Posts tagged ‘Islam’

Culture-Based Religions

Culture-based religions are often otherwise called ethnic, tribal or indigenous religions- all those terms have more limited connotations, hence why I came up with a more general one.  The label of “folk religion” is also sometimes thrown in with these by anthropologists, though that is a little different, so I’ll treat that separately. Individuals or groups who practice culture-based religions may or may not identify with the word Pagan, especially if they belong to a (more or less) continuous living tradition.

A culture-based religion can be contrasted with a universalist religion– which typically has a prophet, or series of prophets and claims to have a moral code & message for all of humanity- such as  Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai’ism. Strictly speaking, we can’t really divide all religions perfectly into either category- for one, universalist religions are of course, influenced by the cultures from which they originate, though they tend to adapt themselves- and often syncretize (combine) with culture-based religions. For example, Shinto in Japan is quite seamlessly syncretized with Buddhism, so much so that Japanese people often don’t label themselves as being Buddhist or Shinto(ist). They just *do* Buddhist and Shinto-related practices.

That there is the clincher. The religion is an inseparable part of the culture- to the point where if there is a word for the religion, it’s often one invented in response to foreign missionaries- frequently with a meaning like “The Kami Way” (in the case of Shinto) or Old Custom (Forn Sidr- Danish) “traditions of our people” and so forth. Just as the word people call themselves in their own language simply means “People”, “People of the Mountain/River” etc.

To join a culture-based religion, one typically needs to be ritually adopted into the culture, if possible, or otherwise immerse themselves as they can into the culture. I have seen some people divide culture-based religions into “closed” and “open” traditions- and while that does help people understand that they can’t join anything they want to, I believe it’s an oversimplification. We’re not talking about joining or converting to any specific religion at this point, we are merely exploring and learning.

When newcomers enter the Pagan community, they often ask for suggestions on which tradition or pantheon they might start out with exploring. In the United States, Canada, Australia and other multicultural colonized countries, people are often told “Start with the traditions of your ancestors”. After a lot of observing of other folks journeys as well as my own, I actually recommend against that advice. Why? Because culture is more important than ancestry. Honoring ones’ ancestral roots is certainly an important part of many traditions, it’s not that I’m discouraging. But we are often very disconnected from the cultures of our ancestors. If it is our calling we can certainly make the effort to re-connect. But to begin with- I would look again at those questions I asked in my previous post- what aspects of culture were you raised with? What other cultures are you familiar with?

For myself- I was raised by college-educated liberal parents, multiple generations removed from my mixed British Isles ancestry- so fairly conventional mainline Protestant American culture, with its various holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Independence Day) I was always interested in learning the origins of holiday customs, and read up on all of them, as well as any fairy tales and mythology books I could get my paws on. I came to identify more with my Irish heritage, and have been studying the language, history and culture, Druidry and Celtic Reconstructionism. However, I have to admit that this has been a somewhat artificial process- all a choice on my part. I wasn’t raised with much in the way of Irish culture, other than with an awareness of being Irish, some knowledge of history of the Potato Famine, “No Irish Need Apply” signs and so forth. Lately, I’ve been pondering more about how to incorporate my mixed cultural influences- I don’t mean so much by ancestry, but more by environment. I talk with Druids from across the pond, in Britain and there are various things that strike me about our cultural differences- a lot them simply being- who the heck would I be, even as a “white” culturally Protestant American, without influences of Eastern European Jewish, African-American and many other cultures? I don’t belong to any those cultures, but I carry pieces of them with me.

What is culture? It’s all the stuff you take for granted. This is the way we do things of course! Any other way would be weird or rude or just “not feel right”! Most of it is less visible than all the things we point to when we’re trying to be multicultural (holidays, food, music).

May 16, 2015 at 8:36 am 6 comments

A UU Pagan & a Muslim walk into an Irish pub

So, a couple of days ago my partner and I were discussing an article he had just read, written by a Muslim critiquing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. More on that another day!

