Tag Archives: religion

An Imam’s Jihad Against Ignorance and Radicalization

Desmond Kavanagh, Flickr

In Calgary, Aziz found a Muslim community in conflict—and denial—over how to address the fact that dozens of young men were leaving their community to travel to distant battlefields. The Canadian government estimates that as of the end of 2015, 180 Canadians overseas were actively involved with terror organizations; about half of them are believed to be in Syria and Iraq, having been recruited by groups such as isis. It was difficult for members of the city’s Muslim community to accept that radicalization was happening in Calgary. It seemed implausible that these young men could be capable of carrying out acts of violence abroad—until it started happening.

Many in the community hoped that Aziz might be able to intervene. He was, after all, not much older than those who were leaving. Other imams in the community, most of them foreign born and middle-aged, had trouble connecting with Muslim youth born and raised in Canada. They didn’t know how to address political issues such as the conflict in Syria with those who were unsettled by the slaughter of thousands of civilians. Imams across the country feared that broaching the subject of overseas conflicts and jihad directly might draw objections from others in their mosques—or worse, attract the attention of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (csis).

– At The Walrus, Nadim Roberts profiles one Canadian imam who is working to save fellow Muslims from radicalization, because enlightening people with knowledge is his true jihad.

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The Lives of Nuns, Part 2: A Reading List

Photo: Przemko Stachowski

As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.

In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read. Read more…

God the Gorilla

silverback gorilla

Not everyone buys into a sky-god with a long white beard, a serious and all-knowing mien, capable of rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad. But it doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that God, as worshipped in most of the world, is remarkably humanoid, widely perceived as a great, big, scary, wilful, yet nourishing and protective guy… in short, a silverback gorilla writ large.

-Evolutionary biologist David Barash, writing in Aeon, finds a model for most monotheistic conceptions of god where we might not think to look: in the “harem-keeping alpha male” leaders of gorilla families.

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Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers

The rebels of early Christianity, like Melania, Paula, Susan and Jerome

Alex Mar | Atlas Obscura | January 2016 | 16 minutes (3,902 words)


Atlas ObscuraOur latest Exclusive is a new story by Alex Mar, author of the book Witches of America, co-funded by Longreads Members and published by Atlas Obscura.

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Temptation, Purity, and High-Stakes Evangelism in a Texas Town

Image by Gandalf's gallery

Johnny was more honest than most about his salvation. Other teens said they’d felt so lost in the secular world that they’d attempted suicide. When pressed for details, they produced accounts of the angry boredom of being sixteen in the suburbs: “attempted suicide” meant driving too fast, going for a too-difficult dive, getting dangerously drunk on dad’s Jack Daniel’s. One boy told me had resolved to strangle himself and would have, too, had not Jesus invisibly pulled the boy’s hands from his Adam’s apple. For Johnny there had been no special signs, no spiritual lows. It was simple as this: he was on a ski trip, and Jesus got him—shouldered into Johnny’s heart and said, “You’re mine, buddy.” It felt “wicked awesome,” better than eight girls in a Hummer all at the same time.

Jeff Sharlet, in Lapham’s Quarterly, on a day spent with the sexually pure teens of Battlecry Honor Academy in Garden Valley, Texas — where he learns that renouncing your sins doesn’t mean redacting their memories.

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Exorcism and the Catholic Church

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Although there are several types of exorcism, the one most commonly imagined in popular culture is the solemn or “major” exorcism, a ritual to rid a possessed person of the demon or demons that inhabit their body—not merely a prayer for spiritual healing. Solemn exorcisms can be performed only by Catholic priests, and only then with the express permission of a bishop. Exorcism is not one of the seven Catholic sacraments, but the ritual is sacramental, meaning that the rite’s success is not dependent on the formulaic approach common to Catholic sacraments, but rather the exorcist’s faith and the authorization of a bishop.

In light of the Vatican’s concerns over heightened demonic activity around the world and the apparently urgent need for more exorcist-priests, training courses have been offered to equip the next generation of exorcists with the spiritual knowledge they need to expel demons from their non-consensual hosts. More than 170 priests and laypersons alike gathered in Rome for the most recent course, which was held at the Sacerdos Institute, an organization of priests affiliated with the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, an educational institute of the Catholic Church. The course, which costs around $330, covers numerous topics, including the theological, liturgical, and canonical aspects of exorcism, as well as its anthropological history, its potential place within the criminal justice system, plus medical and neurological issues surrounding demonic possession.

—Dan Shewan, writing for Pacific Standard about the business of exorcism. The casting out of demons has also become a lucrative cottage industry outside of the Catholic Church, with dozens of self-styled exorcists plying their trade across America, as detailed in Shewan’s piece.

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Why the Church of Scientology Can’t Beat the Internet

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Over at The Kernel, Jesse Hicks has put together a fascinating account of the Church of Scientology’s relationship with the Internet. So, how has a notoriously secretive and hierarchical organization dealt with the world’s most “open and radically nonhierarchical platform for communication”? Not well. Scientology’s antagonistic relationship to the Internet dates back to the web’s early days: when an early ’90s message board became a gathering place for Scientology critics, the Church launched a full-scale war on the site. Things have not improved in the intervening two decades. Why?

