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Ovi Symposium; seventieth Meeting
by Prof. Michael Newman
2016-06-25 21:58:16
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

Between Professors Emanuel Paparella, Ernesto Paolozzi, and Michael Newman
Seventieth Meeting: 15 June 2016

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

 

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

newmanProf. Michael Newman received his Master’s of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Eastern Michigan University.  He discovered his love for teaching English as a Second Language while living abroad. He moved to South Florida and began his journey for a tenure track position at Broward College where he has recently earned a tenured position teaching English for Academic Purposes.  Another great passion of his is that of philosophical writing and discussion.  

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Subtheme of session 70: Women’s Rights within the Three Abrahamic Religions    

Indirect Participants within the Great Imaginary Conversation across the ages:  Habermas, Manji, Voltaire, Muhammad, Abraham, Jesus, Nietzsche, Weiss, Aristotle, James.

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Table of Contents for the 70th Session of the Ovi Symposium

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Presentation 1: “Imaginary Conversation between the founders of the Abrahamic religions at Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Presentation 2: “A Multi-cultural Perspective on the Conception of Women from my life” A presentation by Michael Newman.

Presentation 3:  “On Coexistence among Religions: An Essay-Review” by Emanuel  L. Paparella  

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella
(Ovi Symposium 70: June 2016)

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In this 70th meeting of the Ovi symposium we continue the general exploration of secularism or positivism vis a vis religion, more specifically, the conception of human rights and how the three Abrahamic religions apply those rights to women. The juxtaposition yields some surprising insights; the first one being that the image of woman as narrated in the story of creation, the punishment from the garden and the punishment for the transgression of the prescribed limits, while at first sight appearing similar in the three religions (after all, they are closely related to each other), even derivative of one another, contain in fact some subtle nuances and differences which we disregard at our own risk, mainly that of ending up conceiving of religion as just another myth replete with superstition and falsehood to be eventually discarded and replaced by a more scientific “enlightened” posture, one fit for a progressive epoch, the epoch of modernity and positivism. Indeed, as Aristotle has well taught us, the premises one begins one’s narration with, logically determine the final conclusions one ends up with.

The conversation among the founders (Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad) while being imaginary, does not take place on Mount Olympus among mythical figures discussing ethereal and sublime subjects, but, more concretely, in Jerusalem at the Dome of the Rock, a most sacred place for all three religions but also a place of contention and conflict. The shrine itself is initially the subject of the imaginary conversation which soon enough turns to the image of woman in the Bible and the Qur’an and a comparison of the various interpretation of such an image as presented by their respective founders. Not surprisingly, once a dialogue is established, one devoid of any polemical or proselytizing spirit, much common ground is discovered regarding the image of woman, together with subtle but significant divergences. We then can more confidently surmise the root causes for those divergences and what they may imply for ecumenism and coexistence among the three Abrahamic religions.

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Jerusalem today

We further begin to suspect that the interpretation of woman’s image may be divergent not so much because of its traditional forms but because of its more modern ones. It is there that the three founders’ conversation uncover a chasm between the original vision issuing in the ideals of their respective religions, and the practice of those ideals in quotidian life. The chasm could serve as a jumping board for the diagnosis of the ethics of the present treatment of women, their failures and their successes.

In the second presentation we have a guest contributor (Professor Michael Newman from Broward College, Florida) who offers us his own personal perspectives and existential life experiences on the women in his own family and life. We’d like to extend a warm welcome to Professor Newman. He happens to be a colleague teaching English as a second language at the same college. We trust that in the future he will continue sharing his life-experiences in the symposium and become one of its regular contributors. Welcome aboard Michael.

In my opinion, what makes Professor Newman’s narration so fascinating is the diverse religious backgrounds of the members of his family, especially the women in his life. Those diverse backgrounds seem to function quite harmoniously in practice even when they may continue to clash in theory. Ultimately, the final diagnosis of the problem of the clash of cultures and the byways of multiculturalism has less to do with a rigorous academic-philosophical analysis of the different religious cultures, and more to do with respecting the diversity of those cultures, especially when they exist in the same family. Michael’s family here becomes a metaphor for the larger family called humankind.

Nevertheless, in the third and final presentation of this issue, a tentative theoretical prognosis is suggested via a review-essay on two recent books dealing with the issue of religion and women’s rights. Some examples are provided on how to go about in re-interpreting and reforming a universal religion, any universal religion for that matter, thus bridging the theory and the practice, avoiding the allegedly “enlightened” Voltairian mistake of discarding the religion altogether as retrograde and obscurantist. If William James in his essay “The Will to Believe” has taught us anything at all, it is that pragmatic practice reveals much more of what one believes than the preaching of an abstract theory based on ethereal principles existentially divorced from its particularity and concreteness.

Theory and practice can be distinguished and analyzed but they are not separable just as body and soul cannot be separated in a human being without destroying its holistic integrity.  Either the two are kept in a harmonious relationship or, separated from each other, they remain sterile and meaningless. More precisely, the former separated from the latter produces a misguided mindless purposeless activism coming from nowhere and going nowhere, a revolution without a purpose and a cause. The latter separated from the former produced a misplaced abstract kind of concreteness, or ideological fanaticism which denies the obvious and even common sense and is ready to sacrifice human rights to the ideology. The wonder of philosophy, which is dialogic by its very nature, is that it can disclose relevant insights and eliminate destructive conflicts through a simple conversation. A rational dialogue on an issue is certainly a wiser more pragmatic mode of resolving political cultural problems than ruthless armed conflicts carried on in defense of an ideology parading as religion.  We hope that the conversation we have begun here will go on and flourish. Indeed, the search for truth requires nothing less than respectful listening to one’s brothers’ plights, be they physical, intellectual or spiritual, together with a sincere acknowledgment of our common humanity. 

