TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.


TIME Religion

The Theology of the Fourth of July

Amid all the fireworks and barbecue smoke this July 4, consider pausing for a moment to reflect on the one our founding fathers called the Creator.

July 4 is a religious holiday. For this insight, thank John F. Kennedy.

On July 4, 1946, Kennedy — then 29 years old, the Democratic nominee for a Massachusetts Congressional seat, and still a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve — was the featured speaker at the City of Boston’s Independence Day celebration. He spoke at Faneuil Hall, the red-brick building where long ago the colonists had gathered to protest taxes imposed by King George III and his Parliament.

Kennedy began by talking not about taxes, or about the British, or about the consent of the governed, but about religion. “The informing spirit of the American character has always been a deep religious sense. Throughout the years, down to the present, a devotion to fundamental religious principles has characterized American though and action,” he said.

For anyone wondering what this had to do with Independence Day, Kennedy made the connection explicit. “Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual. It was this religious sense which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’”

It was a theme that Kennedy would return to during the 1960 presidential campaign, when, in a speech at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, he described the Cold War as “a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies; freedom under God versus ruthless, Godless tyranny.” And again in his inaugural address, on January 20, 1961, in Washington, D.C., when he said, “The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

Whatever Kennedy’s motives were as a politician for emphasizing this point, on the historical substance he had it absolutely correct. The Declaration of Independence issued from Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, included four separate references to God. In addition to the “endowed by their Creator” line mentioned by JFK in his July 4 speech, there is an opening salute to “the laws of nature’s God,” an appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the World,” and a closing expression of “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”

A signer of the declaration, Samuel Adams, writing to a friend on July 9, wished the declaration had been issued earlier: “If it had been done nine months ago we might have been justified in the sight of God.”

George Washington, announcing the Declaration of Independence to the troops in a General Order dated July 9, wrote, “The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country….knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms.”

The theology of the country’s founding has tended to get lost in the decades since Kennedy’s death, to the point where if someone unveiled the document anew today, hard-core separation-of-church-and-state types might even see it as a violation of the First Amendment’s clause prohibiting Congress from establishing a religion. The Declaration’s concept of God-given rights certainly is not without its flaws. God, alas, tends to be quite reticent when it comes to weighing in on disagreements about the definition of rights. Some extremists invoke God’s name while attempting to deprive others of rights. Atheists and agnostics, of whom there are increasing numbers these days, are left out.

For all that, there are some signs that a recovery is brewing of the theology of July 4. The Tea Party movement, after all, is not only a call for smaller government (“taxed enough already”), but also a conscious effort to recall the vision of the founders, of the original Boston Tea Party. Dave Brat, the economics professor who upset Eric Cantor in a recent Republican primary for to represent Virginia’s seventh congressional district, said during his campaign, “a belief in God and the faith of our Founders leads to strong moral fiber. That’s probably the most important ingredient in this country.”

So amid all the fireworks and barbecue smoke this July 4, consider pausing for a moment to reflect on the one our founding fathers called the Creator. As Kennedy realized, the American Revolution — and thus the country we live in today — started with God, and with the Founders’ belief in rights that are his gift to us. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, if you are an American, it’s at least worth understanding the idea on which our nation was founded.

Ira Stoll, author of Samuel Adams: A Life and JFK, Conservative, is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 6: Anger Management

A Muslim boy reads the Koran during the month of Ramadan, Kuala Lumpur, July 30, 2013. Mohd Rasfan—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Once a young man approached the Prophet Muhammad and asked him for some advice. The Prophet replied, “Do not become angry,” and he repeated this three times. On another occasion the Prophet asked his companions, “Do you know who the strong person is?” His companions replied, “The one who is able to wrestle others down.” The Prophet responded, “No, it is the one who is able to control their anger.”

There are so many wisdoms from the Prophet specifically advising against anger — all reflecting the Qur’anic description of the righteous as those who “hold in check their anger” (3:134). The advice is much needed. Indeed, some of the worst actions committed by human beings — from killing to domestic abuse — are, at least partly, a result of unbridled anger. For most of us our anger and its potent manifestations tend to be so much more subtle — from showing someone a cold shoulder to de-friending them on Facebook.

