Dr. David Myers: Psychology of Sunni-Shi’a division is wisdom we all can use

HOPE COLLEGE Professor of Psychology DAVID MYERS is a household name among college students and teachers, because he is the author of textbooks widely used on college campuses. His scientific writings, supported by National Science Foundation grants and fellowships, have appeared in three dozen academic periodicals, including Science, the American Scientist and the American Psychologist. Myers recently wrote a fascinating column on psychological principles behind Sunni-Shi’a conflict within Islam. He invited us to share his thoughts …

Psychology of the Sunni-Shi’a Divide

Why is there so much animosity
between groups that seem so similar?

This excerpt is used with the author’s permission. The full text originally appeared in POLITICO magazine, where you can read Dr. Myers’ entire column. Dr. Myers opens his column by explaining that Sunni-Shi’a divisions do have deep historical roots—but, he notes, so did the long and brutal Catholic-Protestant conflicts in Ireland. In addition to historical factors, Myers suggests four psychological principles are at work in such divisions. Thoughtful readers will realize that these factors are crucial for understanding a wide range of inter-religious and cross-cultural conflicts. Myers writes …

1) No matter our similarities with others, our attention focuses on differences.

In the 1970s when the Yale psychologist William McGuire invited children to “tell us about yourself,” they zeroed in on their distinctiveness. Those who were foreign-born often mentioned their birthplaces. Redheads volunteered their hair color. Minority children mentioned their race. “If I am a Black woman in a group of White women, I tend to think of myself as a Black,” McGuire and his colleagues observed. “If I move to a group of Black men, my blackness loses salience and I become more conscious of being a woman.” Straight folks sometimes wonder why gay folks are so conscious of their sexual identity, though in a predominantly gay culture the sexual identity self-consciousness would be reversed.

So when people of two subcultures are nearly identical, they often overlook their kinship and become laser-focused on their small differences. Freud recognized this phenomenon: “Of two neighboring towns, each is the other’s most jealous rival; every little canton looks down upon the others with contempt. Closely related races keep one another at arm’s length; the South German cannot endure the North German, the Englishman casts every kind of aspersion upon the Scot, the Spaniard despises the Portuguese.”

2) We naturally divide our worlds into “us” and “them,” ingroup and outgroup.

We inherited our Stone Age ancestors’ need to belong, to live in groups. There was safety in solidarity. Whether hunting, defending or attacking, 10 hands were better than two. Like them, we form social identities.

But the benefits come at a cost. Mentally drawing a circle that defines “us” also defines “them.” Moreover, an “ingroup bias”—a preference for one’s own community—soon follows. In experiments,even those in arbitrarily created groups tend to favor their own group. In studies by Henri Tajfel, Michael Billig and others,people grouped together by something as random as a coin toss or the last digit of their driver’s licenses felt a twinge of kinship with their number-mates, and favored their own group when dividing rewards.

3) Discussion among those of like mind often produces “group polarization.”

In one of my own early experiments, George Bishop and I discovered that when highly prejudiced students discussed racial issues, they became more prejudiced. When less prejudiced students talked among themselves, they became even more accepting. In other words, ideological separation plus conversation equaled greater polarization between the two groups.

So it goes in real life too. Analysis of terrorist organi­zations, for instance, has revealed that the terrorist mentality does not erupt suddenly, on a whim. It begins slowly, among people who share a grievance. As they interact in isolation, their views grow more and more extreme.

By connecting like-minded people, the Internet’s virtual groups often harness group polarization for good purposes, as when connecting and strengthening fellow peacemakers, cancer survivors and rights advocates. But the Internet echo chamber also enables climate-change skeptics and conspiracy theorists to amplify their shared ideas and suspicions. White supremacists become more racist. Militia members become more hostile. For good or ill, socially networked birds of a feather gain support for their shared beliefs, suspicions and inclinations.

4) Group solidarity soars when facing a common enemy.

From laboratory experiments to America immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, shared threats foster unity. During conflict, we-feeling rises. During wars, patriotism surges.

In one of psychology’s famous experiments, the psychologist Muzafer Sherif, in 1954, randomly split Oklahoma City boy campers into two groups for a series of competitive activities, with prizes for the victors. Over the ensuing two weeks, ingroup pride and outgroup hostility increased—marked by food wars, fistfights and ransacked cabins. Intergroup contacts yielded more threats—and stronger feelings of ingroup unity—until Sherif engaged the boys in cooperative efforts toward shared goals, such as moving a stuck truck or restoring the camp water supply.

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY reading David Myers’ online columns with Dr. Nathan DeWall in Talk Psych.

At Ramadan, PBS shows women emerging in Islam

From left: Julia Meltzer, Houda al-Habash and Laura Nix.WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO SEE “THE LIGHT IN HER EYES”
“The Light in Her Eyes” is scheduled for a national broadcast on PBS’s highly praised POV series, Thursday July 19—the eve of the Ramadan fast. Check showtimes and learn about watching the documentary for free online from July 20 through August 19, which is a great service for people living in areas where local public TV stations don’t carry the POV series. For more information on POV’s 25th year, including previews of upcoming films, visit the main POV site.

PBS has scheduled this documentary to debut on the eve of Ramadan—and to broadcast online throughout the fasting month for the world’s Muslims. Read our complete story on Ramadan 2012.

Review: ‘Light in Her Eyes’
Syrian pioneer preaches women’s rights

Reviewed by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

Religon would become far more practical and peaceful if women finally were unleashed in the world’s two largest religous groups: the Roman Catholic church and Islam, both claiming a billion-plus adherents under the strictly limited leadership of men. Doubt the validity of that claim? Just watch the inspiring, subversive twists and turns of faith-filled aspirations rising in young women through the hour-long documentary, “The Light in Her Eyes.” Watching these girls and women, you can envision how dramatically Islam could move further toward compassion and human rights, especially for the 500-million-plus Muslim women and girls around the world who are shackled by traditional cultural expectations.

