When you enter “the meaning of Allahu Akbar” in Google, the first search results take you to Jihad Watch, Breitbart and Urban Dictionary. Jihad Watch tells you that Allahu Akbar is “the ubiquitous battle cry of Islamic jihadists as they commit mass murder.” One of the definitions on Urban Dictionary, home to some of the internet’s most passive aggressive users, states Allahu Akbar is “what is said by people beheading hogtied victims ‘in the name of God.’” And Breitbart, the ominous prophet of doom and gloom for the average conservative, insists that Allahu Akbar means “Allah is greater than your God or Government.”
Takbir—that is, Allahu Akbar—is a strange thing. It is Arabic for “God is great.” But to the westerner who consumes the world through purposefully tailored headlines, deliberate SEO and sequential images meant to invoke fear, takbir is a terrifying thing. To the westerner, it’s something ISIS members scream before bloodshed and al Qaeda members chant before deploying an IED. It’s that scary announcement from the brown man with a beard that hides his mouth, obscuring his face, making it impossible for you to trust him. It’s code for “we’re implementing sharia here,” according to astute Republicans who can’t pronounce Iran or Iraq without butchering it (figuratively and literally) but are adamant on presenting a singular, restricted and unimaginative interpretation of an expression millions of Muslims use in millions of ways.
But to the average Muslim, takbir generously lends itself to numerous occasions and emotions.
Consciously, I heard takbir for the first time when I was four, maybe five, in northern Virginia when my mother prayed in front of me. I watched her kiss the earth with all the love in her being. Before she knelt in prostration, she whispered something. She came up once more, whispered it again, then gently knelt in humility. Her forehead touched the ground, the tip of her nose softly grazing the prayer rug, her eyes closed in unwavering thought. To a child, this graceful movement was spellbinding. I strained my ear to hear her again. “Allahu Akbar.”
But takbir is introduced to us before we can even attach meaning to spoken word. When we are born, the azaan—call to prayer—is performed to us at a pitch softer than cotton. The day I was born, I had already been introduced to this expression that would later on become my refuge in times of despair, my cry in times of joy and yes, my roar in moments of indignation. My father softly recited “Allahu Akbar” in my ear when I came into this world.
Born after eight miscarriages, I was my parents’ miracle.
Throughout history, ethanol’s intoxicating power has made it an object of concern—and sometimes outright prohibition. And through the ages, says Rod Phillips, author of Alcohol: A History, most societies have struggled to strike a balance: “Allow people to drink because it makes them happy and is a gift from the gods, but prevent them from drinking too much.”
The ancient Greeks were a good example. A crucial part of their spiritual and intellectual life was the symposium fueled by wine—within limits. Mixing wine with water in a decorated vessel called a krater, Greek hosts served their (exclusively male) guests a first bowl for health, another for pleasure, and a third for sleep. “When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home,” the comic poet Eubulus warned in the fourth century B.C., according to one translation. “The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel; the seventh to black eyes. The eighth is the policeman’s; the ninth belongs to biliousness; and the 10th to madness and the hurling of furniture.”
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).
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Ready to get angry? In a recent Last Week Tonightsegment, 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…