But, the problem with leaving anger unresolved is that it can get the best of us and has the potential to become a monster within us. This monster not only has the potential to lash out against others, but it also has the potential to simply make us inwardly miserable. No one likes to be angry. It’s just that some of us have a really hard time controlling this part of the emotional brain. It’s like asking someone not to feel, to become numb. Doing nothing about it, though, is not the solution.

So, here are three pieces of advice from Islam’s spiritual sources that may go a long way in managing anger:

First, the Qur’an advises that when Satan stirs us up with anger, the best course of action is to seek refuge in God (41:36). There is recognition in this that anger comes from a dark and fiery place and that the remembrance of God can bring light and coolness to one’s affairs. You can do this by chanting God’s beautiful names, reciting Qur’an, or anything else that helps you remember the Source of Peace (one of the 99 names of God in Islam).

Secondly, the Prophet Muhammad advised that when we feel angry we should perform ritual washing (wudu) with cold water. Again, the idea is to cool the body and soul from the heat of anger. In the Islamic tradition this means gently washing your hands, rinsing your mouth, sniffing water into your nose, washing your face, arms, head, neck, and feet. All of the outer limbs are renewed and cooled with this practice.

Third, the Prophet advised that if you become angry while standing, then sit down, and if you are sitting down, then lie down. It is a physical motion to temper the rising flames within.

Of course, all of this requires deep self-awareness. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re angry or how angry we are. This is why Ramadan and fasting are such special times. Fasting facilitates deeper introspection and allows us to hear what is going on inside of ourselves when we’re not so busy with the mundane.

TIME Religion

Ramadan Day 5: ‘You Are What You Eat’

Ramadan in Gaza
Gazaian vendors sell foods being in demand prior to the iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast at the time of sunset during the holy Ramadan month, in Gaza, on July 1, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

In Islamic spirituality, the locus of God’s remembrance is to be found in the metaphysical heart within the human being. Keeping this heart safe, sound and pure as a home for God’s remembrance is of paramount importance. There are seven passageways that must be guarded to this heart: the eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet, stomach and sexual parts.

Like most spiritual and religious traditions, Islam prescribes for its followers a set of dietary laws that govern the passageway of the stomach. These laws can seem arbitrary, but they are, actually, based on a systematic understanding of spirituality and ethics.

To summarize, when it comes to dietary laws – as well as many other aspects of Islamic sacred law – the premise is that everything is permissible unless it isn’t. In other words, permissibility is the assumption, unless scripture or a scripture-based wisdom exists for its impermissibility.

So, the Qur’an makes impermissible the consumption of intoxicants, such as alcohol (2:219 and 5:90), blood (5:3), pork (2:173) and food over which God’s name is not invoked or someone other than God’s name is invoked (6:138).

The impermissibility of intoxicants is based on an ethical principle that the human mind and intellect should be preserved at all times and in all situations in order for the human being to engage in critical moral thought and decision making. How many times do we hear of wrongs that are committed under the influence of alcohol, for example, with often devastatingly tragic consequences? Most people who become intoxicated or addicted to intoxicants never intend to lose their mind – it just happens slowly. As such, any amount of intoxication is impermissible in the sacred law. Spiritually, the mind is one of the key passageways to knowing and contemplating God. So when the mind is altered, one of the passageways to God is also potentially cutoff.

It is impermissible to consume the blood of animals because of the ethical principle to avoid harm. Diseases carried by animals are often found in their blood system, so avoiding consumption of blood is just to prevent physical harm to the human being. Spiritually, the sense is that the taste of blood opens up human’s predatory instincts, which could cause the soul to incline toward aggression and other such undesirable traits.

Pork is impermissible, actually, for quite a similar reason. Islamic dietary law, generally speaking, only allows the consumption of herbivorous animals. The idea, again, is to avoid the characteristics that come with predatory animals. Herbivores, by contrast, tend to be gentle animals, and acquiring gentleness as a character trait is praiseworthy. Pigs are omnivores, meaning they will eat plant and other animals.