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1.

Imaginary Conversation between the Founders of the Abrahamic Religions
at Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock   
Emanuel L. Paparella

 

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Abraham, Father of Faith            Jesus, founder of Christianity      Muhammad, founder of Islam      

Muhammad: Welcome, and thank you father Abraham and fellow prophet Jesus, for accepting my invitation to meet at the Moslem shrine “Dome of the Rock” in Jerusalem.

Abraham: By all means, you couldn’t have chosen a better site Muhammad. In this place is located the foundation stone of the three Abrahamic religions, the so called religions of the book. It was from this place that you Mohammad in the so called “night’s journey” rose to heaven to receive instructions from God.

Jesus: indeed, it was here on this rock that, according to Genesis, you Abraham, were tested in your faith via the intended sacrifice of your son Isaac in obedience to God’s command. This is also the site of the first and the second Jewish Temple; the place where I walked during my three year’s mission on earth and which I used to visit from time to time. Nearby is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb in which I rested before my resurrection, ascension and return to God.

Muhammad: quite true, Jesus. You have certainly noticed how the dome of the Holy Sepulcher resembles this golden dome we notice here, albeit this one is superior architecturally and in aesthetic beauty due to the enhancement of its octagonal shape and the golden optic.

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The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

Jesus: indeed, it is indisputable that there is much affinity between the three religions we founded, but there are also subtle divergences; let’s focus on those too. Historically, after the first crusade in 1099 the Dome Rock was transformed into a church and the Knights Templar adopted it as a model for their Christian churches across Europe. So, even on a purely cultural level, the three religions are inextricably interrelated and have greatly influenced one another. But later, after the Crusades, the sultans replaced the cross on top of the dome with the Islamic crescent. Presently it is a religious trust in the hands of the Jordanians, independent of the Israeli government, thus rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, as I always advocated during my mission on earth.

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Persian rendition of the Ascent of Muhammad into Heaven

Muhammad: in fact, only Muslims today have unrestricted access to the Dome and can worship in it. Palestinians residents of Jerusalem and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are also permitted unrestricted access. This is appropriate since to us Muslims this is a most holy place. It was from this spot that I ascended to Heaven with the angel Gabriel who had previously taken me here to pray with you Abraham, Moses and you Jesus.

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Abraham: The Foundation Stone inside the Dome is also the holiest site in Judaism; the holiest spot on earth, the site of the Holy of Holies during the Temple period. No Jew was allowed to enter the holy of holies of the temple where God dwelt and no Jew worships at the site today. You too Muslims once faced the Temple Mount for your daily prayers as we Jews did once, till you Muhammad decided to change the direction to one pointing toward Mecca, after a revelation from God. We Jews revere the stone, consider it sacred, but do not worship it.

Muhammad: Indeed, Abraham, that would be idolatry. However, we have so far avoided in our conversation the discussion of the controversial inscription on the walls of this shrine which transcribes the following words from the Qur’an (19: 33-35): "So peace is upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!" Such is Jesus, son of Mary. It is a statement of truth, about which they doubt. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, "Be", and it is.” This is of course not to deny that you Jesus were a true prophet as I also was. Here, for example, is a Muslim prayer: "O Lord, send your blessings to your Prophet and Servant Jesus son of Mary."

Abraham: very interesting. To me as a Jew, it reveals some latent rivalry between Christianity and Islam which in some way is also the rivalry with Judaism of which the other two religions are an offshoot. It is from rivalry that religious wars spring. After all, aren’t some Orthodox Jews and some Christian evangelists convinced that there will eventually be a prophetic rebuilding of the Temple and it will occur in the very place now occupied by the Dome of the Rock? Could this conundrum be resolved by returning to the original roots of all three Abrahamic religions? I ask this because I have noticed that quite often Christians and Muslims forget this essential originative historical fact which underpins their own origins.

Jesus: indeed father Abraham, but let us not forget that Paul, with all the other apostles, was a Jew and one of your descendants (as I also was), as he points out in one of his letters. Both Christians and Muslims are in fact spiritual Jews in as much as they hold you as father of the faith. The Christians and the Muslims are engrafted as branches on the trunk which is Judaism and only in that sense they remain the chosen people of God; a God who does not take back his word or his promise (the covenant); which is to say that to be a genuine Christian or Moslem one also needs to be a spiritual Jew. Let us not forget either that I myself was a Jew born of a Jewish mother. We ignore each others’ religious tenets at the risk of losing sight of the identity and the destiny of our own religion. Religion, after all, etymologically means “binding together” in unity and fraternity and solidarity.

Abraham: this makes eminent sense to me. The alternative for most Christians and even most Muslims, I dare say, is to go back to their pagan mythologies which have been retained as cultural patrimony but rejected as just that, mythology and fairy tales’ lies. This is confirmed historically in the secular EU where a new cult and religion seems to pervade the continent. No, I am not referring to the old paganism since that is part of the old mythology and has been long discarded as a religion too, but soccer. Soccer is the new religion: the new idol and god. It has happened before when Romans were given bread and reality shows (the war games of the Coliseum) to appease them and keep them well satisfied. They all identify as Westerners and Europeans because they all go to soccer games or football games on Sunday.  It’s tragically happening as we speak in America where there is a con man and entertainer, and expert in realities shows, whose expertise is in slandering people for entertainment’s purposes, and is about to become president of the country. He even touts the Bible and swears in its name. No wonder that the old pagan myths are on the ascendancy as a fanatical nationalistic resurgence, even though precious few attend a temple or worship the gods of nature any longer. In a more metaphysical sense this new religion could be dubbed Nihilism, as elaborated by Friedrich Nietzsche and other philosophers.