I made some comment about my accepting attitude towards Muslims, and he challenged this by bringing up an incident he witnessed in which I offended a Muslim co-worker/friend of mine. I found this rather ironic, considering that we’d just established that offending Muslims (intentionally or unintentionally) is not the same as hating or excluding them. Still, Little Miss Amateur Interfaith Diplomat has been racking her brain trying to remember what this was and recalled today that it was something about the story in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him, and then at the last minute, a lamb shows up as a substitute sacrifice. If I recall correctly, I brought this up after noting that fairy tales in their original forms were not what we’d consider appropriate reading material for children, but then children back in Ye Olden Days were not protected from “Scary Adult Stuff” in the way that they are now. I then noted the similar irony to the popular belief that the Bible is this nice kid-friendly book, the Abraham & Isaac story being a prime example of Great Ways to Traumatize Kids. Children’s Bibles typically include this story, along with Noah’s Ark, Creation and “the Fall” etc. (To be fair, we also need kid-friendly versions of Greek and Norse myths…) Anyhow, being a mom to 3 sons, and a Muslim my co-worker was taken aback to hear me speak ill of this story, she thought it was a nice one about having faith in God (which is how all 3 of the Abrahamic faiths typically view it) I can’t remember if I said much more, but I did decide it was wisest to let it go, and agree to disagree so no further offense would take place, especially since we were there to entertain the guests on the tour at an Irish pub, and more light-hearted conversation would certainly be preferable!

Thing is, even if it was somehow an appropriate situation for discussing, I’m not sure if there is really a way to explain without horribly offending Muslims, Christians and Jews alike how this story conflicts with my basic theological, philosophical and ethical principles. (And I’m sure some of y’all struggle with this one yourselves!) I have trouble imagining this story being used in a UU Religious Education setting (yes, Biblical material *is* included in our curriculum, along with material from lots of other religions!)

Some Christians approach this story by trying to connect it with God giving up his only son, Jesus in sacrifice instead of humanity- but Abraham doesn’t give up his son, as a lamb is sent as a replacement. This sort of “See, this old Jewish story *really* supports the Whole Jesus Thing!” is why I tend to prefer looking at Jewish interpretations of Jewish texts, with more than one viewpoint.

It’s also looked at as- in the Bad Old Days of idol-worship, people sacrificed babies, but now that the One True God has come along, we know better than to do that! According to this Biblical scholar, human sacrifice was a widespread but rare practice in the ancient Near East, including in Israel.

In the Qur’an, the son being sacrifice is Ishmael but the basic “Have faith in God” message is the same. Is this supposed to be more about obeying God, no matter what, even if what God asks seems crazy or impossible? Or is it about trusting that God will provide, even if a situation seems hopeless? Both are recurring themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ve also heard claims that God doesn’t test or tempt people. (Just blame Satan instead, right?) Wait, are you reading the same book as me? Job? Joseph? Moses and all his buddies? Really, following this advice in the modern world could result in a lot of Bad Things- homelessness, unemployment, alienating most of your friends and family. Having your kid taken away after you threaten to sacrifice him or her.

Now I was raised Methodist, and we were taught that it was ok to interpret the Bible for yourself, and use strange Satan-influenced things like…(gasp) critical thinking skills. And it was mostly about Jesus, and his ethical teachings, not so much his death and God screwing with people’s heads. But still, I was like, what the heck do I do with this book that everyone says is so important? What does it mean? It was no wonder that I got into mythology and fantasy, and no one was claiming that those things had All The Answers, and yet I found deeper truths there, of a more poetic and less literal nature.

It’s funny that I still can go on about this, when none of this really matters to my religion, but still these stories pervade my culture, my memory. They are part of our heritage as Unitarian Universalists and we do talk about them even if we view them as less authoritative. They’ll be made into books, movies (hopefully not by Walden Media, please God!) again and again. Our kids will hear about them from *somewhere* and ask, and I will probably just end up saying- God acts like a jerk in the Bible. A Lot. Like a boss who makes arbitrary orders that don’t make sense.  Just don’t say anything about this to Grandma..

January 29, 2015 at 2:54 am 5 comments

More Discussion of Ethics & Sacrifice

Info about animal sacrifice/ritual slaughter in various religions:

Do Neo-Pagans practice blood sacrifice?