If you’re not aware of the oppressive weight of Islam on millions of women, filmmakers Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix punctuate their documentary with brief film clips from various Muslim televangelists of iron-clad fundamentalism. Women only have four purposes in life, one Islamic televangelist preaches: Reproduction, childcare, caring for a husband and keeping house. Women have no right to an education, another bearded preacher rants on TV.

That’s the context within which Houda al-Habash has become a fearless pioneer for women’s education and women’s rights. She’s a brilliant strategist—teaching girls and their mothers in a number of Syrian mosques that they must become tough, smart, courageous advocates for Muslim women. That includes wearing the hijab or head scarf. Houda teaches her classes: Think of putting on your hijab like proudly flying the flag of our faith, proclaiming ourselves as proud women who are true representatives of Islam.

In fact, a large portion of up-scale Syrian women (and women in many Muslim countries) don’t dress in such conservative styles. The filmmakers themselves did not wear head scarves (at least not in production photos on their website). So, Houda’s absolute insistence that her pupils wear the hijab seems like a confusing message. In one sequence within this documentary, Houda is interviewed by a female journalist in Damascus who dresses without a head scarf. This young professional challenges Houda’s mixed message of women’s rights coupled with a return to traditional Islamic memorization of scriptures and a requirement of scarves for women in all public settings.

Here is part of that exchange …

Syrian Journalist: When my mother was in the university, most women didn’t wear hijab. When I went to university, 90 percent of women wore hijab.

Houda: I don’t think this trend is restricted to Syria. I believe there’s an Islamic revival worldwide.

Journalist: The more religious the environment is in Syria, the more unacceptable it becomes for women to work.

Houda: But not because of religiosity. You have to be precise. It’s because of extremism. The truth is: Islam doesn’t prevent women from working.

Journalist: Secular people feel isolated because of the growing religious nature of society in Syria. A lot of people see religiosity as close-mindedness or extremism. They feel threatened by it. What do you say to them?

Houda: They should not be afraid. If I’m a religious person, it doesn’t mean that I am claiming to have more rights. I’m just a woman teaching other women, counseling them in their studies.

That’s an understatement, of course!

Enas and Houda al-Habash studying the Quran together.Houda knows exactly what she is doing. She is casting herself as every bit as Islamic as the angry male imams. She’s absolutely spotless in her dress and her mode of teaching. But her heart is firmly fixed on seeing her own university-aged daughter, Enas, and many other young women become what she describes as “world class” teachers of Islam themselves.

Imagine what would happen in the Catholic church if there suddenly was a feminist pope? Imagine what would happen in Islam if there suddenly was a new generation of strictly schooled women who able to pull their own proof texts from the Quran in debates with the bearded old men?

As a journalist, I have reported from the Middle East, Europe, North America and Asia—including visits to all kinds of Muslim schools in every setting imaginable. I’ve reported from remote villages in Bangladesh where the only young Muslims being taught the traditional memorization of the Quran are boys. And, in many impoverished regions like Bangladesh, that’s all these boys get—Quran morning, noon and night for years. No science. No literature. No other languages.

However, I’ve also traveled to other pioneering Muslim schools around the world where—just as Houda is doing—girls are encouraged to learn both secular subjects and to memorize the Quran in the same way the most fortunate boys are educated. A few years ago, I visited one such private school in Indonesia where thousands of girls had an identical curriculum to their male classmates. Houda knows what she is talking about when she refers to her work as part of a worldwide Islamic revival among women.

In “The Light in Her Eyes,” watch carefully for the many girls and women who show up in the film talking about how their studies of the Quran with Houda parallel their secular studies. One woman tells us that she was a high-school dropout, destined to keep house for the rest of her life, until she encountered Houda. Now, she has advanced so far that she is majoring in Arabic literature at the university level—as well as learning her Quran by heart.

But Big Questions Remain: This entire film was shot before the uprising that now is tearing apart Syrian society and killing thousands. The PBS version of the film, which is only 51 minutes long, ends with texts explaining that Houda has safely fled Syria with her family. She hopes to return and restart her classes for girls after the revolution is resolved. That’s one big question. Is this film a snapshot of a vanished idea? Or can Houda return and re-establish her schools? Another big question is: What’s in the rest of the documentary? The actual film is 87 minutes long—so PBS is giving us only a little more than half of the movie. Visit the filmmakers’ website, where you can sign up to be informed when a DVD version of the entire film becomes available.

Care to Watch a Preview of ‘The Light in Her Eyes’?

PBS POV provides the following preview of this documentary. Click the video screen below. The clip begins with a short commercial message related to PBS. (NOTE: If you don’t see a video screen below, then click here to re-load this story and the video.)

Watch The Light in Her Eyes – Trailer on PBS. See more from POV.



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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Beauty of Ramadan, the fasting month for 1 billion

Ramadan lights going up in the Muslim section of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Click the cover to learn more about this book.Ramadan Mubarak!
That’s the phrase to greet Muslim neighbors and colleagues. The word Mubarak (the same as the name of Egypt’s former president) means “Blessed,” so the greeting “Ramadan Mubarak” conveys the wish, “Have a Blessed Ramadan!”
Ramadan 2012 is different!

That’s largely due to the Olympic games coinciding for the first time with Ramadan. Because more than 1 billion people around the world are Muslim, that means many athletes traveling to London will have to adapt for the fasting month. Ramadan rarely plays a positive role in global headline news distributed in non-Muslim countries. This year, it will, thanks to the Olympics.
Today, ReadTheSpirit recommends that readers consider ordering a copy of “The Beauty of Ramadan,” by Najah Bazzy, a nationally known cross-cultural nurse and human-rights activist. Najah’s book is packed with fascinating information about the religious and also the health concerns surrounding Ramadan. Even if you are not a Muslim, this information is vital to educators, public-safety professionals, medical personnel and community leaders.


Fast begins in daylight hours, Friday July 20 or Saturday July 21.
The actual beginning of the fast depends on many factors: Does one follow the lunar cycles with scientific instruments? Or does one start the fast only with eye-sight confirmation of the moon? What do leading imams in your region decide for the larger community? Is there an official schedule for your nation? News media reports across the Middle East and Asia are pointing toward July 21 for some regions, based on reporting by the Islamic Crescents’ Observation Project. (On the Project’s website, you can find elaborate astronomical charts.)