Muhammad: The biggest and most obvious difference for us Muslims and Jews vis a vis Christianity is that we do not believe in the Trinity. The Idea of the trinity is heresy in our eyes. With the Jews we recognize the existence of what is called the “Shakina,” the spirit of Allah or the presence of Allah, but do not conceive of it as the Holy Spirit.

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The Trinity in Christianity

We do not accept the Christian belief that you Jesus are the Son of God; only that you are a prophet just like all the other prophets. As the Qur’an (2:136) says:  "We have believed in God and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."

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The Great Prophets

Muslims do not believe that you Jesus brought a new religion; rather, that you were bringing the same message that all other prophets had brought before yourself and that God intended for all mankind. As  Matthew 5:17 records you actually said "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”. In fact, we do not believe that by your coming, the Old Testament became obsolete; to the contrary the Old Testament remains the foundation of the other two Abrahamic religions. We also believe that you Jesus were taken from this earth in ascension, as I too was, but not that you died on the cross and then resurrected. We believe that you Jesus are with God in heaven and that you were taken from this earth alive (ascension) but not that you died on the cross.

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Jesus Christ Crucifixion and Resurrection

Jesus: I think we have now arrived at the crux of the matter. Basically you Muslims reject the very first principle of Christianity: my Resurrection, albeit you accept my ascension into heaven as with Muhammad. It logically follows that following this line of argument, I did not die for anybody’s sins; that the concept of original sin is false or heretical and that we are all doomed because of the acts of Adam and Eve; that moreover, no powers to forgive sins was granted to Peter or the Roman Catholic Church; that the descendants of Peter have no power to hold true on earth what God holds true in heaven, that the pope is fallible like any other human being. And yet those beliefs and they are undoubtedly in contrast, explain the difference between Christianity and, in fact, all the other religions of the world. To dismiss them is to make Christianity another mythology, to make me and you Mohammad another demigod, an Atlas of sort, to be eventually discarded with the advent of the modern and the “enlightened” positivistic mind-set.

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The Apostles Peter and Paul

Muhammad: these socio-theological-philosophical considerations are no doubt very interesting, Jesus, but, having taken centuries to develop and having caused intellectual and physical conflicts galore over many centuries, I am afraid that we will not be able even to come even close to resolving them in the few hours available for this meeting. Ecumenism is vital but it’s a slow process. And besides, these theological considerations may be taking us too far afield from the original purpose which brought us together here in the first place: to discuss and compare the concept of woman found in the scriptures of our respective religions. Father Abraham, as the host of this meeting, may I be allowed to set the agenda of the discussion?

Abraham: by all means Muhammad, if Jesus also consents to it. Once the agenda is set we will try our best to adhere to it. Perhaps we can arrive at some insights in the matter.

Jesus: but of course, truth is never in a rush to settle matters once and for all, by war if necessary. It remains there and it is patient and willing to wait for the fulfillment of times. So, proceed Muhammad.

Muhammad: thank you. I’d like to begin by placing on the table three quotes concerning woman: one from the Old Testament in the Bible, one from the New Testament, and one from the Qur’an. Then we shall compare them. I think this will yield some fruitful results, even if we continue to disagree.

Abraham: And which, pray, are those quotes?

Muhammad: These three: 1. "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree (Adam in the Old Testament: Genesis: 2:4).   2. "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don't permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (Paul in the New Testament: 1 Timothy 2: 11-14).  3. “Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost" (Adam in the Qur’an: 7:19:23).

Abraham: the Jewish conception of the creation of Adam (which in Hebrew means first man) and Eve (which in Hebrew means first woman) is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent then seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebukes Adam for what he did, Adam attributes the blame to Eve: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it." Consequently, God says to Eve: "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you." To Adam He says: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree ... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life..."

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Eve Tempting Adam in the mythic Garden of Eden

Abraham: it is not a question of merely quoting scripture; one must also do some interpretation which is very important in Judaism. What I find relevant in the passage you just quoted from Genesis is that God does not accept Adam’s rationalization and excuse by which to blame Eve, and in fact even-handedly holds both responsible and punishes both. It would appear that God is not a misogynist and he is not putting his seal of approval on it in a patriarchal paternalistic mode.

Muhammad: Quite right father Abraham, at first sight the Islamic conception of the first sin may appear exactly the same, almost a derivative imitation of the Judeo-Christian view. Nevertheless I’d like to suggest that the Qur’an’s conception of woman is not a slavish imitation; it is a variant of the Biblical rendition and therefore it has different implications. In the Qur’an Eve does not come across as a seducer and temptress.

The narrative is found in several places; for example: "O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: 'Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.' And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: 'Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?' They said: 'Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost." (7:19:23).

Nowhere in the Qur'an, try as one may, one will discover the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Eve is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not punished with the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Qur'an, punishes no one for another's faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin; they are both blameworthy and they know it; they ask God for forgiveness and He forgives them both, end of the story.