What is Voodoo? Understanding a Misunderstood Religion, Pt 1, Part 2 by Saumya Arya Haas

Putting the Blood Back into Blot: The Revival of Animal Sacrifice in Modern Nordic Paganism by Michael Strmiska (link to paper)

The Split Horn- Hmong Rituals

Kosher Slaughtering: An Introduction by Rabbi Gersion Appel

What is Halal? (Islamic dietary laws)

Discussion on Pagan and Polytheist Blogs– if not obvious, religions are noted in parentheses

The Wild Hunt: Perspectives: Blood Sacrifice in Modern Paganisms

(Magna Graecian Bacchic Orphism) Sannion/House of Vines: The red thread of our tradition

(Heathen/Northern Tradition shaman) Galina Krasskova: On the Nature of Sacrifice

(Hellenic) Of Thespiae: A story about the power of sacrifice

Thracian Exodus: Let us find a better way

(Druid) John Beckett: A Modern Pagan View of Sacrifice (from 2013) Sacrifice & Fear of the Real Gods (recent)

Northeast Heathen: On Blood Sacrifice

Writings of a Pagan Witch: Making Sacrifices to the Gods

Church of Asphodel: Towards a Better Understanding:Animal Sacrifice & the Community

October 28, 2014 at 1:26 am 2 comments

Muslim Feminist/GLBTQ+ Blog Round-up

From my previous post, so far I’ve gotten a comment from Rose F and a like from this blog, which confuzzled me slightly- it’s a verry rambly one about the End Times or something? The second comment just “The answer to your question is Jesus!” and so I blocked his (or her?) comment as spam. Then I gave the post a different title which I felt was more reflective of my intent- the original was “Where Do We Draw the Line With Muslims?” and upon some more thought I realized that had too much of an Us vs. Them connotation. I have no problem with Muslims, I was just discussing how Muslim practices can be integrated into a pre-dominantly non-Muslim culture and how far that can go while being fair to all parties involved. Clearly they didn’t read my post! Well I’ll confuzzle them right back- with a list of Muslim feminists and GLBT/Queer activist bloggers! And some articles. I am quoting their own descriptions.

Blogs:

Muslimah Media Watch is a forum where we, as Muslim women, can critique how our images appear in the media and popular culture. Although we are of different nationalities, sects, races, etc., we have something important in common: we’re tired of seeing ourselves portrayed by the media in ways that are one-dimensional and misleading. This is a space where, from a Muslim feminist perspective, we can speak up for ourselves.”

Ace Muslim- “My name is Laura. I’m a 41 year old woman and live in the U.S. I’m asexual and celibate,queer, and a European-American convert to Islam. This blog is a place for me to share information of interest on asexuality, LGBTQ issues, queer Muslim topics, feminism, and other subjects I think are worthwhile.”

Metis’ Blog on Muslim Feminists (she is a non-Muslim scholar of Islamic feminism from what I can tell) Great blog with links to Muslim feminists’ blogs, books articles etc.

I am Not Haraam tumblr “Haraam is an Arabic word used in Islam to mean “forbidden”. This project has been started as a way for LGBTQ Muslims to stand up and proclaim that we will not allow our existence as LGBTQ Muslims to be erased any longer.”

Articles:

The Rise of the Islamic Feminists from the Nation by Elizabeth Seagran

The Challenge of Defining Muslim Feminism by Erika L. Sanchez

British Muslim don’t need the West’s version of feminism, OK? by Shelina Jonmohamed A British Muslim woman shares her concerns about Western feminist movement’s secular bias and lack of understanding for issues that working class women face.

Huffington Post– LGBT Muslim tag

Meet America’s first openly gay imam– from Al Jazeera America

Orgs/General Websites:

Islam & Feminism: “This website looks at what feminism in Islam can mean to different people and how it might challenge stereotypes both in Islam and feminism, as well as the perceived clash between the two.”

Sisters in Islam– international advocacy

Chay Magazine– A positive look at Sex/sexuality issues in Pakistan (not necessarily specifically Muslim, but it’s a predominantly Muslim country)

Imaan– LBTQI Muslim support group in Britain

Muslims for Progressive Values “Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) is the only American movement that advocates for egalitarian expressions of Islam, for women, and for LGBTQI rights. MPV does this by creating inclusive spaces for religious discourse, the arts and social activism.”

