Writing for New Humanist, Brian Whitaker writes about the rise of atheism in the Arab world. The differences between atheism in Christian societies and Arab ones include political considerations, how science is viewed, and how scripture is interpreted.
While there’s little doubt that an Islamic reformation would benefit the Middle East socially and politically, atheists cannot advocate this without sacrificing their principles. Progressive versions of Islam generally view the Qur’an in its historical context, arguing that rules which applied in the time of the Prophet can be reinterpreted today in the light of changing circumstances — but that involves accepting the Qur’an as the supreme scriptural authority.
The status of the Qur’an is a particularly important issue for both followers and opponents of Islam. Whereas Christians usually consider the Bible as divinely inspired but written by humans, the Qur’an is claimed to be the actual words of God, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic).
In the New Yorker, Salman Rushdie describes how quickly his entire life changed after Iran’s Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s “execution”.
He unlocked the front door, went outside, got into the car, and was driven away. Although he did not know it then — so the moment of leaving his home did not feel unusually freighted with meaning — he would not return to that house, at 41 St. Peter’s Street, which had been his home for half a decade, until three years later, by which time it would no longer be his.
The article is excerpted from Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton, which comes out next week. Joseph Anton was the name Rushdie adopted in hiding and, now that I think about it, explains why the NYer piece was written in the third person.
Omar Hammami was a fairly normal kid from a small town in Alabama — “as a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo” — who is now in Somalia, leading terrorist attacks for a group called Shabab, which is loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda.
In the three years since Hammami made his way to Somalia, his ascent into the Shabab’s leadership has put him in a class of his own, according to United States law-enforcement and intelligence officials. While other American terror suspects have drawn greater publicity, Hammami exercises a more powerful role, commanding guerrilla forces in the field, organizing attacks and plotting strategy with Qaeda operatives, the officials said. He has also emerged as something of a jihadist icon, starring in a recruitment campaign that has helped draw hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia. “To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of a rank in a terrorist organization - we have not seen that before,” a senior American law-enforcement official said earlier this month.
See also a New Yorker article about Adam Gadahn, an American who is now a member of Al Qaeda.
A short list of What Every American Should Know About the Middle East.
Arabs are part of an ethnic group, not a religion. Arabs were around long before Islam, and there have been (and still are) Arab Christians and Arab Jews. In general, you’re an Arab if you 1) are of Arab descent (blood), or 2) speak the main Arab language (Arabic).
A companion list of what every resident of the Middle East should know about the US might also be helpful. (via chris glass)
When you’re a Muslim in orbit, how do you determine which way Mecca is and how often you need to pray? “The ISS is more than 200 miles from the Earth’s surface and orbits the earth every ninety-two minutes, or roughly sixteen times a day. Do we have to worship eighty times a day (sixteen orbits a day multiplied by five prayer times)?”
Interview with Edward Castronova, video game economist. Quite an interesting thought from him about using MMORPGs to test economies and social systems. “I think the smart thing for the US state department to do today is build a game about Islam but make it a democracy. And set it up so that every 16-year-old from Morocco to Pakistan can go into that world when they get a computer. Not say anything overt about democracy but have them play — have them vote, for example.” (via bbj)