Across most of the U.S., the first fast is set for July 20: The Fiqh Council of North America is led by Muslim authorities across the U.S. from a wide range of ethnic groups and both the Sunni and Shi’a sects. The Council accepts calculation of the new crescent moon, marking Ramadan, by using scientific instruments. So, the Fiqh Council declares for the U.S.: “The first day of Ramadan is Friday, July 20, insha’Allah.” (That final phrase means, “God willing.”) Then, the fasting month ends with a huge celebration (the “Eid u-Fitr”), marked by a new lunar crescent that starts a new month. The Fiqh Council declares: “Eid ul-Fitr is Sunday, August 19, insha’Allah.”


The world’s billion-plus Muslims certainly eat and drink less during daylight hours, but during the evenings—and, in some cultures and communities, all night long—Muslims enjoy a festive Thanksgiving-like relationship with their food and drink. This is a time of family gatherings; friends spend time together at mosques and in cafes; family matriarchs pull out all the stops in making favorite dishes.

How much extra food? The oldest English-language newspaper in the Middle East, the Egyptian Gazatte, reports that Egyptians are anxious about food prices as each Ramadan rolls around. A July 4 Gazette report explained to readers: People eat 70 per cent more during Ramadan, according to a study conducted by the Chamber of Foodstuffs. Consumption of sugar and pastry increases even by 100 per cent, meat and poultry by 50 per cent and diary products by 60 per cent. The consumption of rice and wheat increases only by 25 per cent.”

Price gouging and price supports? In such a month, price gouging can be a problem and one UAE news publication reports: Ministry of Economy’s office in the Emirates has intensified price checks to ensure that all outlets, including super markets, groceries, salons and maintenance service shops, are not increasing prices.” Recognizing the huge importance of Ramadan, the government of Pakistan actually provides national subsidies to needy families through thousands of regional food stores. The program provides bundles of typical foods families need to provide night-time meals, bought in mass quantities by the government, bundled into “Ramadan Packs,” then sold at a deep discount to low-income families.


The Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles. So, observances like Ramadan “move forward” through the world’s standard calendar. In 2011, Ramadan was entirely in August. In 2012, the start of fasting moves into mid-July and that’s a crisis for Muslim athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics.

In their Ramadan reporting, the Times of India and Reuters are citing a university study that, in a typical summer soccer match, an athlete loses 2 liters of body fluids. Fasting under such conditions seems impossible—but Islam traditionally exempts travelers from fasting as well as anyone for whom fasting poses a health risk. Olympic competitors might claim either exemption; and Muslim scholars are suggesting a range of other ideas from “making up” the fast later to donating funds for feeding hungry families.

Across the UK, non-Muslims are suddenly well aware of Ramadan in a positive way. Muslim athletes suddenly are talking about the depth of their faith—and their commitment to peacemaking and helping the poor during Ramadan. And there’s more! Muslim organizations in areas around the Olympic venues are welcoming both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors for Iftars (breaking-the-fast dinners after the sun sets). The UK grocery giant Tesco has set up a Ramadan portal within its website, already declaring: “Ramadan Mubarak.” Among the featured Tesco items are dates, traditionally the first bite each night as the fast is broken.

Also: Read the News Release on Ramadan posted within the official 2012 London Olympics website.

And: There is more about the Olympics debate in Stephanie Fenton’s Holiday column on Ramadan.


Red-Carpet Hospitality in the UK: Given the global focus on London during Ramadan, various UK nonprofits and religious groups have established Iftar 2012, a program to organize and publicize a wide array of welcoming events. The information is centered on the Iftar 2012 website, a colorful collection of newsy posts and information.

Iftar 2012 describes its mission this way: “The British Muslim community invites you and your Olympic team to celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join them in a Ramadan fast-breaking meal during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Never before has the Olympics in the modern era coincided with the Islamic calendar month of Ramadan. Iftar 2012 is hoping to deliver the Ramadan experience with the help and support of Mosques, Islamic centers, community groups during the 2012 Olympics.” In many places on the website, the organization emphasizes that this is open to “Muslims and non-Muslims, people of all colors and races, people of faith and no faith.”

Hospitality across the United States: While Iftar 2012 in the UK already had generated a lot of news coverage, the same hospitality is shown by Muslim communities across the U.S. Generally, non-Muslims are welcome to visit mosques on most nights of Ramadan. It’s best to visit with a Muslim friend or to call ahead to ensure that someone from the mosque will orient you to the evening’s program. Most American Muslim centers do not provide nightly Iftar meals; that’s not typically a part of the evening gatherings for prayer and inspirational talks. However, most American Muslim communities do host occasional Iftars for friends and visitors. Call a local mosque or Muslim center and ask about local plans in your part of the U.S.


The Prophet’s sermon on Ramadan is one of the world’s most famous Muslim texts. Countless versions rendered in English are floating around the Internet, some of them more difficult to understand than others. For her book, The Beauty of Ramdan, Najah Bazzy consulted Muslim scholars and, then, gives readers this formal and yet accurate paraphrase in English. Note on parenthetical terms: The letters PBUH are a way for Muslim writers to show respect for the Prophets in their religious tradition, including Moses and Jesus. They stand for “Peace Be Upon Him.” In most English translations of Muslim texts in Arabic, parentheses are used to indicate words that go further than translation to add clarity to the otherwise unwritten context of a line.

Muslims enjoy the Quran inside the huge mosque in central Jakarta, Indonesia. Another popular form of worship is to recite the various Arabic “names” or attributions of God, often using a string of beads that sometimes are described, in English, as a rosary.O People! The month of God (Ramadan) has approached you with His mercy and blessings. This is the month that is the best of all months in the estimation of God. Its days are the best among the days; its nights are the best among the nights. Its hours are the best among the hours.