Abraham: If I understand your comparison correctly, Muhammad, you are implying that the image of Eve as temptress in the Bible impacts the image of women throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition; that all women have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile, as part of what Christians call the original sin. Consequently, it is almost logical to think of all of them as untrustworthy and somehow, morally inferior. That’s quite a statement.

Muhammad: Indeed Abraham, I am implying that much. Tell me, is there another possible interpretation? In the New Testament we read these words by none other than the evangelizer and prime theologian of Christianity, St. Paul: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don't permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (I Timothy 2:11-14). Also this: "As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34-35).  Could it be any clearer?

Jesus: Not so fast Muhammad! As founder of Christianity I find your interpretation objectionable. I challenge you to show me where in the Bible you find my teachings approving any kind of subordination of one of my followers to another. I expressly forbid it in any Christian relationship. All three Synoptic gospels record my teaching to my disciples that any subordination of one to another, both abusive and customary, is not to take place among my followers. The Christian alternative to subordination is in fact the exact opposite: profound service to others, extending even to making the ultimate sacrifice of giving one's life if necessary. I am quoted as saying that:  "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" I do not disavow that statement.

That first phrase of mine, "lord it over", describes the Roman masters who wielded ultimate and unlimited power at the time. The second phrase, "high officials", refers to lesser Roman officials who, having some limitations of power, "exercised authority" over their citizens. In the nearly identical passages in all three Synoptic gospels, I sternly command my disciple that "It shall not be so among you", clearly forbidding both abusive extreme "lording it over" others, and even more moderate, ordinary "exercise of authority" over others. It ought to be clear that my teaching trumps any subsequent interpretation of the teachings of Paul and Peter that allegedly establishes "Husband-Headship" requiring "Wife-Submission", or denying women opportunities to serve in any leadership position within the Church. In my teaching, to be a leader is not “to lord it over,” but to serve; those who serve are leaders; those who don’t serve are Christians in name only. The New Testament of the Bible refers to a number of women in my inner circle—notably my Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene who discovered my empty tomb of Christ and is known as the "apostle to the apostles" since I commissioned her after my resurrection to go and tell the 11 disciples that I was risen.

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Muhammad: no wonder Nietzsche wrote that the one and only Christian that ever existed died on the cross. But Jesus, you failed to notice that I did not quote you to make the case for a negative image of woman; I quoted Paul, your late-comer disciple Paul who did not personally witness the events of your life on earth, nor hear your teachings from your own mouth, and in fact was not even around at the resurrection event, albeit he certainly knew all about Jewish tradition. We Muslims, in fact, do not believe that he was a true disciple of yours. He was perhaps the first pseudo-Christian of which Nietzsche talks about.

Jesus: Whatever you believe about Paul, whether or not I appeared to him and confirmed him as one of my apostles, my point here was not to defend or attack Paul’s view of the image of woman, or the Judaic tradition on the same; my point was simply to affirm the fact that I never approved of the denigration of women by my followers, or anyone else for that matter. I doubt that Paul was doing that. As you may read in the New Testament, I saved a woman accused of adultery from an angry mob seeking to punish her, by saying: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

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Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Velasquez

I also provided religious instruction to women. Another Gospel story places me at the house of Martha and Mary where the woman Mary sits at Jesus' feet as he preaches, while her sister toils in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Mary that she should instead be helping in the kitchen, I say to her that in fact, "Mary has chosen what is better."

There is also a story in Mark 5:23–34, where I heal a woman who had bled for 12 year suggesting that it was was not beyond me to challenge Jewish cultural conventions of the time, to show compassion and mercy, given that in Jewish law, women who were menstruating or had given birth were excluded from society for a while. There I was interacting with an “unclean” woman.

Muhammad, Jesus, I never said and will never say that you did not treat women with compassion, grace and dignity; that you never had female followers, that you did not express concern for the women of Jerusalem on your way to the crucifixion; that Mary Magdalene was not the first person to see you after your resurrection; that you did not charge her to tell others what she had seen, even though the testimony of a woman at that time was not considered valid under Jewish law. But the issue at hand is whether Eve is considered a guilty temptress in Genesis narration, not whether or not you had respect and love for women.

Abraham: In this regard I would have to agree with you Muhammad, that women were more influential during the period of Jesus' brief ministry than they were in the next thousand years of Christianity or the previous thousand years of Judaism. I think that even Jesus would agree with that. The Gospel accounts of you Jesus imparting teachings to women, as with a Samaritan woman at a well, and Mary of Bethany, who rubbed your hair in precious ointment; of you curing sick women and publicly expressing admiration for a poor widow who donated some copper coins to the Temple in Jerusalem, your coming to the aid of the woman accused of adultery, and to the presence of Mary Magdalene at your side as you were crucified, are quite clear on the matter.

It was indeed unfortunate fact is that the standing of women was not high in Palestine, and so your kindnesses towards them was all the more remarkable and was not always approved by those who strictly upheld tradition. You personally always showed the greatest esteem and respect for women, for every woman, and in particular you were sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the social and religious barriers of the time, you reestablished woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men ... I think that Mohammad would agree with me that your way of acting is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.

Jesus: thank you for your kind words father Abraham. I wonder how many people realize that women were probably the majority of Christians in the first century after my return to my Father and they still are. I find intriguing what you say about those who upheld tradition and therefore disapproved of the way I dealt with women. It also pains me to say that unfortunately my example was not faithfully imitated after my death and resurrection. Paul, who was my champion and can be considered the first theologian of Christianity does come across as someone who is eager to uphold tradition when it comes to women, to somehow put them in their place when it comes to Church leadership; and this even though he says somewhere in one of his letters that there are no more Jews and Gentiles, slaves or free men, males and females since now we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, which trumps your accusation of near-misogyny on the part of Paul. It is a problem that needs deeper reflection and goes beyond its merely theological dimension.

