said, when he began to complain of severe back pain and skin so itchy he could not sleep. He was then in the Vermont jail, a 20-bed detention center with no medical staff run by the county sheriff's office. Seeking care, he asked to be transferred back to Wyatt, a 700-bed center with its own medical staff, owned and operated by a municipal corporation.


In a letter to his sister, Mr. Ng recounted arriving there on July 3, spending the first three days in pain in a dark isolation cell. Later he was assigned an upper bunk and required to climb up and down at least three times a day for head counts, causing terrible pain. His brother-in-law B. Zhao appealed for help in e-mail messages to the warden, Wayne Salisbury, on July 11 and 16.


"I was really heartbroken when I first saw him," Mr. Zhao wrote Mr. Salisbury after a visit. "After almost two weeks of suffering with unbearable back pain and unable to get any sleep, he was so weak and looked horrible."


The nursing director replied that Mr. Ng had been granted a bottom bunk and was receiving painkillers and muscle relaxants prescribed by a detention center doctor.


But his condition continued to deteriorate. Once a robust man who stood nearly six feet and weighed 200 pounds, his relatives said, Mr. Ng looked like a shrunken and jaundiced 80-year-old.


"He said, 'I told the nursing department, I'm in pain, but they don't believe me,' " his sister recalled. " 'They tell me, stop faking.' "


Soon, according to court papers, he had to rely on other detainees to help him reach the toilet, bring him food and call his family; he no longer received painkillers, because he could not stand in line to collect them. On July 26, Andy Wong, a lawyer associated with Mr. Cox, came to see the detainee, but had to leave without talking to him, he said, because Mr. Ng was too weak to walk to the visiting area, and a wheelchair was denied.


On July 30, according to an affidavit by Mr. Wong, he was contacted by Larry Smith, a deportation officer in Hartford, who told him on a speakerphone, with Mr. Ng present, that he wanted to resolve the case, either by deporting Mr. Ng, or "releasing him to the streets." Officer Smith said that no exam by an outside doctor would be allowed, and that Mr. Ng would not be given a wheelchair.


Mr. Ng told his lawyer he was ready to give up, the affidavit said, "because he could no longer withstand the suffering inside the facility," but Officer Smith insisted that Mr. Ng would first have to withdraw all his appeals.


The account of his treatment clearly disturbed the federal judge, William E. Smith of United States District Court in Providence, who instructed the government's lawyer the next day to have the warden get Mr. Ng to the hospital for an M.R.I.


The results were grim: cancer in his liver, lungs and bones, and a fractured spine. " 'I don't have much time to live,' " his sister said he told her in a call from Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.


She said the doctor warned that if the family came to visit, immigration authorities might transfer her brother. Three days passed before the warden approved a family visit, she said, after demanding their Social Security numbers. Late in the afternoon of Aug. 5, as Mr. Ng lay on a gurney, hours away from death and still under guard, she and his wife held up his sons, 3 and 1.


"Brother, don't worry, don't be afraid," Ms. Zhao said, repeating her last words to him. "They are not going to send you back to the facility again. Brother, you are free now."

View Source article;

Islam and Hinduism: Don’t let extremists exploit religion

Islam and Pluralism
16 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com

Islam and Hinduism: Don't let extremists exploit religion


By Dr Khalid Hameed


This is the text of a speech delivered by Dr Khalid Hameed, CBE, on "Citizenship and Harmony" during a dialogue between Hindus and Muslims at the Nehru Centre in London on May 19:


The main divisive influence in our lives now at the beginning of the 21st century, even ahead of race, is religion. We are witnessing an upsurge of extremism which the psychologists blame on all sorts of reasons. For whatever reason, religion is under threat of being exploited by extremists to achieve their nefarious political agenda.


Religion can be a force for peace, or war; it can heal, or hurt. It can create or destroy on a scale unimaginable to previous generations. History has recorded enough bloodshed in the name of religion. Moses, who led his people from slavery to the brink of the Promised Land, gave them a choice: "See I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so that you and your children may live."


When extremists inflict violence on society, it is often the innocent who are their main victims. They invoke religion as a justification for their violence. This must be resisted by the community at large. Voices must be raised in protest. We must withhold the robe of sanctity when it is sought as a cloak for violence and bloodshed, even if the perpetrators are from our own faith. These misguided people thrive on divisive appeals to our basic instincts of "Us" and "Them", which amounts to being comfortable with familiarity and resistant to others of different demeanours.