This is a month in which He has invited you. You have been, in this month, selected as the recipients of the honors of God, the Merciful. In this holy month, when you breathe, it has the heavenly reward of the praise of God on rosary beads (tasbeeh), and your sleep has the reward of worship.

Your good deeds are accepted in this month. So are your invocations. Therefore, you must invoke your Lord, in right earnest, with hearts that are free from sins and evils, that God may bless you. Observe fast, in this month, and recite the Holy Quran.

Verily! The person who may not receive the mercy and benevolence of God in this month must be very unfortunate having an end as bad (in the Hereafter). While fasting, remember the hunger and thirst of tomorrow in eternity. Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders.

Have pity on those younger than you and be kind towards your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are not worth seeing (forbidden) and your ears from such sounds that should not be heard by you.

Be kind to orphans so that if your children become orphans they also may be treated with kindness. Do invoke God that He may forgive your sins. do raise your hands at the time of Salat (Prayers), as it is the best time for asking His mercy. When we invoke at such times, we are answered by Him; when we call Him, He responds; and when we ask for anything, it is accepted by Him.

O People! You have made your conscience the slave of your desires; make it free by invoking Him for repentance and forgiveness. Your back is breaking under the heavy load of your sins, so prostrate before Him for long inervals and lighten your load.

Do understand fully well that God has promised in the name of His Majesty and Honor that He wil lnot take to task such people who fast and offer prayers in this month and perform prostration, and will guard their bodies against the punishment on the Day of Judgment.

O People! If anybody amongst you arranges for the Iftar (food for the ending of the fast) of any believer, then God will give you a reward as if you have set free a slave. He will forgive your minor sins.

Then the companions of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “But everybody amongst us does not have the means to do so?”

Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told them: Keep yourself away form God’s wrath, by inviting for Iftar, though it may consist of only half a date or simply with water if you have nothing else. O People! Anybody who may cultivate good manners in this month wil walk over the bridge to the next life with ease, though his feet may be shaking.

Anybody who in this month may take light work from his servants (male or female), God will make easy his accounting on the Day of Judgment.

Anybody who covers the faults of other sin this month, God will cover his faults in this life and in eternity. Anybody who respects and treats an orphan with kindness in this month, God shall look at him with dignity in the Hereafter. Anybody who treats well his kinsmen, in this month, God will bestow His mercy on him, while anybody who mistreats his kinsmen in this month, God will keep him away from His mercy.

Whoever offers a recommended prayer in this month, God will give him freedom from Hell. Whosoever offers one obligatory prayer in this month, for him the Angels will write the rewards of 70 such prayers, which were offered by him in any other month.

Whosoever recites repeatedly Peace and blessings upon me, God will keep the scales of his good deeds heavy, (promising heaven).


More about Ramadan in our Holidays column. Writer Stephanie Fenton follows Holidays and Festivals around the world. Her column already has additional details about the start of Ramadan. You may also want to bookmark the URL to her column https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/ so that you can follow upcoming stories about individual holidays that are marked within the month of Ramadan—whch will be published as Stephanie files those stories.

Read an interview with Dr. John Esposito, widely regarded as a top English-language scholar on Islam. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm conducted this interview with Esposito a couple of years ago, but most of the scholar’s conclusions are relevant to this day.

Athlete’s point of view: Female Tae Kwan Do instructor Fidaa Bazzi talks about the difficult challenge of following the Ramadan fast as an athlete and college student in the U.S.

Mom’s point of view: Cooking during Ramadan is quite an effort, explains Zahia Hassen.

Hearing the Quran recited during Ramadan is one of the most beautiful and memorable experiences for Muslims around the world. Radwan Almadrahi talks about this experience.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ‘THE BEAUTY OF RAMADAN,’ a complete book about this season by cross-cultural nurse Najah Bazzy. This book not only explains the month of fasting in detail, but also contains information that is helpful to educators, health care professionals and community leaders.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Christians, Muslims & Jews Igniting Peace in Jordan

JORDAN CONFERENCE: From left, Adnan Badran, an American-educated scientist who was prime minister of Jordan during 2005 and currently is president of Petra University in Jordan, peace activist and writer Brenda Rosenberg and is a former Jordanian Prime Minister, Brenda Rosenberg, Father Nabil Haddad, founder of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.Welcome peace activist Brenda Naomi Rosenberg, who was the creative spark in launching the Friendship and Faith project that now is circling the globe. In this report, Brenda writes about a recent worldwide peace conference held in Jordan. As you will read, the conference was marred by eruptions of emotion—and lit by an unquenchable yearning for peace.
Care to read more? Sarah Jaward, who plays a key role in Brenda’s report, writes her own personal reflection for the Friendship and Faith website.

Igniting Peace in Jordan

By Brenda Naomi Rosenberg

Sometimes sparks ignite bombs, sometimes they light candles.

PETRA STONE ENTRYWAY: Located south of Amman, Jordan, the city of Petra is more than 2,500 years old. Now a World Heritage Site, Petra is a national symbol of Jordan and its most-visited tourist attraction.AMMAN, JORDAN—Thermometers pushed past 100 degrees. Smog and sand thickened the air. Even the pavement seemed to be on fire as Sarah Jaward and I arrived in Amman Jordan in July for an international Conference on Conflict Transformation. Sarah and I are an unlikely pair anywhere, but particularly in Jordan: I’m a former global fashion executive and American-Jewish-Zionist-peace activist; Sarah Jaward is an American-Muslim-Lebanese-recent graduate from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Together, we were attending the conference to talk about the concept of Tectonic Leadership, in this case focusing on Middle East Conflict Transformation. This may be the first time you’ve read about our new and growing array of training options, which you can learn about via our new website. This is a ground-breaking approach to grassroots peacemaking. We focus on training existing and potential leaders from opposite sides of a conflict to take joint ownership in transforming that conflict. These newly trained pairs of leaders face challenges together and find solutions together. The story of how we developed Tectonic Leadership also is part of our new website.

In our journey to Jordan, Sarah was experiencing everything for the first time. I was a veteran. Three years ago, I was the guest of the royal family and participated in an Abrahamic Dialogue with 80 participants from around the world. It was a wonderful experience, so I arrived optimistic, confident and without jet lag. We couldn’t wait to present Tectonic Leadership to this new gathering of men and women.