Mark Ebner, another journalist who’s often written about the church, offers an even blunter assessment. “We (journos, apostates and critics alike) saw the Internet undoing of Scientology coming around ’96,” he emails. The Internet amplified the reach of critics and brought them together; it helped potential defectors find critical information otherwise suppressed by the church. (Tory Christman remembers the software sent to members in 1998: described as a Web page builder, it also covertly blocked users from viewing anti-Scientology websites.) “The Internet pulled back the curtain to find Hubbard bare, and caught the Office of Special Affairs with their pants down,” Ebner writes. “Years later, Anonymous came to Cyber Town and strafed Scientology while they weren’t looking.”

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More on Scientology from the Longreads Archive

Our Sex Education: A Reading List

Photo: Tom Simpson

Here are nine stories about modern-day sex education and our history with bad sex ed classes.

1. “John Oliver Eviscerates American Sex Ed–But the Reality is Even Worse.” (Dianna Anderson, Rolling Stone, August 2015)

Ready to get angry? In a recent Last Week Tonight segment, John Oliver lambasted abstinence-only sex education, which features celibacy as the only method to prevent pregnancy. Dianna Anderson, feminist blogger and author of Damaged Goods, goes in-depth on the sorry state of sex ed in the United States. Thanks to Title V, tens of millions of dollars are funneled toward conservative teaching methods that do more fear-mongering than educating. Recently, the House of Representatives ratified a bill that will give even more money to abstinence-only “education.” This is federal and state funding, not private revenue. And parents who want their kids to have a holistic, comprehensive sex education in their schools face a bureaucratic nightmare. Read more…

Arabs, Jews, and Israel’s Pork Industry

Photo by Pixabay

Surprisingly, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and a staunch secularist, opposed pork consumption. He viewed eating pork as a recent Jewish diasporic cultural development that Israelis needed to shed in order to forge a united Israeli identity. In 1962 the Knesset officially outlawed the breeding and selling of pigs, except for in Arab-Christian areas, such as the villages around Nazareth. In 1994 the import of non-kosher meat was also banned. That action, ironically, fortified what was once a black-market system of smuggling pork from the Arab-Christian pig farms into Jewish areas. Today that market is a legal, flourishing industry reliant almost exclusively on those few original farms.


While the consumption of pork is becoming more mainstream, the production of it by Jews is still rare and sometimes still requires some justifying loopholes. Kibbutz Lahav in southern Israel, which, like many kibbutzim, started as a radically secular project, is the only one of its kind to contribute to Israel’s pork industry, albeit as a byproduct of a program to breed lab animals. Because pigs are physiologically similar to humans, they are the best animals for medical research, explains Moshe Tayar, a kibbutznik and spokesman for the kibbutz’s research institute, where they work to advance treatments for ailments ranging from diabetes to various types of cancer. Excess pigs are processed at the kibbutz factory, which sells to shops and hotels around the country.

Their workers include observant Muslims and Jews who don’t eat pork themselves, explains Tayar. (In a rare example of Muslim-Jewish agreement among Israelis, Islam also views “swine” as a particularly unhygienic and thus spiritually toxic animal, and its consumption is explicitly deemed “haram,” or forbidden, in the Quran.)

Shira Rubin writing for Roads & Kingdoms about Israel’s deepest culinary taboo, and how pork has recently taken Israel’s secular foodie scene by storm.

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‘For You is Your Religion, and For Me is My Religion’: Shorts, Sandals and Islam

Photo: micadew

I want to say something, something that indicates I’m not staring because I’m not familiar with how she chooses to cover herself. Something that indicates that my mother dresses like her. That I grew up in an Arab state touching the Persian Gulf where the majority dresses like her. That I also face East and recite Quran when I pray.

“Should I greet her with A’salamu alaikum?” I ask myself. Then I look at what I picked out to wear on this day. A pair of distressed denim short shorts, a button-down Oxford shirt, and sandals. My hair is a big, curly entity on top of my head; still air-drying after my morning shower. Then I remember my two nose rings, one hugging my right nostril, the other snugly hanging around my septum. 

I am a practicing Muslim. I pray (sometimes), fast, recite the travel supplication before I start my car’s engine, pay my zakkah (an annual charitable practice that is obligatory for all that can afford it) and, most importantly, I feel very Muslim. There are many like me. We don’t believe in a monolithic practice of Islam. We love Islam, and because we love it so much we refuse to reduce it to an inflexible and fossilized way of life. Yet we still don’t fit anywhere. We’re more comfortable passing for non-Muslims, if it saves us from one or more of the following: unsolicited warnings about the kind punishment that awaits us in hell, unwelcomed advice from a stranger that starts with “I am like your [insert relative],” or an impromptu lecture, straight out of a Wahhabi textbook I thought was nonsense at age 13.

— I admire author Thanaa El-Naggar for staking a place for herself in her faith, despite opposition from conservative adherents and ignorant detractors. Read more of “Practicing Islam in Short Shorts” at Gawker True Stories.

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