Muhammad: What you say is quite true Jesus, and it not unusual in many religions, including the one I founded. The founder establishes certain innovative ideals which at times may even go against well established and revered traditions and customs, but after his death the initial enthusiasm and zeal begins to cool off. I venture to say that the attitude toward women in Christianity seems to have been a retrogressive phenomena hardly imitating your example. Something like that also happened to Islam too: at a certain point in time a downward movement began and the religion began to gradually lose its pristine impetus. To be sure, the theory and the ideal remain but the practice of those ideals begins to lag behind and leaves much to be desired. That is why eventually one ends up with a reformed Judaism or a reformed Christianity (Protestantism) or a reformed Islam and doctrinal split occurs and religious litigations ensue, and sometimes even religious wars.

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St. Paul writing his evangelical letters to Christian Communities

Jesus: I think that’s right Muhammad. I am interested in your views on the Islamic concept of woman and the way women are treated or ought to be treated therein.

Muhammad: Why don’t’ we have the Qur'an speak for itself on the issue?

Abraham: by all means.

Muhammad: here are some direct quotes:  "For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise-- For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward" (33:35). "The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise" (9:71). "And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another" (3:195). "Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss" (40:40). "Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions" (16:97).

It should be clear from the above passages that the Qur'anic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God's creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be judged accordingly. The Qur'an never mentions that the woman is the devil's gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. Moreover, it never mentions that man is God's image; all men and all women are his creatures, that’s all. According to the Qur'an, a woman's role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as man is required to do. The Qur'an never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Qur'an has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharaoh's wife: "And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: 'O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.' And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout" (66:11-13).

Abraham: But the Bible too has plenty of examples of righteous holy heroic women, some of which you have just mentioned, but there are plenty of others.

Muhammad: I fully agree, father Abraham. But in point of fact, the difference between the Biblical and the Qur'anic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born and has nothing to do with the merit of their actions in adulthood. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother's ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that: "The birth of a daughter is a loss" (Ecclesiasticus 22:3).It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qur'an severely condemned this heinous practice: "When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?" (16:59).The Qur'an makes no distinction between boys and girls. It considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Qur'an even mentions the gift of the female birth first:" To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills" (42:49).

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Blessed Virgin Mary in Traditional Moslem Art

In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, I promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: "He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire". "Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers." A woman in the Qur'anic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.

Abraham: in the Judaic tradition, on the other hand, a man must fulfill any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. His word or his promise is binding just as God’s promise is binding and unconditional (the covenant).  On the other hand, a woman's vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter's/wife's vows, all pledges made by her become null and void: "But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ....Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself" (Num. 30:2-15).

Muhammad: In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Qur'an: "He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths" (5:89). Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths: "O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful" (60:12).

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Christian Fanatical Fundamentalist    Moslem Fanatical Fundamentalist

In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood are unparalleled. The Qur'an places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty: "Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: 'My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood' " (17:23-24). The Qur'an in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother's great role in giving birth and nursing: "And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents" (31:14).

The very special place of mothers in Islam is emphasized by me in the Qur’an: "A man asked the Prophet: 'Whom should I honor most?' The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your mother!'. 'And who comes next?' asked the man. The Prophet replied: 'Your father'". Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amazes non-Muslims.

Jesus: indeed it does. But let’s not forget the high honor accorded by me and the whole Christian community to my mother Mary. As you mentioned before Muhammad the Islamic tradition has extended the honor you mentioned to my own mother as well to the point of calling her “mother of God” which is theologically suspect.

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What is the difference between those two women?

Abraham: dear Jesus and Muhammed, what you have recounted about the image and the noble treatment of women in your  respective religions of which you are the founders is certainly inspiring and encouraging, given the prevalent misogyny found in so many communities, including the one who proclaim themselves progressive and enlightened. In a progressive country like the US, for example, women are still not entitled to equal pay for equal work. But there is one crucial question that all those perhaps contemplating joining those religions have in common and it is this: do Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women receive this noble treatment we have just described?

Muhammad: Without falling into simplistic generalizations the answer unfortunately is no. But it must be prefaced with the realization that in the Muslim world (and I suspect the same applies to the Christian and the Jewish world) there is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards women. These attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual society. Nevertheless, it can safely be asserted that almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and tradition-oriented, while the second is more liberal and Western-oriented.

The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears. Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, could be cited as an example. These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy; she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of her family's inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order not to behave immodestly while her brother's immodest acts are tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher status in her community.

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On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture and way of life which they misguidedly consider more enlightened and progressive. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the most superficial values and practices of Western civilization based on appearances and mere technological progress, the worst perhaps being the practice of the denigrating and the  dispatching or religion itself as a passé regressive myth, all in the name of “enlightenment.”

In these societies, a typical "modern" woman's top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she is often obsessed with her body's shape, size, and weight. She tends to care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the Qur'an in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she ends up spending her life striving more in realizing her femininity than in fulfilling her humanity. The picture above and the satirizing cartoon below make that point.