Most societies have been suspicious and aggressive towards strangers. Strangers are non-kin, they come from beyond the tribe. And therefore can I, as a Muslim, recognise God's image in a stranger who is not a fellow Muslim? That is, can I see God's image in a Hindu, in a Sikh, or in a Christian, or a Jew? Islam tackles this confusion by saying to the Muslims in the Quran to respect all of God's creations, regardless of their religion or method of worship. In Surah Kafirun, verse 109, the Quran says: "Tell the disbelievers I do not worship what you worship nor do you worship what I worship. I will not worship what you worship, nor will you worship what I worship. To you: your religion, and to me: mine".


Let's examine how different faiths advise us to interact when faced with the same problem of strangers.


The Hebrew part of the Bible commands, and I quote: "When a stranger lives with you in your land do not ill-treat him. A stranger who lives with you should be treated like the native born. Love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God."


From the ancient Hindu scripture Subhashith comes this advice: "This man is ours, that man is a stranger. Discrimination of this kind is found only amongst mean-minded people. Those who are noble, to them the whole world is one family."


Following on from this, from the Vedas comes the message: "Vasu dheva kutumbbakhan (The world is one family). Ano bhadraha kratava yantu vishwataha (Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides).


The Quran gives a similar message: "O you men — we have created you male and female and I have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the best for conduct."


Let us next review what is the state of affairs here in the United Kingdom. I must, first of all, voice my gratitude to the United Kingdom, my adopted country. Like many of you, I am grateful to this great country for the opportunities that we have received to fulfil our objectives and goals.


There is, of late however, a shadow cast on our community relations in this country. The events of September 11 brought that into sharp focus. On that fateful day the killing of thousands of innocent people created a great paradox for Islam. A religion which sees itself as a religion of peace was associated with murder and mayhem. Voices were raised and questions were asked: Does the Quran preach violence? Do Muslims hate other faiths? Is Islam mainly the religion of fanatics? Does it nurture extremists and terrorists? Are we to witness the start of a clash between Islam and other faiths? As these questions reverberated, for many Muslims this was a time of challenge and despair.


I was born into the Muslim faith and brought up with the guiding principles of Islam, which I find now are in serious conflict with the activities and utterances of some of the extremists in my religion. I am sure that the question in the minds of many Muslims must be: How does one respond to this serious threat? As responsible citizens we need to put our house in order and convey the true message of Islam, which is of peaceful and harmonious living with our neighbours.


The accepted teachings of Islam, which have prevailed throughout the centuries, are based on a belief in peace and compassion. It is appropriate to say that terrorists are evil, regardless of what religion they belong to. In today's world each community and continent is faced with this problem in some shape or form. The terrorists are a tiny minority. The majority in the world, including Muslims, condemn them.


The 1.5 billion Muslims who live in this world are mostly peaceful and law-abiding — they also make good neighbours and exercise responsible citizenship and resent being stigmatised with negative religious profiling, which is inflammatory. Human history is full of episodes involving every religion, of misguided believers responsible for the slaughter of fellow humans on the altar of religion. We are occasionally misled to believe that, if faith is what makes us human, then those who do not share our faith are less than fully human. From that equation flowed the Crusades, the Inquisition, the jihads, the pogroms, the blood of human sacrifice through the ages. From this logic, when substituting race for faith, came the Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing that we saw recently in Europe. Man has demonstrated his genius for creativity. However, in spite of all his glorious achievements, man has lost none of his ability to destroy and kill with impunity. In anticipation of this human frailty Islamic ethics forbids any attempt at extinguishing life, and I quote to you a verse from the Quran: "...if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the lives of all mankind" (5:35).


There is equally a clear instruction against taking your own life with the act of suicide in many faiths. In the Hindu faith, from the Gita, I quote: "One should help oneself and not kill oneself". And the Quran states: "Do not kill yourself, as God has been to you most merciful" (4:29).


And therefore kidnapping, hijacking, torture and killing of innocent people in buses, bazaars, aeroplanes, schools, places of worship, or anywhere else, is totally un-Islamic and against the teaching of the Quran and all other world religions, including the Hindu religion.


