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Current Issue
June, 2018
Volume 44, Number 2
  
7 September 2017
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.




Displaced Iraqis flee their homes in January as Iraqi forces battle with ISIS militants near Mosul, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Khalid al Mousily, Reuters)

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS; or dā’iš from its Arabic name) came forcefully to the attention of the world on 29 June 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi introduced himself as the new caliph of Islam. This followed a series of military victories which gave ISIS control over several Iraqi cities; on 10 June 2014, it seized Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. It was not long before ISIS controlled much of northern Syria and large sections of Iraq.

Where did ISIS originate? How did it begin? There are many differing theories. While some consider it a purely political movement with a religious veneer, others see it as a purely religious movement with political goals. While I personally believe the neither position is correct, I think it is helpful to look at some of the ideologies and theological underpinnings which helped bring it about, since it casts such a long shadow over so much of the world CNEWA serves.

Two concepts are crucial to understand ISIS: jihād and takfīr. Jihād is a complex concept but involves the struggle (Arabic jahada) to bring the entire world to submission to God and to God’s rule. Those parts of the world that have submitted form the dār ul-salām, “the House/Realm of Peace” and those which have not form the dār ul-ḥarb, “the House/Realm of war.” Classical Islam saw itself at least potentially in a state of permanent conflict with the Realm of War. Although distinctions were drawn between the “greater jihād,” which was similar to asceticism in Christianity, i.e. the struggle to overcome one’s baser tendencies, and the “lesser jihād,” it was clearly the lesser or military jihād that has continued to be of concern to the non-Muslim world.

Takfīr, on the other hand, is the declaration that someone is a kāfir, “an infidel, non-believer, apostate” and, hence, deserving of death and damnation. Very soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, Muslims struggled with what rendered someone a non-believer. This question became acute when it dealt with declaring other Muslims to be infidels/apostates. The question arose over whether Ali, the fourth Caliph and son-in-law of the prophet, was responsible for the assassination of Uthman, the third Caliph, and hence and infidel/apostate, or whether Uthman was deserving of death and hence an apostate.

One group, the Kharijites, was very clear on this: everyone who didn’t agree with them was an infidel and apostate. Being an infidel made one the object of jihād, while being an apostate made one worthy of death. The Murji’ites (from Arabic ’irjā’ “to put off {judgement}”), on the other hand, held that judgment should be left to God. Although this was in the context of very specific historical circumstances, the question remained as to what, if anything (other than outright rejection of Islam) could render a Muslim an infidel. With a great deal of oversimplification, the question was: could an external act alone render a Muslim an infidel and apostate or did there have to be a concomitant internal intention?

Taqī al-Dīn ibn Taymīya (1263-1393), a major Muslim thinker, held the opinion that an external act can render a Muslim an apostate. But this was not the predominant Muslim opinion at the time.

With the emergence in the 18th century of what is called the Wahhabi movement (in in what would become Saudi Arabia), ibn Taymīya’s thought took on a new prominence. In the 20th century Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), after studying and traveling developed an extremely negative stance towards the West. This resulted in him judging very harshly those Muslim societies which he saw as abandoning Islam for Western values. He deemed these Muslim countries to be in a state of jāhilīyya, which means “foolishness” but is also used to refer to the time before the arrival of Muhammad. Relying on an idiosyncratic interpretation of Qur’an 5:44, Qutb came to the conclusion that all Muslim nations which do not “govern by what has been revealed by God” are infidels/apostates.

Although Qutb was not well received in Saudi Arabia — because he did not use classical, Islamic sources — some of his ideas found a home in the kingdom. Muslim thinkers over the centuries were extremely reticent to apply the concept of takfīr — fully aware of the forces it could unleash. But ISIS has not shown any reticence at all: it has been unusually careful to provide religious justification for its atrocities, which are more often directed against Muslims than non-Muslims.

While there are indications ISIS has been at least driven from the areas of Syria and Iraq it conquered, it is important to realize that its roots run very deep. It did not begin overnight — and it will not end overnight, either.

Military solutions are not enough. The ultimate solution must be religious.