There must exist a more nuanced and harmonious view of women. Paradoxically, it turns out that, more often than not, the more balanced, harmonious view is the traditional one, often forgotten or contemptuously discarded or perhaps grossly misinterpreted. And that may be the problem, not only the non-practice but the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of those age-old traditions.

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Jesus: But we still have not satisfactorily answered the question Why did Jewish societies, and Christian societies, and  Muslim societies deviate from their ideals in the first place?

Muhammad: There is no easy answer. The ineluctable fact remains that Muslim societies have deviated from Islamic precepts concerning so many aspects of their lives for a long time now; and so have Jews and so have Christians. So we end up with Crusades and Jihads.  There is a wide gap between what Jews and Christians and Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually practice. Gandhi used to say that if Christians practiced what they preach the whole of India would be Christian. The gap has been there for centuries and has been widening. Terrorism and ideological fanaticism is not and never was an exclusively Islamic phenomenon. Perhaps it is this ever widening gap that can be blamed for disastrous consequences on the Muslim world: political tyranny and fragmentation, economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy, intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. The cartoon of the two women carrying AK47, one Moslem and one Western, makes the point in this regard. Any reform in the current status of Christian women, or Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of their societies’ whole way of life.

Jesus: Irshad Manji has recently shown us a viable way to analyze a religion and initiate a reform process which respect civil and human rights via her recent book titled The Trouble with Islam Today. Indeed, the Moslem world is in need for a renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam and so is the Christian world, to bring it closer to what I taught in theory and in practice; and so is the Jewish world to bring it closer to the ideal of the Torah which you exemplify father Abraham. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim women today is due to Islam or that the still lagging status of Christian women is due to Christianity, or that of Jewish women is due to Judaism is an utter travesty and misconception. Women were in fact worse off before the advent of the Abrahamic religions. It is a myth to think of them as being free and unfettered under paganism. The problems of Jews and Christians and Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Judaism, or Christianity, or Islam; rather, they may well be due to a long and deep detachment from them.

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2
A Multi-Cultural Perspective on the Conception of Women
from My Life

Michael Newman

Looking at the Abrahamic interpretations of the conception and hence the role of women, I reflected on what I have seen in my own life.  Growing up, I was brought up as a born-again, Protestant Christian.  My father’s background was Eastern European Jewish, and my mother’s background was Catholic and Armenian. Add to that the fact that for the first eight years of my life, my parents were practicing Zen Buddhists! This means that growing up my family started with one set of beliefs and practices then changed to the beliefs of a born-again Christian with some of those practices, while attending and seeing the traditions, holidays and events of Jewish family, some Armenian (Coptic) family and even Catholic family!  It was quite a mix, to be sure!

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Armenian woman             Jewish woman                  Catholic woman

Rather than focus on the philosophical roots or the different understandings of Christian and Jewish conceptions of women, which has already been done by others, I’d like to share some of the practical interpretations that I saw lived out before me, with the supports and explanations that were given to me to justify them.  Some of the examples come from within my own family and some from friends.  As was stated in the symposium, these ideas may be inconsistent with the original teachings of the founders, but some examples may be worthwhile to see how the conceptions practically played out in our modern era.

Let me begin with the Christians I saw.  In the realm of home and work, women were commended for building the family and the home, and for not working outside of it.  Women were regularly lauded for having children, since they were “to be saved through childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:10), but not condemned to be “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.”  In fact, the ideal that was given was the Proverbs 31 woman, who was said to be someone of about 55 years old, who worked diligently from home, organized the servants and produced wares to be sold for a profit.  Interestingly, a woman’s role of caregiver and domestic provider for her family was paramount, and in the circles to which I was a part, both in church and in the homeschooling community, working outside the home was typically frowned upon, at least until the children were grown.  This raised its head when I married a dentist.  It was a challenge for my ex-wife to participate in conversations with the women in church, or with my own family members, because she practiced dentistry.  Many times she encountered comments from other women such as, “Wouldn’t you like to just stay home and take care of the kids?”  The implications were clear:  she was less of a Christian, because she wanted to continue working outside the home while she was young and had young children.  She did try, but she could not relate to so many women she tried to socialize with because they were not working outside the home.  She was welcomed as best as she could be, but my ex-wife had been brought up to be educated and independent.  While many women in the church had gone to university, some had not finished, or had worked only briefly as they had prepared to get married.  As you might imagine, their conversations focused on the home, children and church.  These conversations held little interest for my ex-wife, who saw these women as living “in a bubble.”  This bubble of the women’s realm was also exemplified at church.

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A Christian Coptic Wedding             Polish woman in traditional attire

In church was the second way I saw women.  They were allowed to hold many roles, including in the nursery, Sunday school and in music, but not “in authority.”  The top positions were supposed to be held by men, since they were “in authority.”  When evaluating a church, a scan of the top positions quickly determined if a church was “faithful” or not.  If there were many women in leadership positions in the church, especially that of pastor, or frequently in a high visibility capacity (such as an usher), that church was seen to be in crisis, and not a place to attend or worship regularly.  This is not to say that there were no women in the church offices, (head of women’s ministry was fine for a woman), and many a fine administrative assistant were women, but it seemed to me that “traditional” gender roles held sway.  Attending the church, there were many women who were professional, but they were almost always older, with their children older than 16 as well.  Thus, women had their roles well defined.