There is much in common between Hindus and Muslims. You can see it not only in day-to-day life but in a million other ways. Alas, extremists on either side never allow these to be highlighted. The greatest link between Hinduism and Islam is the contribution of two giants: the highly regarded Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda, and the greatest of Muslim Sufi poets, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi. Their works inspire the best among Hindus and Muslims. Maulana Rumi said to the Muslims that any destructive activity by them amounts to the betrayal of the truth as propounded by the Prophet, peace be upon him. Though deeply devoted to Islam, when confronted Maulana Rumi said to the Muslims: "Oh Muslims, what shall I do? I cannot put a label on myself. I am neither a Hindu nor a Jew or the kind of Muslim like you, and yet you insist on knowing my creed, then listen: I am a lover of love, my love transcends all creeds."


In the Hindu religion, and in Islam, claims of superiority and exclusivity in the interpretation of the ultimate truth are discouraged as are intolerance and violence in the name of religion. The famous Hindu philosopher saint, Swami Vivekananda, through his writings and discourses, expounded the universality of God. Let me quote to you something I read which he had written in the 19th century, and I quote: "Suppose we all go with vessels in our hands to fetch water from a lake. One has a cup, another a jar, another a bucket and so forth, and we all fill our vessels. The water in each case naturally takes the form of the vessel carried by each of us. So it is in the case of religion. God is like that water filling these different vessels and in each vessel the vision of God comes in the form of the vessel. Yet He is One. He is God in every case. This is the only recognition of universality that we can get."


This universality of God is reflected in the teachings of other religions as well. Let us look at some examples from the Sikh religion. The great Sikh Guru Gobind Singh said about God and those who worship Him, and I quote: "He is in the temple as He is in the mosque. He is in the Hindu worship as He is in the Muslim prayer. As out of a single fire, / Millions of sparks arise; / So from God's form emerge all creation, / Animate and inanimate. / Men are one although they appear different. / The Hindus and Muslims are all one, / For each the habits of a different environment."


The Christian religion, along with its many other good values, teaches us to think in agreement and to live peacefully. It also tells us in the Bible, in Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12: "All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them..." The Bible also goes on to teach us how to live a life of peaceful co-existence with the famous instructions in Matthew, chapter 22, verse 39, and I quote: " must love your neighbour as yourself".


From the Jewish religion there are similar noble messages, and I quote from the Old Testament in Isaiah, chapter 2 and verse 4, which is appropriately written on a plaque in front of the United Nations building in New York: "And He will certainly render judgement among the nations and set matters straight respecting many peoples. And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore."


In a similar vein, I next quote from the Quran, which every Muslim must believe and obey: "Say, O Muslims: we believe in Allah that which was revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered" (2:136).


Religion and politics speak to different aspects of the human condition. Religion binds people together in communities and politics helps to mediate peacefully between their differences. The great tragedies of the 20th century came when politics was turned into a religion. The single greatest risk of the 21st century is that the opposite may occur not when politics is religionised, but when religion is politicised. What makes religion incapable of being politicised is what led Aristotle to criticise Plato's The Republic. Plato, in The Republic, sought to invest the state with the characteristics of a religion. Aristotle replied by saying that without difference there can be no politics, and without politics there can be no democracy. For democracy we need the space for diversity of views, pluralism and multiplicity. And, whereas once we needed these things at a local level, we now need them globally.


Over 2 million Hindus and Muslims live in the UK. It is entirely ethical for them to have an obligation to be good citizens. They must support good community relations with a commitment to maintaining the dignity of human rights. They should work towards a thriving multi-faith society with all faiths living in peaceful co-existence. We are grateful that, in this country, our democracy entitles us to many rights, including the freedom to practise one's faith. It is imperative that we do not import into the United Kingdom any regional political conflicts from the outside world, thereby destabilising community relations in this country.


We have here in the UK a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. Here, dialogue is the only way forward for addressing our differences. We ought to celebrate our commonality and discuss our differences based on mutual respect and trust for each other. It is imperative that we engage together in a continuing dialogue.