Many of these teachings are congruent with the idea that “you are what you eat.” So, Muslims are asked to take very seriously what they put in their stomachs. Interestingly, whenever the Qur’an speaks of permissible consumption (halal) it attaches the term pure and wholesome (tayyib) to its permissibility clause – meaning that what we consume should not only meet the test of permissibility, but should also be good and beneficial – spiritually and physically – for us.

As Muslims in America develop the halal standard, I hope that there will be as much emphasis on the wholesomeness of food as there is on its permissibility. And that this will, in turn, be a positive contribution toward the cultural revolution around food in this country.

TIME Religion

Hobby Lobby Turned Roman Catholics Into First-Class Citizens

A few rich and powerful people now have another way to legally exercise religious control over other people’s private lives.


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Democracy doesn’t allow two kinds of citizenship and two versions of the law. If you want to live in a country where some citizens have bigger rights, more freedoms, and more powers over the rest, then you don’t want to live in a democracy. You might want to live in America, after Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Why would anyone be surprised that the erosion of democracy in America would again be accomplished through corporations? Theocrats admire proxy powers while they themselves are still weak, and they like to control strong bodies through manipulable souls. Why wouldn’t corporations be obvious candidates for supporting salvific work in the world? Corporations are not only legal persons, but they became real citizens covered under the Bill of Rights, and now corporations have religious convictions that award them legal privileges that ordinary citizens will never get.

If you thought that a few rich and powerful people needed another way to legally exercise religious control over other people’s private lives, you are rejoicing. If you instead thought that ordinary people need more political freedom from religious oppression, you are dismayed beyond belief.

But you don’t want to make a hasty judgment here, you say. Let a few days pass, while the press and the pundits hypnotize you about how this is supposed to be a narrow ruling on just one issue, and how Christians are lovely people who only want the best for everyone, and how private corporations are somehow now the guardians of freedom. But do try to think about how someone’s else vaster freedoms usually end up forging somebody else’s chains.

Let it sink in, while those legal interpreters mystify you about how corporations are supposedly persons with rights because corporations are owned by people, so the rights of private owners extend to everything the ‘private’ corporation does. Let the fallacy in that way of thinking sink in for a while. A corporation able to exercise remote control over what a women and her doctor can do is really acting ‘privately’?

Let it sink in how five Supreme Court justices – each one is a male Roman Catholic – decided that sanctimonious abhorrence against birth control is legitimate grounds for letting giant corporations control the reproductive lives of women. Do you really think that a private corporation in non-Christian hands would be allowed to make it harder for employees to get basic health care?

After you’ve let this all sink in, be careful where you point the finger of praise, or blame. Yes, Protestant Evangelicalism ensured that five Roman Catholics would get to decide democracy’s fate. But this wasn’t supposed to be Protestantism’s fight. There are Justices who still own neckties older than Protestant opposition to birth control. No, this was a Roman Catholic agenda, and a Roman Catholic victory.

Don’t start making any changes to your insurance plans, Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu corporate owners! Let’s wait to see how much of a precedence has been set. I’d bet that it turns out to be very narrow in one sense: unless your religious conviction fits with the Catholic Hegemony, don’t expect to get your way too. There now are first-class citizens, the rich, powerful corporate owners acknowledged by the Catholic Dominion; and there’s everyone else, whose may not share the same religious opinions.

When you wake up from your pleasant slumbers, dreaming of an America where each individual cannot be controlled by someone else’s religion, let me know. Until then, try not to mutter in your sleep about liberty and democracy and how everything’s still just fine. If you manage to open your eyes, don’t be shocked at people ‘overreacting’, while you yourself appear to be sleepwalking. Don’t speak to me until you are ready to wake up into this new reality, where somebody else’s ideas about God can make our lives harder and more expensive. Don’t even look at me, while nobody is looking at you to figure out how to control your body.

Let all this sink in. If you cling to your faith that America remains a democracy, then you shall get the theocracy you deserve. The priests are already plotting out where you need to kneel next.

John Shook is a professor of science education at the University of Buffalo.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME France

France Can Keep Burqa Ban, European Court Rules

Europe's top rights court has said a ban on wearing Islamic veils doesn't breach any rights

Europe’s main human rights court ruled Tuesday that France’s ban on wearing a full-face veil is permissible, reports CNN.