 Queer Muslim Resources Masterpost

June 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm 2 comments

Integrating Muslims

I am oddly enough, a polytheist that frequently ends up defending monotheists- Christians, Muslims and sometimes Jews. I do this mainly when others make broad unfair generalizations against groups of people. However, I don’t necessarily defend their religions, as I don’t consider it my job to do so. Judaism is a tribal religion that follows one God, and because of this Jews don’t proselytize (though they may try get non-observant Jews to become more religious) Christians and Muslims traditionally have a duty to spread the worship of their God. Islam ascribes rights to Christians and Jews to keep their religions (including if a Muslim man marries a Christian or Jewish woman but not the reverse) . Some liberal Christians and some Muslims (Sufis in particular) view all Gods as ultimately being the same being, and so  I still consider that view a little arrogant, but I’ll take it if it means they’ll leave me alone.

Anyway, as part of my Irish culture tour in St. Paul, I give a tour of the St. Paul Cathedral, then we go to O’Gara’s pub for fish and chips and sing Irish and Scottish songs. Somehow the conversation while we were eating awkwardly drifted towards several people claiming that while Christianity had been taken out of public schools, Muslim students were getting “special treatment”. I wasn’t sure how accurate all of their claims were, and I strongly suppressed a desire for a flat-out rant. I ended up saying, well separation of church and state means we need to treat different religions equally, and not giving Christianity special status doesn’t mean Christians are being oppressed. I noted that I have a lot of Muslim co-workers at my other job, I don’t care about how they dress so long as they do their job. I also noted though that while I’m fine with people holding on to their religious beliefs and traditions when they come here, our culture can only accommodate them so much. Hijabs (head coverings) are no big deal, but in American culture, people will not trust you if they cannot see your face, so we can’t really make room for covering one’s entire face in job interviews, customer service jobs etc. That said, even with the large Muslim population in the Twin Cities, I rarely see a woman in a full burqa. I suspect most women who dress that way would not work outside the home based on their beliefs. That seemed to cool people down, and we switched gears by starting in on a new Irish song.

Anyway, I have been doing some research on how and in what ways Muslims are being accommodated in schools and workplaces. I still am rather careful of what I read, because there are a lot of people who do have an “all Muslims are part of a giant terrorist conspiracy” mentality. That said there are some instances where I do think some people have been going out of their way more than I think appropriate. I found this clip from a Canadian news show (if this was an American show, there would’ve been assertions about how “this is Christian country damnit!) in response to Qatar’s dress code policies it has issued to foreign tourists, and changes within Canadian culture to include Muslims. For the most part, I agree with what Anthony Furey said, the segment with Tarek Fatah gets into some issues that I am not sure about (such as the Bergdahl prisoner swap) so I’ll leave that aside.

Poking around a bit more, I found an article about how Betsy Hodges, the mayor of Minneapolis, wore a hijab while meeting with Somali-American leaders. I had to go look for a different article however, because it was misrepresenting Islam! I wasn’t sure what to think of it- I was not offended the way the conservative commentators were. It was obviously intended as a diplomatic gesture on her part, a gesture of respect. Did it come off as obsequious or weak? Or insincere and over-the-top to the Muslims? I’m not sure. Muslims do not expect us to dress like them. Wearing a head covering may be expected while inside a mosque (just as a kipa may be in a synagogue for men), but that is different- it’s a sacred space. When I’m in someone’s else’s home or sacred space, I respect their customs. She was meeting in a Somali mall, not a mosque. You can read her closing speech of her campaign here.

“I have worn hijab, and it changed me.

I have run and danced my way through the gay pride parade.”- This is just a very odd juxtaposition of statements. Now, what I’d love to see would be a group of Muslim women marching in the parade in hijab!