One comment I’d like to share is on the role of woman as temptress.  I had heard tell of such women, but they were always brought to my attention through the Proverbs, or as the harlots in the various stories from the Bible.  Never was there something intrinsic to the woman to be a temptress from the Garden of Eden.  What was mentioned or implied was that women were under the men, because they needed the men to protect them from deceit.  As was mentioned, Adam was not deceived, but Eve was (1 Tim. 2:14).  Therefore, we, men, had to be wise and care for women, since they could easily be led astray otherwise.

This was in contrast to my Jewish family.  The women in the synagogue were held to the same roles as in church, but it was never explained why.  One difference I noted was that education, both for men and women, was stressed in the Jewish conversations.  Both men and women were encouraged to attend university, and working for the woman was assumed.  In fact, recently in my life, more and more of my family have become very conservative Jews, following the branch called Orthodox.  I was stunned to find out that the women were expected to work and provide materially for the family, while the men were encouraged to study Torah, and not worry so much about working!  When I questioned my father about this, he shook his head and said that usually the men who study put pressure those who work, both men and women, to help support them, since studying is a “holier” occupation!  In my own family, my grandmother was always held as a pinnacle of success and she worked outside the home all her life.  Reasons given for working were always based upon the needs of the family and changing roles in society.  In this regard, I had always considered that my Christianity trumped “their” Judaism, since we were principled, with reasons for our actions found in the Bible, while Judaism just followed the current culture. 

Interestingly, when studying the great Rabbis of the past, one was known to have had no sons, and thus the great Rabbi had taught his daughters, and even his sister!  After the Rabbi could no longer comment on matters that required his judgment, often people would go to his daughters or sister, and it was known that the answers given by them were considered to be the same as if the Rabbi himself had spoken.

In brief, my Armenian family and Catholic family followed the popular culture in their understanding or the roles of women.  Women cooked, cleaned, kept the house, and basically saw to the needs of their husbands.  Here again, there seemed to be no real principle followed (or at least acknowledged!) from the faith; the popular culture lead the way, and they followed.  Of course, each family had to determine who needed to work, and how gender roles would be handled in the family, but faith or any hold book seemed to play a very little role in it.

There’s an important note I’d like to share in my experience.  In reflecting on my life for this piece, one thought struck me as a recurring theme.  The happiest times in my life were the high school graduation parties we had.  This is because it was the intersection of all the different cultures in my life, all coming to celebrate equally.  The Jewish family would come, the Christian friends, both from church and from the homeschooling circles would come, the Armenian family would come, and the Catholic family would come.  This was possible in part because there was nothing intrinsically religious about a graduation and the ensuing celebration.  As the oldest of ten children, this happened with regularity and it was always a very joyous event with food from each culture at the table.  We would often have Armenian pilaf, Israeli chopped salad, hummus, Polish kielbasa, kosher chicken, potato salad and hot dogs!  Everybody loved it and we all had a wonderful time celebrating the completion of high school for the current graduate!

In conclusion, women were held in honor in the home in my Christian tradition, but not through moral or physical strength, but in fact because they lacked it.  The Jewish tradition held that women were much closer to being equal to men, and often they were lauded for their hard work, ingenuity and sacrifice.  This simultaneously was held even if some women didn’t have to work and therefore didn’t.  A pragmatic approach ruled.  Lastly, the Armenian and Catholics seemed to follow the pragmatic approach, with stronger traditional roles being held, though for no stated reason. And in spite of all of this, we could come together regularly to celebrate the completion of education and the beginning of the next steps in life!

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3

On Coexistence among Religions: A Book-Review Essay
Emanuel L. Paparella

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“The Prophet had himself predicted that Muslims would also become more rigid and orthodox just as the Jews and Christian had by saying: You will tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step, so much so that if they had entered into the hole of a lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Do you mean Jews and Christians? He said: Who else?”

                                                                                            --Rabbi Allen S. Maller of Reformed Judaism

The current stratagem, quite popular in the West, of opposing intolerant social norms as practiced by some Muslim communities in regard to women, gays, human rights and freedom in general (be it of speech, or political, or artistic); that is to say, opposing religiously condoned intolerances and orthodoxies to an openly libertarian “enlightened” secular discourse (which usually  ends advocating the liquidation of religion per se, at best tolerating a mere vapid cafeteria-style sort of “spirituality”) is an inadequate, merely clever by half, solution to the problem at hand of religious intolerance. It makes those who feel that their faith is under attack determined to defend it all the more zealously, even fanatically. In Islam they call that kind of extreme defense Jihad and it has been carried in one form or another for centuries now. The “enlightened” West characterized them as religious wars redolent of a former medieval retrograde mind-set. As examined above in the first presentation of this symposium meeting, it has led to the corruption and distortion of Islam, intolerant of any re-interpretation of even a mere suggestion that it needs reforms, or at the very least a return to the basics.

What usually happens is that the table adroitly gets turned around and the “enlightened” “progressive” secularists alleging human rights violations to be abolished with no tolerance end up themselves  accused of trying to impose their particular brand of intolerance, i.e., their extreme secularism and enlightenment, on believers. In turn they accuse religion of being nothing but a form of cultism and superstition. It all turns into a vicious circle. This is particularly true in those modern societies where religion has been abandoned as just another myth or lie, long superseded by modern progressive positivistic science,  predominantly the EU. Not to be modern is to be medieval, obscurantist, retrograde, undesirable, unacceptable, somebody who cannot be accommodated in a modern progressive society based on the tenets of the Enlightenment, a la Voltaire.