The European Court of Human Rights said the French ban of garments worn by some Muslim women—the burqa, a garment that envelops the body with a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a veil that covers the face—didn’t breach the European Convention of Human Rights.

A 24-year-old French woman took the case to the court in November because she felt the law restricted her ability to live according to her religion, culture and personal beliefs.

France’s ban of the burqa and the niqab went into effect in April 2011. The law has sparked fierce debate between believers of religious freedom and those who think the veil is both restrictive and contravenes France’s secularism.

The woman, who hasn’t been named, drew upon several articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the court was set up to protect. The defendant cited the right to private and family life as well as freedoms of thought, conscience and religion.

She added that no one has required her to wear the burqa and the niqab, nor does she wear them all the time. France charges a fine of 150 euros or $205 for anyone wearing the garments. This fine can be substituted for community service.


TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 4: Eating Haves and Have Nots

A Pakistani Muslim man arranges Iftar food for Muslim devotees before they break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Karachi on June 30, 2014. ASIF HASSAN—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Recently, a friend offered a social commentary that really stuck with me. He said, “You know there’s something wrong when too many people in the world are dying because of starvation and, at the same time, too many people are dying because of overeating.”

It reminded me of a simple yet quite profound advice in the Qur’an: “O Children of Adam…eat and drink, but not excessively: verily, God does not like the excessive” (7:31). Reflecting on this teaching, the Prophet Muhammad advised: “No human being overfills a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any child of Adam are some morsels of food to keep their back straight. But, if they must [eat more than this], then let one third be for food, one third for drink and one third for easy breathing.”

Moderation is an oft-repeated virtue in the Qur’anic discourse on living an ethical life. When it comes to our eating habits, it goes beyond our individual ethics to a more communal ethics. When extreme food waste and extreme lack of food coexist as a reality not only in the world but even, often, in the same cities, then we’ve really got to re-think how we eat and how much we eat. For example, the USDA estimates in a 2014 report that around 40% of food in America goes to waste. And, it is also estimated that 50 million Americans (1 in 6, and more than 1 in 5 children) go to sleep hungry everyday.

Of course, the problems as well as the solutions are much more systemic. But the shift in how much we eat and how we treat food needs a cultural revolution. It requires an honest conversation about the epidemic of obesity, on the one hand, and a critique of the “ideal” body type – which is just as much part of the problem – on the other hand. And, it begins with all of us, individually and in our homes, considering how we can reduce food waste and reduce the imbalance between those who have and those who do not have.

Fasting really makes you re-think the role of food in your life. It is a proof for how little we actually need to stay strong and healthy and how our appetites are so much more adjustable than we think. Breaking fast together in community also makes you think. When food is shared, it seems so much more plentiful as a little bit goes a long way when you eat in good company. As the Prophet Muhammad would say, “food for one is enough for food for two, and food for two is enough for food for three” and so on.

Just some food for thought during this month of Ramadan.

TIME politics

Hobby Lobby Ruling Is a Win for Separation of Church and State

Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Hobby Lobby In ACA Contraception Case
Sister Caroline attends a rally with other supporters of religious freedom to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby, contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The Supreme Court decision will be good for all Americans, including those who disagree strongly with it now.

The Hobby Lobby victory in the United States Supreme Court Monday has broad implications for religious liberty, many of them I’ve discussed elsewhere. But one aspect some might miss is that in this case the Court upheld the principle of separation of church and state.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito addressed the question of whether the Green family (owners of Hobby Lobby) and the Hahn family (owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties) have a reasonable case to believe that paying for the drugs and devices at issue would be immoral. He noted that the families believe that paying for these things would mean potentially empowering the destruction of a fertilized embryo and would thus be immoral. He then noted that the question here is one the courts, in his words, “have no business addressing.

“This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another,” he writes. “Arrogating the authority to a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”

In the case syllabus, the majority points to the moral and theological questions involved and writes: “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.”

I say “Amen” to that. There are many reasons why this decision will be good for all Americans, including those who disagree strongly with it now, but one reason is found in the court’s refusal to play theological referee.

“Separation of church and state” is a fairly partisan phrase these days, since it has come to be equated with the “naked public square” of secularization. Many, quite wrongly, use the phrase to suggest that believers ought to place their religious convictions in a blind trust when they leave their churches or synagogues or mosques to go out into the marketplace or the voting booth.