Dialogue is no longer a luxury of a few well-meaning individuals. It has become a necessity demanding action without which only catastrophe stares us in the face. We should work towards making Britain as the role model to the rest of the world in terms of diversity, pluralism and interfaith harmony. Those of us who have chosen to come to the West and put our roots here, have a responsibility to protect the interests of both our future generations and these lands which are our home.


In our midst, this evening, are a sprinkling of young people representing millions of the young outside who will take the responsibility from my generation as the next set of guardians of a civilised world. My ongoing work with the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council has amply demonstrated to me that it is these young people whom we need to leave a legacy of peace and brotherhood on which they can build a happier world of the future.


In order to achieve this they need to know of the world religions and the common denominator in every religion of love, compassion, kindness and tolerance.



Lord Khalid Hameed, who has been chairman of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange since 1997, is also a board member of the British Muslim Research Centre and the Ethnic Minorities Foundation. The former Chief Executive of Cromwell Hospital is now Chairman of Alpha Hospitals. He was honoured with a Sternberg Award in 2005 for his involvement in interfaith relations and has received other national awards from around the world for the work he is involved in.


Religion: Three Religions, One God

Islam and Pluralism
16 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com

Religion: Three Religions, One God




A brief history of Judaism


Judaism is the oldest surviving monotheistic religion, arising in the eastern Mediterranean in the second millennium B.C.E. Abraham is traditionally considered to be the first Jew and to have made a covenant with God. Because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all recognize Abraham as their first prophet, they are also called the Abrahamic religions.


While there was always a small community of Jews in historic Palestine, in 73 C.E. the Roman Empire dispersed the Jews after an insurrection against Roman authority. Most Jews then lived in Diaspora, as minorities in their communities, until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.


When Jews from all over the world came to settle in modern Israel, they found that various subcultures had developed in different areas with distinctive histories, languages, religious practices, customs, and cuisine.


Jewish cultural groups


Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe were known as Ashkenazim (from "Ashkenazic" the Hebrew word for Germany). Yiddish, a fusion of German and Hebrew, was the spoken language of the Ashkenazi. In Europe, Jews had tended to be segregated -- voluntarily or not -- from the Christian population. From the late 19th and through first half of the 20th century, many Ashkenazi Jews came to Palestine to escape the persecution and discrimination they faced because of their religion.


Sephardic Jews trace their ancestry to the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal; "Sephardic" comes from the Hebrew word for Spain). They once spoke Ladino, a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish.


Mizrahi Jews (from the Hebrew word for Eastern, also sometimes called Oriental Jews) trace their origin to North Africa and Asia. Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish communities tended to be integrated into their respective societies.


Judaism in Israel and America


There is great difference of opinion among Israeli Jews over the role Jewish religious law should play in the state. Until recently, Orthodox Judaism was the only form of the religion formally and legally recognized in Israel. Although less conservative branches of Judaism now have partial recognition, Orthodoxy remains dominant politically and legally.


Many Israeli Jews describe themselves in terms of their degree of observance of Jewish law. About half call themselves secular; about 15 to 20 percent see themselves as Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox; and the rest describe themselves as traditionally observant, but not as strict as the Orthodox.


In the United States, debate over the necessity of observing Jewish law has led to the development of three major movements. Orthodox Jews believe that Jewish law is unchanging and mandatory. Conservative Jews argue that God's laws change and evolve over time. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews believe that these laws are merely guidelines that individuals can choose to follow or not. In addition, there are many Jews in the United States who are secular or atheist. For them, their Judaism is a culture rather than a religion.


What Jews believe


Jews believe in one god and his prophets, with special respect for Moses as the prophet to whom God gave the law. Jewish law is embodied in the Torah (also known as the Pentateuch) and the Talmud (collected commentary on the Torah completed in the fifth-century C.E.).


Judaism is more concerned with actions than dogma. In other words, observance of rules regulating human behavior has been of more concern than debates over beliefs in the Jewish tradition. According to Orthodox Judaism, Jewish law, or halakhah, includes 613 commandments given by God in the Torah, as well as rules and practices elaborated by scholars and custom. Jewish law covers matters such as prayer and ritual, diet, rules regulating personal status (marriage, divorce, birth, death, inheritance, etc.), and observance of holidays (like Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and Passover, the feast celebrating the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt).