‘I’m Gady from Tel Aviv.’
Then, a scream in Arabic.

I was looking forward to working again with my friend Father Nabil Haddad, who heads the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and to meet new friends from Israel, Palestinian territories, Jordan and Lebanon who would be sharing their successful models for transforming conflict and creating cross-cultural understanding. I was starry eyed and exuberant at the opening ceremonies, where we made our introductions.

Then the microphone was handed to a man who said: “Hi I’m Gady from Tel Aviv.”

Next, there was a scream in Arabic as a young man ran out of the room ranting. He was followed by 20 young men and women—even as two other young women physically were tugging on his jacket trying to pull him back into the room.

I froze. My optimism vanished. All I could hear were echoes of my well-meaning friends and family: “Brenda don’t go!” “Jordan isn’t safe!” One of the organizers of the conference was telling me: “Brenda, protesters are out front. We have a bus at the side of the building for the Israelis. Please, go now.” Her words reinforced my fears. I took Sarah’s hand and walked to the bus, my heart pounding. Who were these angry people? Why were they so furious?

By the time we arrived back at the hotel we had learned they were university students. When their group leader heard the words “from Tel Aviv,” he was outraged. No one had told him that Israelis would be attending.

The next morning, Sarah and I approached that young group leader in the hotel lobby. We were trying to put a central principle of Tectonic Leadership into action: Tension can never be eradicated, but we can utilize tension to transform conflict.

For more than two hours, we listened. Sarah translated back and forth. This young man began by arguing that he had no problem being around Israelis in general—but no one had alerted him that this conference would include active participation by Israelis. That shocked him. As we listened, he went on to explain that he had never actually met an Israeli. He needed to prepare himself and prepare his group for this unexpected situation they were facing. Eventually, we gained his trust enough that he was willing to meet Gady, shake his hand—and present a collaborative exercise with him at our presentation the next day.

Our hearts were lighter as we went to the next session. Then, yet another student leader announced that he was leaving with some of his friends. This young man asked to speak to the entire group and explain himself. He just wanted two minutes! But those minutes turned into two hours. Soon, conference sessions were being cancelled to accomodate this unexpected change in schedule.

The conference slowed into a long listening session. Why was this student leader pulling out? He explained that a local newspaper described this conference as encouraging “normalizing,” so his parent organization had told him to leave the conference. I was not familiar with the report or the claims of the newspaper, but this young leader told us: “We believe in peace, but we will not normalize relations with Israelis until all Palestinian land is returned.”

A talented mediator who had traveled from Canada for the conference tried to intervene. But angry exchanges soon erupted among the Jordanians themselves—disputing whether anyone needed to pull out of the conference. In the end, about 10 young Jordanians left. One Palestinian girl waivered but decided to stay. She and Sarah began to talk about our ideas in Tectonic Leadership—and the two of them have been texting ever since.

The conference was full of such surprises and strong emotions. One of the most wrenching was a presentation by Wounded Crossing Borders: 6 Israelis and 5 Palestinians. These eleven brave people came to Jordan to share their personal stories of being displaced from their homes in Iraq and Lebanon as Jews and being displaced from their homes as Palestinians. These are courageous individuals whose stories include serious wounds, the loss of loved ones, arrest and imprisonment—yet they came together and now work for peace together.

Despite the outbursts early in the conference, most responses were encouraging. I presented my documentary film on Reuniting the Children of Abraham with Arabic subtitles to a packed and enthusiastic room. Many people asked for copies and said they hoped to work with our programs in the future.

Stinging Words Shot After Candles and Wine

I was exhausted by that Friday evening, but I was thrilled when Israelis asked me to light Shabbat candles—and we joined with the Israelis and Palestinians from Wounded Crossing Borders in a mini Shabbat that was held in the hotel dining room. Sarah and others in the dining room joined us. Sarah and I read a few lines about why we light Shabbat candles. Wine is not served in the hotel, but one of the Jordanian organizers allowed us to pour ceremonial wine brought from Israel. I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

I arrived at breakfast refreshed and hopeful. But, before I finished my coffee, I faced the chastising of a Jewish woman from America who said, “I heard you lit candles last night. Why did you let the Israelis use you?”

I replied, “ It was an honor to be asked.”

She retorted, “If you wanted to light candles and have wine you should have done it in one of your rooms—not in the dining room.”

I replied, “This is a conference on cross cultural communication and we saw Shabbat as a wonderful opportunity to share the sweetness and beauty of Judaism.”

Over her morning coffee, Sarah heard from several of the Jordanians: “Why would you stand there with Jews when they lit candles? How could you read with Brenda?”

Sarah and I connected on a deeper level that morning. Harsh words from our own sting the most.

One More Session Disrupted by a Surprising Departure

Finally, it was our turn to present Tectonic Leadership. You can learn more about our programs at our website. However, before our session was over, a Palestinian man from Wounded Crossing Borders left the room. Sarah and I looked at each other, but we forged ahead with the presentation. Despite an array of problems that had cofronted this conference, our session was a hit. We fielded lots of questions, received hugs and sincere invitations from across the region.

At lunch, the Palestinian man who had bolted from our room asked if we could talk—and we agreed. He explained that he left our session because he was overcome with emotion and didn’t want anyone to see him shed a tear. He wanted to learn more about our programs. He was touched he to see an Arab and Jew from America care so deeply about both Israelis and Palestinians. Sarah and I had assumed this young man had left our session in a show of anger—yet here we were hugging and snapping photos and promising to stay in touch.

The week was so challenging—yet so rewarding. Ever since that journey, I’ve been Skyping, emailing and texting young leaders from the region who want to learn more. I continue to believe peace is possible but our efforts need support from all communities. We need to create viable career paths for a new generation of professionals trained in peacemaking, cross-cultural communication, genocide prevention, conflict transformation and activism for social justice. All of us can play a role in empowering these young leaders and making our world a better place.