But the phrase didn’t start with the secularizers. It’s a principle held by very orthodox believers, especially in the Baptist tradition, who wanted the government out of dictating doctrine. The early Baptists and their allies understood that a government in the business of running the church, or claiming the church as a mascot of the state, invariably persecutes and drives out genuine religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union didn’t invent the separation of church and state. Jesus did, when he said that we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s (Matt. 22:21). And many who use the phrase “church/state separation” actually believe in just the opposite—a church dominated by the state and a state empowered to tell believers what they ought to believe and why.

The Left often demonizes those with strongly held religious convictions as, by definition, theocrats who want to take over the government. This is hardly the case. Hobby Lobby didn’t start this skirmish with the government. The families involved have no interest in what sorts of contraceptive plans are in other companies’ benefits packages.

They want simply the freedom not to be compelled to submit to the government’s morality lesson. Moreover, they want the freedom for the government not to tell them, theologically, what they ought to care about when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

As they did earlier in the Greece v. Galloway prayer case, the Court has declared its competence to decide constitutional law but its incompetence to try to, as we Christians would put it, rightly divide the Word of Truth. That’s good news, and good news for everybody.

In the meantime, it ought to prompt those of us on the more conservative and religious side of the spectrum to reclaim the name for what we’ve always believed: the separation of church and state. It’s a good old phrase that’s been highjacked by the Left for long enough.

Dr. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 3: 5 Principles for Understanding “Difficult” Qur’anic Passages

A Indian Muslim reads the Koran at a madrassa during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan in Mumbai on June 30, 2014. Indranil Mukherjee—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

When I have the opportunity to engage with people of other faiths, I am often asked about controversial passages in the Qur’an that seem belligerent toward non-Muslims. It would require an entire book to go over every single such passage and offer theories of interpretation and explanation. So, I would like to offer something else as food for thought: five principles to keep in mind when studying or trying to understand these difficult Qur’anic passages.

  1. Islam is the third and last of Abraham’s sibling faiths following Judaism and Christianity. Each religion offers a vigorous critique of what came before, partly as a justification for needing a new prophet and revelation. As such, Islam has much to say in way of praise as well as criticism of Jews and Christians as previously revealed faiths. If Islam had come before Judaism or Christianity, they would surely have had similar critiques of Islam.
  2. The Qur’an, when offering critiques of Jews and Christians, always uses the term in Arabic “al” to indicate “the,” which in the Arabic language indicates specificity, not generality. In other words, all of these verses are talking about a specific group of Jews and/or Christians, by no means all Jews and Christians. In fact, the Qur’an itself reminds Muslims: “But they are not all alike. There are some among the People of the Book who are upright, who recite God’s revelation during the night, who bow down in worship, who believe in God and the Last Day, who order what is right and forbid what is wrong, who are quick to do good deeds. These people are among the righteous and they will not be denied [the reward] for whatever good deeds they do: God knows exactly who is conscious of Him” (3:113-115). All passages that offer criticism of Jews or Christians must be tempered with this cautionary passage.
  3. From a Muslim perspective, the Qur’an is not playing favoritism toward any one subjective group but rather more interested in objectively holding up truth and righteousness. As such, it does offer scathing criticism of Jews and Christians when their communities failed to uphold truth and righteousness, but there are also passages in the Qur’an where God offers scathing criticism of Muslims for their failings too. In fact, if you collect all of the passages in the Qur’an that are specifically addressed to the Muslims (usually beginning with “O you who believe”), what often follows is a criticism or a warning. For example, “O you who believe, why do you say things and then do not do them? It is most hateful to God that you say that which you do not do” (61:2-3).
  4. These passages from the Qur’an must be read keeping in mind two contexts: historical and textual. When you come across a passage in which the Qur’an is condemning Jews or Christians, you have to pause and ask yourself what was happening at the historical time of the revelation and what is it that the Qur’an is actually responding to. And, you have to also ask yourself if there are other passages within the Qur’an that temper or clarify the “difficult” passage. For example, in Chapter 5, the Qur’an strongly discourages Muslims from taking Jews and Christians as their allies (awliyah). But, much later in the Qur’an, in Chapter 60, it clarifies that the previous passage was meant only for those who acted belligerently toward the Muslims, not those who were good to the Muslims and kept their treaties with them.
  5. Lastly, one has to keep in mind when reading such passages that the Islamic tradition has a long and vast history of developing schools of interpretation around the Qur’an that dissect every verse of the Qur’an with linguistic and grammatical analysis, historical context and commentary, to name only a few. As such, as is true with other revealed scriptures, a literal and outward reading of the text – let alone the translated text – defies the way in which Muslims have read and understood their scripture for centuries.
TIME Religion