This strategy usually misfires badly and ends up producing more animosity and intolerance with accusations of zealotry and extremism on both sides of the fence. There is however a much  better approach and it is that advocated by the influential philosopher Jurgen Habermas in his essay “A post-secular Europe”  as examined in our last issue of the Ovi symposium, and that of the Ugandan born Canadian Muslim Irshad Manji, author of two best-selling influential books: The Trouble with Islam Today (translated into 30 languages), and How to Reconcile Faith and Freedom.

She has received an honorary degree in the history of ideas from the University of British Columbia, and a governor general medal as a top humanities graduate; initiated the TV project Moral Courage with Professor Cornell West becoming a critic of mainstream Islam, and participated in the TV series America at a Crossroads titled “Faith without Fear.” Moreover, she has addressed numerous audiences at the UN and at Amnesty International.

At New York University Wagner, Professor Manji teaches a course titled “Moral Courage and Your Purpose.” Among the professional skills that students can expect to learn: articulating how you want to serve your society, identifying your core values, turning your values into action, knowing when to step up or step back, and staying motivated to deliver on your vision.

Let’s take a brief look at her thinking as regards the reforming of Islam. In the first place she points out that she is in no way advocating the abolishing of Islam but its reform, or better, its re-interpretation. The words of the Koran are not to be abolished or rewritten, but what is written gets re-interpreted as it was meant to be all along. What does that mean? That the Torah, the Bible and the Koran need to be interpreted by the mere fact that they contain symbolical language: poetry, parables and stories that need to be constantly interpreted in the light of the existential events of human history in order for them to have any meaningful application for our existential situation. In other words, she is far from advocating a throwing away of the baby (faith) with the dirty water (the corruption within a religion) as many secular humanists end up doing when they suggest that religion does not properly belong in the public agora and ought to be muzzled and relegated, with other myths, to the dustbin of history.

Manji arrived at this conclusion when she began comparing various religious beliefs after being expelled from the Moslem religious school she was attending as a teenager eight hours a week, for simply asking too many questions. She found her faith anew by leaving her faith for a while and freely researching other faiths. For example she discovered that the image many misguided Muslims, Jews and Christians have of God was that of a stern law-giver bent on enforcing the law with a vengeance. That is not her interpretation of who this being really is as per holy scriptures. Far from being malicious and brutish, in the image of litigious man, he/she seems to her to be benevolent and merciful. Manji writes that since this God created all there is, or had a plan for all creatures when he created, not excluding Lesbians and Gays, it remains to be explained how he can then act against the logic of his own creation.

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Of course the atheist has no problem here: he rejects the existence of God outright, but then paradoxically he falls into the logical traps of declaring that this impersonal cold uncaring universe somehow created itself with an unexplainable evolutionary plan and purpose so precise that a millionth of second too early or too late would have obviated its very existence; or declaring that the universe is eternal which in effect means that consciously or unconsciously the atheist has made the Universe God and he in it is a little god who will simply disappear at his death while the universe remains eternal, and purposeless in the atheist’s mind while exhibiting purpose and meaning. It all sounds slightly idolatrous and narcissistic, even intellectually chaotic, not to speak of philosophical meaninglessness and nihilism.

There is a previous book which appeared in 2015 and is titled Interpreting Islam, Modernity, and Women’s Rights in Pakistan, Professor Anita M. Weiss  of the Department of International Studies at the University of Oregon. Not unlike Professor Manji, Weisss a needed corrective to the usual stereotyping of women’s rights in that country and elsewhere. She examines a diversity of voices in time and space and arrives at a much more nuanced and informed perspective than the one usually proffered. Today, in fact, there is a veritable plethora of such books available on the market of ideas. They ought to be read and debated, if we wish to arrive at some form of coexistence and harmony among the great religions of the world.

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Professor Anita M. Weiss

There is also an intriguing paradox at work here: the above discourse on Islam, women and human rights exposes the hypocrisy of so called progressive liberal societies that have thrown religion out the window (thus throwing the baby out with the bath-water), proud of their liberalism, cultural tolerance, and multiculturalism, but are now beginning to tolerate a renascent xenophobic nationalism and Islamophobia which appears to be in contradiction of multiculturalism. Perhaps it would be a much wiser strategy on their part to identify the intolerances and abuses of human rights found in the three religions of the Book—Abrahamic, so called and show how they deviate from the essential teachings of each. That is to say, show that after a thorough analysis, it is not the religions themselves that may need to be excoriated and eliminated, but  their misinterpretations and corruption which permits the denial of human rights to women; that reform rather than suppression may be the key that may eventually solve this intractable quandary of denial of human rights to women in the name of traditional religions.

One can safely wager that most reasonable Muslims would be willing to listen to the voice of a reasoned discourse that does not begin with the positivistic assumption that religion is poison to be avoided at all costs, to be substituted, at best, with a vapid cafeteria style spirituality marching under the universal banner of “cultural patrimony and traditions,” but in practice contemptuous of particular religious traditions and religion in general.

Indeed, “spirituality” is such an abstract ethereal notion that it is practically useless as a substitute for cultural traditions, heritages or patrimonies. Irshad Manji, or Anita Weiss, on the other hand provide us with a coherent discourse on how this reform of faith can be accomplished without sacrificing freedom or civil and human rights. Indeed faith and secularism, religion and science, can not only coexist but they can live in peace and harmony and complement each other. All that is needed is good will and a reverential attitude toward all that is true, beautiful and good. And one need not be religious to appreciate them; but in the process one may even become religious, in the genuine sense of that much abused word. But let the debate go on.

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 END  OF 70th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (15/06/2016)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

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