Care to read more? Sarah Jaward, who plays a key role in Brenda’s report, writes her own personal reflection for the Friendship and Faith website.

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

Dispelling myths about Islamic law: Shariah explained

CODES OF RELIGIOUS LAW CIRCLE THE GLOBE: Top is the New York Times front page of July 31, 2011, with a news report on a political dispute over Shariah, then a book of Roman Catholic Canon Law adapted for American Catholics, a page of the Adi Granth scriptures that guide Sikhs around the world, the current edition of the United Methodist book of church law, a colorful boxed set of the renowned Adin Steinsaltz translation of Jewish Talmud, and a copy of canon law ruling the Episcopal Church.American political campaigns targeting Shariah are as red hot as Sunday’s front page in the New York Times. Unfortunately, these grassroots campaigns are aimed at scoring points with frightened voters—not at any real-world problem. No responsible Muslim leader in the United States is trying to substitute Shariah for secular American law. In fact, every major religious group around the world has some code of law for governing community life. Once upon a time in America, political parties targeted Catholics, claiming that they might try to impose Roman canon law in the U.S.—but that myth was dispelled more than half a century ago.

ReadTheSpirit invited a Muslim expert to write a clear and concise summary of Shariah—to combat wildly inaccurate information floating around the Internet.
Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk is a Lebanese-American lecturer on the meaning of the Quran and president of the Islamic Organization of North America. Imam Elturk worked for many weeks on this summary, including input from other Muslim leaders.

IF YOU APPRECIATE THIS SHARIAH STORY, please email the link to a friend (either copy the URL above or email from the link at the bottom of this story). Share this link on Facebook. Please, spread this accurate report as far and wide as the bogus information travels.


By Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk

Shariah sometimes is portrayed as an antiquated Islamic system of law that is barbaric with no regard for values of democracy, human rights or women’s freedom. In fact, the opposite is true: Social welfare, freedom, human dignity and human relationships are among the higher objectives of Shariah.        

What does Shariah mean?

The word Shariah comes from the Arabic: sha-ra-‘a, which means a way or path and by extension—the path to be followed. The term originally was used to describe “the path that leads to water,” since water is the source of all life. Hence, Shariah is the way to the source of life. Shariah in Islam refers to the law according to divine guidance leading to a good and happy life in this world and the next.

The concept behind Shariah is not unique to Islam and is found in nearly all of the world’s great religions. Moses, peace be upon him, received the Torah incorporating the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments. Look at the sampling of religious codes, shown at right, for more examples. In Islam, we look primarily to the revelation that came when the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, peace be upon him, incorporating the final Shariah for the benefit of humankind. “For each of you We have appointed a law (Shariah) and a way of life. And had God so willed, He would surely have made you one single community; instead, (He gave each of you a law and a way of life) in order to test you by what He gave you.” (Quran 5:48)

Sources of Shariah

There are basically two sources of Shariah—the Quran and the Sunnah (the divinely guided tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). There is also what is called fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. There is a fundamental difference, however, between Shariah and fiqh. While Shariah is of divine origin, fiqh is the product of intellectual effort to deduce the rulings of Shariah through the jurist’s own intellectual exertion suitable for his specific time and place. Fiqh interprets and extends the application of Shariah to situations not directly addressed in the primary sources by taking recourse to secondary sources. Those secondary sources usually include a consensus of religious scholars called ijma and analogical deductions from the Quran and the Sunnah called qiyas. While the Quran and the Sunnah are permanent and unchangeable, fiqh is variable and may change with time and place—but always within the spirit and parameters of these two main sources of Shariah: the Quran and Sunnah. 

Objectives of Shariah

Shariah aims at the welfare of the people in this life and in the life hereafter. The sources of Shariah guide people to adopt a set of beliefs and practices that would help them ward off evil, injury, misery, sorrow, and distress. These beliefs and practices may result in benefit, happiness, pleasure, and contentment not only in this world, but also in the next. The Quran confirms, “Whoever follows My guidance, when it comes to you [people], will not go astray nor fall into misery, but whoever turns away from it will have a life of great hardship.” (Quran 20:123-124)

It is an error to define Shariah as a “legal-political-military doctrine,” as some political activists claim. It also is wrong to associate and restrict Shariah only to the punitive laws of Islam. The fact is that Shariah is all-embracing and encompasses personal as well as collective spheres in daily living. Shariah includes the entire sweep of life: Prayers, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, morality, economic endeavors, political conduct and social behavior, including caring for one’s parents and neighbors, and maintaining kinship.

Shariah’s goal is to protect and promote basic human rights, including faith, life, family, property and intellect. Islam has, in fact, adopted two courses for the preservation of these five indispensables: the first is through cultivating religious consciousness in the human soul and the awakening of human awareness through moral education; the second is by inflicting deterrent punishment, which is the basis of the Islamic criminal system. Other major bodies of religious law in the world, including the Canon Law used by the Catholic church, contain both legal outlines of responsibilities and codes for punishing misbehavior.

Shariah 1: Protection of Faith

Faith is the essence and spirit of a meaningful life. Muslims profess their faith through a verbal testimony, bearing witness to the oneness and unity of God and to the finality of prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the seal of all of God’s prophets and messengers, a chain that started with Adam and includes Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them all. Muslims also express their faith through devotional practices, most importantly the five daily prayers, an act of worship that keeps them connected with the Creator. Additional practices include fasting, obligatory charity and pilgrimage. Fasting during the month of Ramadan has been prescribed to Muslims so they may be mindful of God and learn self-restraint. Zakat, or a portion of our income to be given to the poor, is another duty regulated by God to ensure that basic needs are met for the less fortunate, poor and destitute. If they are able, Muslims are also required to perform Hajj—a pilgrimage to visit the sacred house (Ka’bah) that was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to seek forgiveness from their Lord and renew their covenant with Him.