June 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm 4 comments

A Druid’s Thoughts on Privilege

This is the post I spent so much time fussing over, but didn’t end up using for Pagan Blog Project. I decided to post it after all before I spend any more time on it that I could on other things! Another very insightful post about a broader perspective on privilege can be found at the World of Dust & Bones Blog: Paganism & Privilege Part 1: How We Talk about it (which in turn was a response to this post by John Halstead)

Note: I’m going to discuss religion and privilege in the United States specifically because I can better understand & explain it, I would be greatly interested in hearing viewpoints and experiences specific to other countries.
Some “privileges” are really rights that everyone should have, while others are simply unfair advantages that no one should have. Everyone should have the right to practice their religion freely, (or not practice any religion) in a way that does not interfere with others’ rights. Christians in the United States and many other countries have this right, but it is more protected and unquestioned than it is for those of minority faiths. Christians in the U.S. also  sometimes misuse their privileged status to get favorable treatment for their religion that other religions do not get. These are facts that most Pagans would agree, and most Christians that have any self-awareness at all. (I.e. not the ones who think this was founded as a “Christian nation”.)

On to Wiccan(ate) Privilege
Wicca, and pagan religions,  that closely resemble it, are like it or lump it still the largest group of self-identified Pagans. Anytime a group has been around longer and is bigger, it is typically going to get social privilege along with that.
The status of Wicca and Wicca-like forms of paganism within broader interfaith pagan settings (8 sabbats, use of magic, Goddess or God/Goddess theology etc) is similar to the status of Protestant Christianity within monotheist religions. Talk about God and religion in the public square-  “civil religion” historically reflected this, and excluded Catholics, Jews and Muslims. The Catholics and Jews are *kind of* more included, and the Muslims are slowly starting to be,  though they face an uphill battle of xenophobia and anti-terrorist paranoia.  Then there’s all kinds of wrestling over who’s “really” a Christian, as we saw in the 2012 election with a Mormon and a *suspected* Muslim running for President.

After Wiccans, Druids and Heathens/Asatru are the most commonly known pagan religions. If you’re a pagan of some sort, you probably know of all three, and likely specific traditions and organizations that fall within them. If you’re a monotheist or atheist in the broader U.S. culture, it’s likely you know of Wicca, think of Paganism in general as “Wicca-like” or the same, and may have vaguely, in passing heard of Druids and Heathens.
Druids are usually considered “close enough” to Wicca to benefit from some types of Wiccan privilege. As in, we typically celebrate the same 8 holidays, consider ourselves nature/earth-based.  British-style revival Druidry such as OBOD is even closer to Wicca. (Ross Nichols, its founder was good friends with Gerald Gardner after all) And as with Wiccans and their close cousins, many Druids have interest in movements like feminism, environmentalism, peace, some kinds of New Age spirituality and magic.

Ruadan:And ADF really seems to have more in common with Wiccanate paganism than it has with Celtic Reconstruction than some people want to really believe, even though it does seem to generally be a recon-friendly group.” Spot on. As someone who is part of both, I think that is very true. We celebrate the 8 “standard” holidays and have a ritual structure that be adapted for various pantheons.

Heathens worship some of the same Gods as Wiccans, and celebrate some of the same holidays (like Yule) But in general the Heathen community has less in common with secular aspects of Wiccan subculture.  (link to the Hammer & the Pentagram article) The Heathen community has developed a very distinct identity from Wicca-centric Greater Pagandom, and the positive interactions they have had are much due to the efforts of people like Diana Paxson, who was Wiccan before becoming Heathen, intermarriage and friendship between the two and so forth. To the Heathen’s advantage, the United States has major English & German cultural influences- secular holiday customs, and various other customs and social mores that we are familiar with not to mention the English language itself.

Further afield, we have Roman, Greek, Egyptian reconstructionists/revivalists/polytheists. Other pagans may be familiar with Roman, Greek and some Egyptian God names and mythology, but the ritual practices, calendars, and cultural worldviews are likely to be very foreign to them. And the knowledge many pagans do have of these cultures is often superficial and distorted by outdated Victorian or feminist scholarship, and Western occultism. (Actually the knowledge people have of Celtic cultures is usually pretty superficial too, but that doesn’t stop them from thinking they know all about it.)

More posts on the subject:

Baring the Aegis: On Interfaith & Privilege– this is one of the most moderate polytheist responses that I feel closest too.

Unity & Diversity by Helio Pires, Golden Trail blog

A Gaelic Polytheist’s experience’s with WP in a CUUPs ritual

February 24, 2014 at 3:20 am 2 comments


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