7 September 2017
Greg Kandra




Brooklyn’s Coptic Catholic community includes parishioners from New York and New Jersey — but it traces its history to first century Egypt and the apostle Mark. Learn more about the Coptic Catholic Church in this profile from 2007. (photo: Maria Bastone)



7 September 2017
Greg Kandra




People hold placards and candles during a vigil for Gauri Lankesh in Ahmedabad, India on 6 September. The previous day, the Indian journalist was shot dead outside her home. The Catholic Church in India Wednesday strongly condemned the murder. (photo: CNS/Amit Dave, Reuters)

Syria says Israel bombed military base (The New York Times) Syria accused Israel on Thursday of conducting an overnight strike on a military base said by analysts to house chemical weapons and advanced missiles. The Syrian military reported the attack, saying it had left two people dead near the town of Masyaf in western Syria and had caused unspecified material damage...

Indian Catholic Church condemns death of journalist (Vatican Radio) The Catholic Church of India on Wednesday strongly condemned the murder of a noted Kannada journalist, on Tuesday in Bengaluru who fought the forces of evil, hatred and corruption...

Syrian refugees trade violence for thirst (Al jazeera) Currently, 1.4 million Syrians live in Jordan, while another 1.5 million have resettled in Lebanon. Both countries have historically struggled with seasonal water shortages, low investment in infrastructure, and poor management of water resources. The dramatic population increases have added another layer of stress, with demand for water rising by 22 and 28 percent respectively in Jordan and Lebanon since the Syrian crisis started...

Mosul students volunteer to restore library (Rudaw.net) Citing inaction by the Iraqi government and politicians, a group of student volunteers came together this weekend to clean the debris from the University of Mosul’s Ibn Khaldun Center Library. “We are young, we saw our city destroyed and the government is unable to help,” the organizer of the volunteer group, Mustafa Khaled, told Rudaw English of their work on Saturday and Sunday...

Pope Tawadros visits Canberra congregation (The Canberra Times) Canberra’s Coptic community hopes the Coptic Orthodox pope’s visit to the region will shine a light on the plight of Copts across the Middle East. Pope Tawadros II visited Canberra for the first time yesterday meeting Kaleen’s St Mark Coptic Orthodox congregation after earlier meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull...

From one refugee generation to another (Catholic Register) Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies will never forget the January day she saw the Alshablis, a family fleeing war in Syria, walk through the doors of Edmonton International Airport...



6 September 2017
Greg Kandra




Children gather for prayer at the start of morning assembly at St. Antony's English Medium School in Karottukara, India. Many around the world are now returning to school after summer break. To learn how this school in India is changing lives, and giving villagers their first taste of a secondary education, check out Education as a Common Goal in the September-October 2003 edition of our magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)



6 September 2017
Greg Kandra




Embed from Getty Images
In this image from July, Syrians gather with pictures of victims during a memorial in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syria, 100 days after a toxic gas attack that was reported to have killed 88 people, including 31 children. (photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)

Report: Syria used chemical weapons 27 times (The Guardian) Syrian forces have used chemical weapons more than two-dozen times during the country’s civil war, including in the deadly attack that led to US airstrikes, UN war crimes investigators said on Wednesday. In the most conclusive findings to date from investigations into chemical weapons attacks during the conflict, the UN commission of inquiry on Syria said a government warplane dropped sarin on Khan Sheikhun in April, killing more than 80 civilians...

Jerusalem churches warn of ‘systematic’ erosion of Christian presence in Holy Land (Haaretz) Church leaders in Jerusalem took the unusual step of issuing a statement protesting a recent ruling by a court in the capital instructing the Greek Orthodox Church to sell three buildings in the Old City to a Jewish settler organization. The statement also expressed opposition to an Israeli bill that would transfer ownership of church land sold to private citizens to the state...

Ethiopia faces worsening drought (AP) More than eight million people in drought-hit southeastern and southern Ethiopia are in need of emergency food assistance, officials said as the heads of the World Food Program, Food and Agriculture Organization and International Fund for Agricultural Development made a rare joint visit over the weekend. Despite economic growth in the past decade that has made Ethiopia one of Africa’s fastest-developing countries, rural areas are suffering as the nation faces its worst drought in years...

Latin Patriarchate names new coordinator for pastoral care of migrants (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) On 2 September 2017, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, appointed the Rev. Rafiq Nahra new coordinator for Coordination of the Pastoral Among Migrants...

Climate change threatens survival of Jordan River (Climate Change News) Hydrologists and climate scientists have just calculated the future of one of the world’s most celebrated waterways, the River Jordan. Their conclusion is that the outlook is poor — and getting poorer...