Judaism's views of Christianity and Islam


Jews do not believe in the prophets after the Jewish prophets, including Jesus and Muhammad. Therefore, they do not subscribe to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah and the son of God, nor do they believe in the teachings of Islam.




A brief history of Christianity



Christianity started as an offshoot of Judaism in the first century C.E. Until the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 324 C.E., early Christian communities were often persecuted. It was then that the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire, and its capital relocated from Rome to Constantinople (formerly Byzantium and now Istanbul). The development of Christian groups derived from major and minor splits.


The Orthodox Church and its patriarch split away from the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope in 1054 C.E. because of political and doctrinal differences. In the 16th century, Martin Luther, upset at the corruption of the Catholic papacy, spearheaded a reformation movement that led to the development of Protestantism.


Christian missionaries proselytize all over the world, and there are large populations of Christians on every continent on Earth, although the forms of Christianity practiced vary.


Christianity in the Middle East


Many early Christian saints lived in the Middle East. The tradition of asceticism (denial of physical pleasures in order to come closer to God) developed first in the Middle East, and the monastic tradition has its roots there.


Christians in the Middle East today include Copts, Maronites, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Assyrians, and Protestants. These groups have different liturgical languages, rituals, and customs, and different leaders who direct their faith.


The Coptic Church, the dominant form of Christianity in Egypt, arose from a doctrinal split in the Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Egyptian government supports the Copts' rights to worship and maintain their culture, but there has been some violence against the community by extremist Muslims.


The Maronite Church was started in the fifth century by followers of a Syrian priest named Maroun. The Maronite Patriarch, based in Lebanon, guides his followers in the teachings of Maroun and other saints. Maronites are still one of the most powerful political communities in Lebanon.


There are also Christian communities of different sects living today in Syria (10 percent of the population), Jordan (6 percent), the West Bank (8 percent), and Iraq (3 percent), with smaller percentages in other Middle Eastern countries.


In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Christians from what is now Syria and Lebanon (then the Ottoman Empire) emigrated to the United States and other countries. Although Christians are a minority in the Middle East today, more than 75 percent of Americans of Arab descent are Christian.


What Christians believe


Christianity developed out of the monotheistic tradition of Judaism; Jesus, its founder, was a member of the Jewish community in Roman Palestine. Its holy scriptures are the Old Testament (the Jewish Torah with additions), and the New Testament (written by the followers of Jesus after his death and containing the life story of Jesus and other early Christian writings).


Christians believe that God is revealed through three dimensions: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is considered the son of God, born to the virgin Mary and come to Earth to offer redemption for mankind's sins. After Jesus was crucified and executed by the Romans, he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. This event is celebrated at Easter, while the birth of Jesus is celebrated at Christmas.


Christians believe in an afterlife where those who have lived a good life will reside in heaven with God, and those who have lived an unrepentant life of sin will be punished in hell.


Christianity's views of Judaism and Islam


Although Christianity developed out of Judaic texts, Christians do not follow Jewish law. Instead, they believe that the ritualistic Jewish law was abrogated in favor of a universal gospel for all of humanity and the Christian teaching, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."


Relationships between Jewish and Christian communities have often been difficult, particularly in Christian Europe. There, Jewish communities were often subject to discrimination and violence at the hands of Christians.


Christianity has also had a problematic relationship with Islam. Christians do not accept Muhammad as a prophet. While many Christians in the Middle East converted to Islam during and after the seventh century, the Church hierarchy in Rome and Constantinople considered Islam to be both a political and theological threat. The Crusades were an unsuccessful attempt to reverse the Islamic conquest of the eastern Mediterranean and the holy places of all three monotheistic religions.




A brief history of Islam


Islam arose in the early seventh century C.E. in the settled desert community of Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia). It developed from both the Judeo-Christian tradition and the cultural values of the nomadic Bedouin tribes of Arabia.


Islam expanded into areas controlled by the Byzantine Empire (largely Greek-speaking and Orthodox Christian, but with a diverse population) and the Sassanian Empire (officially Zoroastrian and Persian-speaking, but also diverse). By the mid-eighth century, Islam had spread west into North Africa and Europe, and east into Central Asia. Over the centuries, Islam continued to grow in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.