It is against Shariah to compel or force any person to convert to Islam. The Quran asserts, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) Shariah provides total freedom of religion. The Quran is quite clear on the point, “Say (O Muhammad), ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so’ ” (18:29) “Had God willed He would have guided all people” (13:31)

Islam holds that people are endowed with our senses and our intellect so that we can choose what is best for us to follow. Shariah not only allows other faiths to co-exist but guarantees the protection of their houses of worship and properties. Shariah respects the worth of every human being in his or her own belief and endeavor in the pursuit of life and the truth.

Shariah 2: Protection of Life

Shariah recognizes the sanctity and sacredness of human life. One may not harm or kill. The Quran emphatically stresses this point, “And do not take any human being’s life—[the life] which God has willed to be sacred—otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice.” (17:33) Killing innocent people, even at times of war, is a grave sin and strongly condemned by Shariah: “if anyone kills a person—unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land—it is as if he kills all mankind; while if any saves a life, it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.” (5:32)

Unfortunately, as in all the world’s great faiths, Islam sometimes produces individuals who make distorted religious claims. News reports from around the world have shown us extremists from various religious traditions who claim that their faith compels them to commit acts that clearly are crimes to any sensible person. This recently happened in Norway, according to news reports. Similarly, some Muslims have issued extreme fatwas (judicial rulings) that may not be based on the Quran and the Sunnah at all. Another unfortunate example of this distortion is the lingering practice of honor killings in some parts of the world. Honor killing is an entrenched cultural issue in some areas, but clearly is in violation of Shariah as well as all globally recognized Christian codes of conduct. Nevertheless, honor killings still occur in some traditional Christian and Muslim cultures. These crimes need to be addressed worldwide by leaders of all faiths.

Psychological harm or injury is also prohibited under Shariah. The Quran mandates, “O believers! Avoid making too many assumptions, for some assumptions are sinful; and do not spy on one another; or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? No, you would hate it. So be mindful of God: God is ever relenting, most merciful.” (49:12)

Shariah also demands total respect for all of creation. For example, a Muslim is prohibited to cut down trees or kill animals without a good reason. As part of Shariah, Muslims are required to protect the environment from pollution and harmful waste.

Shariah 3: Protection of Family

Shariah regulates the life of a Muslim in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, parenting, upbringing of children, rights of orphans, ties of kith and kin, etc. The family is the nucleus of society. Hence, having a sound family structure builds a strong society. Islam encourages marriage as soon as a mature man is able to support his wife. Premarital or extramarital sex is strictly forbidden.

Islam does allow men to have more than one wife at the same time, up to a total of four, provided that the husband treats them equitably. However, this represents a tiny minority in Muslim-majority countries, where polygamous marriage constitutes only 1-to-3 percent of all marriages. Islam encourages only one wife. The Quran in verse 4:129 affirms how difficult it is to be equitable in multiple marriage. Polygamy remains a challenging issue in many world faiths. International gatherings of Christian leaders in recent decades also have discussed compassionate responses to polygamy.

Despite misconceptions, Shariah protects women’s rights if properly applied. For example, women are entitled to education, to keep their maiden names and to control their inheritance. They are entitled to a decent living, to own property or to own a business, if they wish.

Islam teaches that family ties are to be maintained and parents are highly regarded. Shariah enjoins believers to honor parents and grandparents. In numerous places in the Quran, the rights of parents are mentioned immediately after the rights of God. The following verse illustrates the importance of this value: “Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them a word of contempt, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully, and lower your wing in humility towards them in kindness and say, ‘Lord, have mercy on them, just as they cared for me when I was little.’ ” (17:23-24)

Neighbors are viewed as extended family in Islam. God instructs believers to take care of their neighbors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbors near (Muslims) and far (non-Muslims), to travelers in need.” (4:36)

Shariah 4: Protection of Property

Shariah stresses lawful earning for the maintenance of oneself and family—and rejects begging for a living. The objective of economic activities is to fulfill one’s basic needs and not to satisfy insatiable desires.

Our rights to property are protected in Shariah, an ideal that naturally contributes to a sense of security in a community. Forms of economic exploitation are condemned. Islam prohibits interest and usury (Riba). The goal is to keep people from depleting their property and falling into poverty through excessive debt. Likewise, the positive Quranic attitude towards trade and commercial activities (al-bay’) encourages mutual help, fairness with employees and equitable transactions in business. The Islamic view of economic principles includes a requirement that a lender should participate in either the profit or the loss of a borrower. Shariah’s interest in a just and healthy community extends throughout our business transactions.

Shariah 5: Protection of Intellect

Among the most cherished gifts of God is the faculty of intellect, which differentiates us from animals. It is through this faculty one is able to reason and make sound judgments. Such a precious blessing needs protection. Anything that threatens the intellect is discouraged or completely prohibited by Shariah. Prohibitions on intoxication with alcohol or drugs are aimed at keeping the mind sound and healthy.

Acknowledging that some may claim benefits of gambling and drinking, God informs that their harm is greater than their benefit. “They ask you [Prophet] about intoxicants and gambling: say, ‘There is great sin in both and some benefit for people: the sin is greater than the benefit.’ … In this way, God makes His messages clear to you, so that you may reflect.” (Quran 2:219)


Shariah abhors extremism and excessiveness. Excesses in spending, eating—even worship—are prohibited in Islam. Shariah promotes following the middle path. True Muslims are moderate in all of their endeavors—religious and secular. God described them in the Quran as “the Middle Nation.”

Shariah aims at facilitating life and removing hardships. Shariah beautifies life and provides comfort. It approves of good and forbids evil. It is considerate in case of necessity and hardship.

A general principle in Shariah holds that necessity makes the unlawful lawful. A Muslim is obliged to satisfy his hunger with lawful food and not to eat what has been declared forbidden. One may, however, in case of necessity—when permissible food is not available—eat unlawful foods such as pork to sustain life. Shariah comes from a kind and compassionate God.

The Quran says: “God wants ease for you, not hardship”(2:185) “God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear” (2:286) “It was only as a mercy that We sent you [Prophet] to all people.” (21:107)

Ultimately, Shariah strives for justice, fairness, mercy and peace.

Care to read more about Islam and Ramadan?

Care to read more from Dr. John Esposito? Here is ReadTheSpirit’s most recent interview with him.