5 September 2017
Catholic News Service




A displaced Iraqi man is seen through a car window near Mosul, Iraq, 9 August. The Rev. Michael Czerny, S.J., undersecretary of the migrant and refugee section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said 4 September the Vatican believes countries must guarantee “adequate legal frameworks and reliable pathways to prevent migrants from becoming victims of human trafficking.” (photo: CNS/Suhaib Salem, Reuters)

Many people become more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation when safe, legal and affordable opportunities for immigration or asylum are lacking, a Vatican official told global leaders.

Since human traffickers “can easily take advantage of the desperation of migrants and asylum seekers,” such people on the move can end up “in an irregular or undocumented status,” which puts them “at a very high risk of abuse and exploitation, including trafficking and enslavement,” said Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the migrant and refugee section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

That is why the Vatican believes it is very important countries guarantee “adequate legal frameworks and reliable pathways to prevent migrants from becoming victims of human trafficking,” he said 4 September.

The priest spoke at a meeting in Vienna 4-5 September that was part of the U.N. process for developing and adopting a Global Compact for Migration and a Global Compact on Refugees. The U.N. hopes to have a draft of the compacts ready by February and to present them to the general assembly in September 2018.

Father Czerny led the Vatican delegation at the meeting where other Catholic organizations also have been participating in discussions and hearings to formulate the compacts.

He told the assembly that “despite the great achievements of international agreements, asylum seekers and migrants, who risk their lives in search of safety and a new home, are still and ever more vulnerable, especially to criminal organizations.”

“Since safe, regular and affordable routes are generally not available, many migrants employ smugglers,” he said. Since smugglers are sometimes involved or connected with human trafficking, migrating to start a new life “can go disastrously wrong.”

While victims and potential victims need more protections, he said, receiving communities need to recognize the role they play as part of fueling the demand for forced and slave labor, particularly in prostitution and work that does not meet legal standards in terms of pay or safety.

With human trafficking now being a multibillion-dollar industry, “slavery must not be an unavoidable aspect of economies. Instead, business should be in the vanguard in combating and preventing this travesty,” Father Czerny said.

A measure of the Global Compact for Migration’s success “will be if tomorrow’s migratory movements are no longer inevitably marked by human smuggling as today’s clearly are,” he said. “For irregular migration is not freely chosen but rather forced on people because legal and secure channels are simply not accessible.”



5 September 2017
Greg Kandra




Embed from Getty Images
Syrian forces sit in the back of an armed vehicle west of Deir al-Zour on 4 September, after taking control of the area in the ongoing battle against ISIS. State media are reporting that the military has broken the siege of the city after more than two years.
(photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)


Syrian army reportedly breaks ISIS siege in Deir al-Zour (BBC) The Syrian military has broken a siege of the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, surrounded for years by so-called Islamic State, state media say. The official Sana news agency reported that troops and allied militiamen had joined up with forces at the Brigade 137 base on the city’s outskirts. An estimated 93,000 civilians have been trapped in an enclave on the western bank of the River Euphrates since 2015...

Vatican calls for new efforts to combat trafficking of migrants (Vatican Radio) Politicians, business leaders, civil society and faith communities must step up efforts to combat the alarming increase in human trafficking. That message was at the heart of a statement given at a meeting in Vienna on Monday by the Holy See’s representative to the fifth thematic session on the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration...

Charity warns of ‘unlivable’ conditions in Gaza (Aljazeera) One million children are suffering from “unlivable” conditions in the Gaza Strip, according to Save the Children, an international charity that promotes children’s rights and provides aid worldwide. “One million children in Gaza are living in dire conditions,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday. “Save the Children considers Gaza to be unlivable now...”

Mother Teresa to be co-patron of Archdiocese of Calcutta (Vatican Radio) As the first anniversary of the sainthood of Mother Teresa was marked on Monday, the Archdiocese of Calcutta, in eastern India, is set to declare her as its co-patron...

Items stolen by ISIS from Mosul museum recovered (IraqiNews.com) Eight artifacts, stolen by Islamic State from Mosul museum, have been recovered after a displaced family returned them to police, an official said. “A displaced family found pivotal artifacts as it returned back to house in al-Zanjili district. The relics were returned back to Federal Police elements deployed there,” Moss’ab Jassim, head of Nineveh monuments department, told Baghdad Today on Sunday...



