All posts filed under: Religion

A Life of Pretending: Being Egyptian and Atheist

Note: All the names in this story have been changed, aside from those of public personalities. The sun was almost directly overhead as I slipped out from the rambling alleys of the Khan al- Khalili into the open square. Al-Hussein Mosque towered ahead to the north. The call to prayer blasted from its pencil minaret, its solemn strains echoed by a cacophony of loudspeakers across the city. Exhausted and craving coffee, I headed for the strip of tourist-trap cafés lining the square’s western edge, and was barely seated when a young Egyptian couple motioned for me to join them for a game of backgammon. As I’d come to expect after nearly a dozen visits to Egypt over the years, the question of religious identity came up within a minute, and I answered honestly. Just as often I’d opted to lie, claiming to be Christian for civility’s sake, but I told this stylish young couple the truth: I’m not religious. A host of experiences answering the same question across Egypt had me braced for a look …

Does Religion Impede Economic Development?

In the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses that propelled the Protestant Reformation, it is timely to recall that the shockwaves were not just confined to Christian doctrinal matters but were central to the rise of industrial capitalism that transformed the whole world. This thesis was set out in the most famous link between religion/ethics and economic development by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published in 1904. I should like to make the claim that it has relevance in the present day in regard to the development of the Global South. In the introductory chapter, Weber makes some forceful observations that are of considerable importance to the goal of global development: “Only in the West does science exist at a stage of development which we recognize today as valid … A rational chemistry has been absent from all areas of culture except the West … [A] rational, systematic, and specialized pursuit of science, with trained and specialized personnel, has only existed in the West in a sense at all approaching its …

After the Niqab: What Life is Like for French Women who Remove the Veil

Islamic headscarves and veils continue to be the subject of intense debate in Europe. Countries’ approaches toward the burqa and niqab, which cover the face, range from tolerance in the UK to an outright ban in France. Reactions of Muslim women to restrictions have varied, including protests by some, reluctant acceptance by others and also support for bans. But what happens when a woman who has worn a niqab, sometimes for years, makes the decision to leave it behind? Hanane and Alexia – whose names are pseudonyms to protect their identity – were both born in France. Hanane grew up in a non-practicing Muslim family, while Alexia converted to Islam at age 22. For five years they both wore a niqab. Hanane began in 2009, just before France banned the full-face veil, while Alexia adopted it later. Once ardent defenders of the right to wear the niqab, both women have now completely abandoned it. But the transition took place gradually and was accompanied by a growing distance from extreme Salafist ideology.   ‘Start living again’ …

Our Search for Meaning and the Dangers of Possession

“There is no such thing as not worshipping,” wrote novelist David Foster Wallace. “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” G. Jung would have wholeheartedly agreed. He posited that psychic life is motivated by a religious instinct as fundamental as any other, and that this instinct causes us to seek meaning. “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not?” Jung wrote in his autobiography. “That is the telling question of his life.”1 There is empirical evidence that backs up Jung’s idea of a religious instinct. Researchers have found that the less religious people are, the more likely they are to believe in UFOs. “The Western world is, in theory, becoming increasingly secular — but the religious mind remains active,” writes psychology professor Clay Routledge, in The New York Times. He notes that belief in aliens and UFOs appears to be associated with a need to find meaning. Jung felt that traditional religions could provide an adequate means of relating to the infinite where the believer …

Speaking Out About Islam – Lubna Ahmed, Rebel With a Cause

Her voice broke with anguish and remembered fear at times as she told me her story. She is only twenty-six years old, yet the courage and conviction she has shown befit a war hero with years of battlefield experience. She has, in fact, found her life threatened, and on a battlefield of sorts – an ideological one on which she has been defending her rights, and specifically, her rights as a woman. In 2015, she decided that she could remain silent no longer, and came out internationally as an atheist on The Rubin Report (Dave Rubin’s popular Internet talk show) in a deeply Islamic society, knowing the mortal risks awaiting her, and had to flee her homeland. But even in her new life in California, she has to live concerned for her safety, as do all those ex-Muslims – and especially women – who publicly denounce Islam. Yet she remains undaunted. Her name is Lubna Ahmed and she hails originally from Baghdad. She is an engineer by education, a truth-telling rebel by character and vocation. I …

Why We Say ‘Islamism’ and Why We Should Stop

‘Islamism’ is a word that refuses to die. Conceived by a group of French academics who have since disavowed their creation, it has been criticized by many on the Left and the Right. Yet it still appears in scholarship, the media, and political discussions, jostled alongside terms like ‘fundamentalism,’ ‘political Islam,’ ‘radicalism,’ etc., ‘Islamism’ seems to offer the possibility of distinguishing Islam, the religion of over a billion Muslims, from the actions and ideas of violent movements that act in its name. But this distinction, however desirable, is untenable. The scholars who invented the term decades ago are today the first to regret its use. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, greeted with optimism by intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, chilled more critical observers in France. A rising generation of anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars noticed that the new regime in Tehran was not alone in its fusion of modern mass politics and Islam. Doctoral students and junior professors researching the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, revivalist groups in North Africa, and anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan searched …

‘Islamophobia’ Hoaxes and the Rush to Judgment

Two weeks ago, Canadians responded in horror to a disturbing news story in Toronto: before a bank of cameras, a tearful 11-year-old girl said that a man had repeatedly cut her headscarf with scissors as she walked to school. Khawlah Noman, a student at Pauline Johnson Junior Public School, told the roomful of reporters that the brazen attack had left her terrified and screaming. She was flanked by a Muslim activist, her mother, and younger brother Mohammad. Mohammad confirmed his sister’s story, stating that he had witnessed the attack while walking with her to school. Soon after, politicians at the upper echelons of the Canadian government rushed to express outrage at the incident, even though details remained scant. “My heart goes out to the young girl who was attacked, seemingly for her religion,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a televised speech. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promptly called the alleged attack a “cowardly act of hatred.” Passionate reactions to the incident were swift on social media. Echoing a common belief, Twitter user @Sakira_writes said: “A …