Care to read more about Ramadan? We recommend The Beauty of Ramadan.

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

Young Muslim filmmaker offers commentary of hope

“The news is grim as more than a billion Muslims around the world pepare for the month-long fast of Ramadan.” On Monday, that’s how we started our coverage of Ramdan and tensions between Islamic and Western countries. We reported on a major new Pew study of these global tensions.
On Wednesday, we welcomed Muslim teacher Najah Bazzy to talk about Beauty of Ramadan.

TODAY, we turn to a Muslim filmmaker, Yusuf Begg, who is part of a new wave of talented young Muslim communicators working on honestly portraying the life of their religious communities in America. Yusuf created the short film, below, as his editorial commentary on helpful images he finds in American media. That’s a remarkable approach to this kind of short film. Raise the subject of “Media” in any minority community across the United States—including Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans—and you’ll immediately hear harsh critiques of their portrayals in mainstream “Media.” What Yusuf Begg accomplished in creating this short film commentary is the opposite of those critiques. Instead, Yusuf found and highlighted images of inclusion and hope.

Watch Yusuf Begg’s film commentary by clicking on the screen below. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of tis story, try clicking on this link and reloading this ReadTheSpirit page. On slow Internet connections, it may take a moment to load Yusuf’s film.

Care to read more about Islam and Ramadan?

Care to read more from Dr. John Esposito? Here is ReadTheSpirit’s most recent interview with him.

Care to read more about Ramadan? We recommend The Beauty of Ramadan.

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

As Ramadan and 9/11 near, global news is grim

The news is grim as more than a billion Muslims around the world pepare for the month-long fast of Ramadan—and anxiously brace for the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. The bad news comes in an extensive new report on attitudes concerning Muslims around the world by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Pew’s own summary of the news is: “Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other. Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical and violent, while few say Muslims are tolerant or respectful of women. Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy—as well as violent and fanatical.”

However, Associated Press takes an up-beat approach to this news, opening with: “Attitudes about Muslim-Western relations have become slightly more positive in the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Russia compared with five years ago, though negative views between Muslim countries and the West persist on both sides, a Pew Research Center survey found.”

Could this be the same report? Yes, it is. The Pew report is long and there are, indeed, a few up-beat findings sprinkled through the troubling news. AP apparently chose to lead with one of the few positive notes. The problem is that news reports around the world are adding to the misperceptions that Pew demonstrates. Most Americans—to the extent they are even aware of the Pew report—are seeing AP versions of the story. However, throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds—news reports on the data are somber.


Read headlines in the clippings, at right, to catch the tone in news media serving Muslim countries.
Here is a further sampling from individual newspapers covering the story:

Hürriyet in Turkey: The most widely read English-language newspaper in Turkey headlines its story “Muslims and Westerners don’t like each other much.” The newspaper especially highlighted the stark misperceptions from each “side.” Among residents of Muslim countries, a majority sees Westerners as “immoral, greedy, violent and selfish,” Hürriyet reports. In the West, a majority sees Muslims as “fanatical and violent”—and intolerant with bad attitudes toward women as well. And that’s not all, Hürriyet reminds readers: Pew also found most Muslims point to the West as a source of “fanaticism and arrogance.”

The Arab News in Saudi Arabia: The conclusions from Pew’s research are “unremittingly grim,” Arab News tells readers. “More Muslims than ever now say relations are bad, particularly Pakistanis. Only in Indonesia and Turkey has the number declined. Inevitably, of those who say relations are bad, the Europeans and Americans blame the Muslims—and the Muslims the West. Depressingly, the report shows that Muslims view Westerners as selfish, violent, greedy, immoral, arrogant and fanatical; that Americans and Europeans view Muslims as fanatical and violent but also honest; that vast numbers of Westerners consider that Islam is a violent religion. Conversely, Turks think Christianity is the world’s most violent religion.”

The Nation in Pakistan: This influential English-language newspaper in Pakistan, widely read by leaders especially in the Punjab, Islamabad and Karachi, directly addressed that up-beat item in the Associate Press’ opening paragraph. Here’s how The Nation explains it: “The survey finds somewhat of a thaw in the US and Europe compared with five years ago. A greater percentage of Western publics now see relations between themselves and Muslims as generally good compared with 2006. In contrast, Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations are as inclined to say relations are generally bad as they were five years ago. And, as in the past, Muslims express more unfavourable opinions about Christians than Americans or Europeans express about Muslims. For the most part, Muslims and Westerners finger point about the causes of problems in their relations, and about which side holds the high ground on key issues. Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who say relations with the West are bad overwhelmingly blame the West.”

There are many more news stories, in publications spanning predominantly Muslim nations. This sampling, above, indicates the overall tone of the news Muslims are reading.

Killings in Norway Add Fuel to Tragic Misunderstandings

TODAY, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I also published a commentary in Huffington Post about the impact of the Norwegian mass murderer on global relations. That Huffington Post story includes some material in this ReadTheSpirit news story about Pew, but adds reflections on the latest news from Norway.

John Esposito: American Expert on Islam Circles the Globe

Associated Press interviewed America’s most famous expert on Islam, Dr. John Esposito of Georgetown University, and quoted him in the AP news story about the Pew report. So, Esposito also is showing up in stories throughout the Muslim world, thanks to AP. Esposito’s comments in the AP story include:

Negative views among Muslims reflect a nose-dive of their expectations after President Barack Obama pledged to improve U.S.-Muslim relations during a speech in Cairo in 2009, said John Esposito, founder of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington.

“People don’t see a difference on a number of critical points between the Obama and Bush administrations,” Esposito said. He cited the continued detentions at Guantanamo Bay, prosecution of detainees in military courts, the administration’s position on Israel and its hesitance to back demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt this year.

Care to read more about Islam and Ramadan?

Care to read more from Dr. John Esposito? Here is ReadTheSpirit’s most recent interview with him.

Care to read more about Ramadan? We recommend The Beauty of Ramadan.

Please connect with us and help us to reach a wider audience

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

We welcome your Emails! . We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.