1 September 2017
Greg Kandra




An Ethiopian Orthodox monk thumbs through an ancient manuscript. To learn more about 21st Century Scribes, check out our profile of these monks from the September 2006 edition of ONE.
(photo: Sean Sprague)




1 September 2017
Greg Kandra




After three years, priests are again able to celebrate Mass in Mosul, in the ruins of churches. The image above is from a documentary on Christians in Iraq and Syria, “Guardians of the Faith.”
(photo: Facebook)


UN: Last ISIS stronghold in Syria could soon fall (The Guardian) Raqqa, the last Islamic State stronghold in Syria, will fall by the end of October, allowing credible democratic elections to be held within a year, according to the UN special envoy for the country. Setting out a highly optimistic scenario for the end of the civil war, Staffan de Mistura said the country would face a “moment of truth” after the reclaiming of Raqqa. He urged President Bashar al-Assad to recognise he must make a political gesture if he didn’t wish to see a version of Isis return under a new name within months...

After three years of ISIS, the Mass returns to Mosul (CNA) Following the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, from the hands of the Islamic State, Christians are cautiously returning to the city. And as they return, so does the Mass. The Rev. Luis Montes, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, celebrated Mass in August at Saint George Monastery. The priest traveled to Mosul to record part of a documentary entitled Guardianes de la Fe (Guardians of the Faith), which seeks to show the reality of life for Christians in Iraq and Syria...

Israel builds underground wall (AP) Israel is pressing ahead with construction of an underground barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip in an ambitious project meant to halt the threat of attack tunnels built by the Hamas militant group...

Football among the Old Believers in Alaska (The New York Times) Voznesenka is a community of Old Believers, a secluded offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church that resisted reforms in the mid-17th century and still adheres to traditionalist worship, customs, dietary restrictions and styles of dress...



31 August 2017
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.




The Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, celebrated this year on 1 September, comes at the end of the Hajj and commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. (photo: Abraham’s sacrifice, from a fresco in Bulgaria/Wikimedia Commons)

This year, Friday 1 September marks the Muslim feast of Eid ul-Aḍḥā, the Feast of Sacrifice, one of the most significant feasts in the Muslim calendar. It comes at the end of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which Muslims are obliged to make at least once in their lives during the Month of the Hajj.

To understand its significance, it helps to understand the story of Abraham and his two sons.

Muslims trace their religious lineage back to the patriarch Abraham, as do Jews and Christians, though in different ways. For Jews, Muslims and Christians, Abraham had two sons. Ishmael, Abraham’s first born, was the son of Hagar, Sarah’s servant. Sarah was childless, so Abraham, following the customs of the time, had a son through Hagar to carry on the line. Later, when Sarah miraculously conceived and gave birth to Isaac, the Bible sees Isaac as the main heir of Abraham and, therefore, of God’s promise (Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-21). After the birth of her own son, Sarah convinced Abraham to send away Hagar and their son Ishmael. In Genesis 22 there is the familiar story of Abraham expressing willingness to obey God by sacrificing his son Isaac; the Lord intervenes and provides, instead, a ram (Genesis 22:13).

For Muslims, Ishmael — not Isaac — is the child of the promise. The Bible and the Quran differ on the story. If in the Bible Abraham is commanded to sacrifice Isaac, the account in the Quran 37:103 ff. presents Ishmael as the intended sacrifice. Both the Bible and the Qur’an agree that Ishmael was sent away, but they differ greatly in the details. In the Muslim telling, Abraham and Ishmael traveled to Mecca and set up the House of God there.

Much of the ritual of the Hajj revolves around Abraham and Ishmael’s time in Mecca. At the end of the Hajj, commemorating the “sacrifice” of Ishmael, Muslims recall that sacrifice by slaughtering (or having someone slaughter) a sheep or some other acceptable animal and giving the meat to the poor.

Interestingly, there are similarities between the two major Muslim holy days, the Feast of Sacrifice and the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast (of Ramadan), and two major Christian holy days, Christmas and Easter.

For Muslims, the Feast of Sacrifice is more important theologically — as Easter is theologically more important for Christians. However, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast for Muslims and Christmas for Christians have somehow captured the hearts and imaginations of believers. There are many more popular traditions around the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast than of the Feast of Sacrifice. Greetings, visits and family events are often closely related to the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast. Nevertheless, theologically, if not emotionally, the Feast of Sacrifice remains, al-‘eid al-akbar, “the greater feast.”







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