What the Bible Really Says About the Rapture

Christopher Eccleston as Reverend Matt Jamison and Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in the episode "Two Boats and a Helicopter" in the HBO show The Leftovers.
Christopher Eccleston as Reverend Matt Jamison and Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in the episode "Two Boats and a Helicopter" in the HBO show The Leftovers. Paul Schiraldi—HBO

What would the end times really be like? A new HBO series airing Sunday night, The Leftovers, attempts to answer that question, sort of. In the show, based on a Tom Perrotta novel, 2% of the global population vanishes suddenly, and without explanation. The disappearance is mostly attributed to some kind of religious event, and the show deals with how life might be afterward for those left behind — with all the grief, guilt and confusion that something like that would entail.

Despite the setup, neither the show nor the book are overtly religious. The word rapture is never used — at least not in the book — and the ranks of the disappeared seem to have been chosen at random. With many sinners among the vanished, the “true believers” still on earth are left to wonder how they missed the cut.

The word rapture isn’t used in the Holy Bible, but the idea of Judgment Day appears in all the canonical gospels. It’s probably most frequently associated with the apocalyptic imagery of the Book of Revelation to John, but it’s most clearly laid out in the Book of Matthew, in which it is prophesied that the Son of Man will send out his angels with a trumpet call to “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other,” before separating the righteous sheep from the accursed goats (Matthew 24:31, and 25:31–46).

Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians contains passages along the same lines:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16–17)

Then in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he describes how suddenly the “mystery” will occur:

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51–52)

Matthew’s eerie description of the event sounds much like the event portrayed in the HBO show: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Matt. 24:40–41)

So when did the Day of Judgment become associated with a physical rapture? It’s important to note that Christianity’s many denominations disagree on exactly how Christ will return to earth, or how literally to interpret the Bible’s account of how the day of reckoning will go down. (See Robert Jewett’s Jesus Against the Rapture for an example of how many theologians are skeptical of doomsday prognosticators.)

The idea that the godly would be “raptured,” or literally sucked into the air to meet Christ, was reportedly popularized by a dispensationalist British minister, John Nelson Darby, in the 1830s after a Scottish teenager had visions of Christ’s return.

Evangelical U.S. Christians learned about it from an early 20th century Bible, and the idea gained popularity among Christian fundamentalists here until it became a cultural touchstone.

One branch of Christian theology, dispensational premillennialism, holds that Christ will physically return to earth to sort the wicked from the godly before a tribulation, when anyone left behind will suffer various torments and plagues.

Prominent in this school of thought is Texan evangelical Hal Lindsey, whose literalist screed The Late, Great Planet Earth became a best seller in 1970, later spawning follow-ups Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (the latter of which sounds like a sketch featuring Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” on Saturday Night Live). During the 2008 election, Lindsey wrote that Barack Obama was paving the way for the Antichrist.

(The literal-minded belief in how Judgment Day will go down got a darkly funny spin during one of the opening sequences of another HBO offering, Six Feet Under, in which a woman witnesses a bunch of inflatable sex dolls escaping into the sky from the back of a delivery truck, mistakes them for angels floating up to heaven, and gets so excited about the Second Coming that she runs fatally into the middle of oncoming traffic.)

Today, about 1 in 4 believe Christ will return to earth, though it’s far from clear how many of those believe that the rapture will occur. But the idea has clearly captured many people’s imaginations, be they self-styled soothsayers of the apocalypse or simply novelists hoping for a best seller. And judging by the rapturous reviews of HBO’s new series, the idea still has plenty of mileage left in it.

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