As Islam expanded, the new Islamic societies adapted and synthesized many of the customs they encountered. As a result, Muslims in different areas of the world created for themselves a wide array of cultural traditions.


The culture of Islamic Spain, for example, was so cosmopolitan that some Christian and Jewish parents complained that their children were more interested in developing their knowledge of Arabic than in learning Latin or Hebrew, respectively. Many elements of Islamic society became integral parts of medieval and Renaissance European culture, like the notion of chivalry, and certain forms of music (the lute, the arabesque) and poetry.


On the eastern end of the Islamic world, many Indonesians converted to Islam between the 15th and 17th centuries. Preexisting animist beliefs were often incorporated into the local practice of Islam.


Islamic communities


Within Islam, there are many different communities. Many of these divisions, like the Sunnis, Shiis, Ismailis, Alevis/Alawites, and Druze, originate in political and doctrinal differences in the community. Adherents of Islam may be more or less observant, conservative or liberal.


Sufism is the mystical tradition of Islam, where direct experience of the divine is emphasized. The 13th-century poet Jalaluddin Rumi is a well-known Sufi figure whose work has become popular in the United States today. Whirling dervishes are dancers who are entranced in their experience of Sufism.



What Muslims believe


Muslims believe that Allah (the Arabic word for God) sent his revelation, the Quran, to the prophet Muhammad in the seventh century C.E. to proclaim it to mankind. The Quran contains verses (surahs) in Arabic that tell Muslims to worship one god, and explains how they should treat others properly.


Another historical text, the Hadith, written by scholars after the death of Muhammad, describes Muhammad's life as an example of pious behavior, proscribes law for the community based on the Quran and the example of Muhammad, and explains how certain rituals should be performed.


Observant Muslims practice five principles (pillars) of Islam: orally declaring their faith (shahadah); praying five times a day (salat); fasting in the daylight hours during the month of Ramadan (sawm); giving a share of their income for charity (zakat); and making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it (hajj). Many Muslims also observe dietary rules, in origin similar to those of Judaism, that forbid certain foods (like pork), outlaw alcohol, and dictate how animals should be slaughtered for food.


The Muslim calendar is lunar, and shifts in relation to the solar calendar. Just as Christians count years starting with the year of Jesus's birth, Muslims count years beginning with Muhammad's move from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. Muslim years are labeled as A.H., Anno Hegirae, or "year of the Hijra."


Major Muslim festivals include Id al-Fitr (the Fast-Breaking Festival, celebrated at the end of Ramadan) and Id al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice, the commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ishmail which takes place during the month of pilgrimage).


Muslims believe in a Day of Judgment, when righteous souls will go to heaven and wrongdoers will go to hell.


Islam's views of Judaism and Christianity


Islam sees Judaism and Christianity as earlier versions of Islam, revelations given within the same tradition by Allah but misunderstood over time by their followers. Muslims see Islam as the final, complete, and correct revelation in the monotheistic tradition of the three faiths.


The Islamic tradition recognizes many of the Jewish and Christian prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (although he is not considered to be the son of God). Many non-Muslims mistakenly believe that Muhammad is the equivalent of Jesus in the Islamic tradition; in fact, it is the Quran that stands in the same central position in Islam as Jesus does in Christianity. Muhammad himself is not divine, but a prophet chosen by God to deliver his message and an example of piety to emulate.


Jews and Christians are specifically protected in the Quran as Peoples of the Book, reinforcing their spiritual connection to Islam by virtue of having been given revelations from God. The Islamic legal tradition has upheld the rights of Jews and Christians to maintain their beliefs and practices within their communities in Islamic lands, and this policy of tolerance has generally been upheld.


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Religion & Culture:
Students will consider the theme of religion and culture as they learn about the Hindu-Muslim conflict in the province of Gujarat, India.

Understanding History, Religion, and Politics in Jerusalem and Beyond:
Students will acquire historical knowledge of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the region, learn how to interpret a conflict from multiple perspectives, advocate for a point of view, and develop greater conflict resolution skills.

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Students will compare and contrast the roles of men and women with regard to various topics in the six countries featured in the film.

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Students will learn about the diverse accomplishments of great Islamic scholars.

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Middle East: Crossroads of Faith and Conflict (map):

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© 2002 WGBH Educational Foundation