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Jonathan Benthall

This review of Tariq Ramadan’s The Arab Awakening: Islam and the new Middle East was published in the Times Literary Supplement, 12 October 2012 – at a time when there were still hopes that the "Arab Awakening" would lead to a new era of progress in the Middle East. It attempts to elucidate Professor Ramadan’s complex intellectual position – where his loyalty to Islamic orthodoxy clashes with the humanities as they are understood in the West – and in particular his relationship to the Muslim Brothers, which is more critical than is often assumed. At the same time it defends Ramadan against unjust criticisms and salutes his personal courage. A prefatory note adds up-to-date information about some of Ramadan’s political interventions since 2012.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter describes the case of Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born academic and commentator on Islamic matters, who was refused a non-immigrant visa in 2005 to enter the USA in order to accept a professorship in peace studies. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took up his case. Though it is probable that the real reason for his exclusion was opposition to Ramadan’s political opinions, the reason given was that between 1998 and July 2002 he had made donations totalling the equivalent of US$940 to a charity registered in Switzerland (the Association de Secours aux Palestiniens). In August 2003 this charity was designated by the USA as a terrorist fundraising entity, on account of its alleged links to Hamas-linked Palestinian charities (including zakat committees). Eventually, after two court hearings, the State Department decided in January 2010, in a document signed by Secretary Clinton, to lift the ban against Ramadan’s entering the USA. This Chapter recounts the progress of the case, and reproduces a letter sent by Benthall to Secretary Clinton in October 2009 in support of the ACLU’s representation of Ramadan.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
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Boim versus the Holy Land Foundation
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter, originally published in a law journal (the UCLA Journal of Near Eastern and Islamic Law), follows up the issue of the Palestinian zakat committees which was discussed in Chapter 5. It describes a civil action launched in the US courts by the family of David Boim, a boy of seventeen, who was killed by Palestinians in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank in 1996. The family, being unable to sue either two alleged murderers or Hamas (as the presumed instigator of the attacks) sued the Holy Land Foundation on the grounds that it had remitted funds to zakat committees, held to be façades for Hamas. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found in favour of the Boims, by a majority. The majority decision was written by Judge Richard Posner. The controversial principles in US law of "material support for terrorism" and "fungibility" (i.e. transferability) of assets are discussed here. It is argued that the Court did not give enough attention to making clear its commitment to fairness, while the minority opinion was unimpeachable.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Jonathan Benthall

This chapter first appeared as the lead article in the Times Literary Supplement on 10 September 2014. It is a review of the historian Michael Cook’s Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic case in comparative perspective and Akeel Bilgrami’s Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment. According to Cook, Islam has a greater tendency towards politicization than other religions, whereas Akeel Bilgrami is more disposed to find fault with Western policies than with Islam. Bilgrami underlines the need to listen to reformist voices from within Islam rather than the voices of outside critics. This leads the Chapter into a brief consideration of the prospects for large-scale institutional reform instigated by Muslims themselves, as opposed to sporadic reformist initiatives that do not crystallize into organized movements.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
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Jonathan Benthall

This chapter was originally the entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics (2014). on Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian-born Islamic scholar who took up residence in Qatar. It sets out to present a fair and balanced portrait of this contentious figure, regularly voted among the world’s foremost public intellectuals and (when the article was written) the most influential religious authority in the Sunni Muslim world, not least because of the formidable network of institutions that he helped to create, including charities; but also because of his forceful oratory, media skills, and many publications. A prefatory note provides up-to-date information on controversies involving Qaradawi, as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, that have erupted since the article was first published.

in Islamic charities and Islamic humanism in troubled times
Karin Fischer

Chapter 4 examines how general policy orientations were translated into school curricula in the late 1990s and 2000s with regard to cultural and religious matters. It analyses the ambivalent message of the 1999 curriculum, between a celebration of cultural pluralism and the assertion of a kind of ‘Irish majority identity’, along with the Irish State’s continued promotion of religious identity in primary school. It shows that new contents and approaches in history and education for citizenship have been marked by a pluralist ambition (even egalitarian in the case of Civic, Social and Political Education), in contrast with religious education syllabuses which have largely remained a (modernised) vehicle of Christian catechism in the vast majority of schools, with some efforts towards a more open approach at secondary level. The pedagogical project of intercultural education, which is now meant to permeate all school content in theory (in accordance with the aim of ‘integrated teaching’), clashes directly both with religious instruction as it remains taught in primary schools (with religious values or ethos also meant to permeate school life in denominational schools) and with the segregated nature of the school system.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland
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Karin Fischer

Concluding comments focus on the contradiction between new teaching contents and approaches that strive to take into account changing Irish realities and open paths for sociocultural reconfiguration and educational structures inherited from the past that privilege communal (especially religious) interests over equal rights. Political responses based on ‘majority’ rights at different levels are shown to be at odds with republican ideals and democratic values. The dominant political ideology in the Republic of Ireland has contributed to perpetuating communal hierarchies and widespread discrimination in the existing school system, rather than striving towards equal citizenship for all and respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion as a basic individual human right. The conclusion finally places Irish realities and debates within the context of international debates on the place of religion in school, school segregation, secularity, human and cultural rights and intercultural education. It traces the concept of interculturalism back to Canada in particular, showing that there are striking parallels in the field of education policy between the recent history of Quebec and the current Irish situation.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland
What role for schools?
Karin Fischer

Chapter 3 examines developments in Irish education policy generally over the past forty years and how they have related to social, cultural and religious diversity and inequalities. It looks at state views of the aim of school education and the shift from Gaelic-Catholic nationalism to market-oriented views (Denis O’Sullivan’s ‘mercantile paradigm’) within an international context. It analyses the tentative and limited opening towards more pluralist conceptions of Irish society in general policy documents of the 1990s and the persistence of more traditional Christian views and values. In the 2000s education policy discourses acknowledged some discrimination issues as part of official efforts towards the ‘inclusive society’, but still largely ignored existing issues of religious discrimination. By contrast, from the mid-1990s onwards, teacher organisations and other educational actors called for a national policy that would address both sociocultural and religious inequalities and discrimination. This led to the formulation of a new intercultural discourse in education at both educational and state levels.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland
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Karin Fischer

The introduction presents the Republic of Ireland as a case study in the international debate on the place of religion in schools and on the relationship between religion, cultural identity and citizenship in state-funded education systems. It focuses on the specificities of the Irish case (a largely denominational and private system) and on the international scope of such a study (Ireland as both a postcolonial and de facto post-imperial country, issues of civic or ethnic citizenship, multicultural or intercultural perspectives etc.). The choice of a democratic perspective based first and foremost on the rights of children as individual human beings (and not only as members of families or communities) is explained and justified within the context of previous research on the subject in Ireland and elsewhere. The introduction also offers a more general critical analysis of previous writings on the subject of religion and schools in the Irish State, drawing a distinction between Catholic viewpoints and democratic perspectives and questioning the relevance of distinctions made between local and cosmopolitan academic perspectives.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland
Karin Fischer

Chapter 1 examines the influence and legacy of Gaelic-Catholic cultural nationalism on the Irish education system, showing that its main characteristics (Church control and denominational structures, patronage system, religious segregation, importance of religion in educational aims and contents up to the 1971 curriculum) reflect both 19th c. developments and the Irish Free State’s Catholic-cultural nationalism (post-independence education policies, 1937 Constitution, ‘fabricated cultural homogeneity’). It also shows that, contrary to popular belief, the denominational nature of the system itself and the ‘legality’ of religious discrimination within the system only date back to changes introduced in official education policy documents in the 1960s.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland