TIME Courts

Santa Monica’s Ban On Nativity Display Upheld

In this Dec. 13, 2011 file photo, a woman walks past a two of the traditional displays showing the Nativity scene along Ocean Avenue at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif.
Ringo H.W. Chiu—AP In this Dec. 13, 2011 file photo, a woman walks past a two of the traditional displays showing the Nativity scene along Ocean Avenue at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif.

City did not violate the First Amendment, court says

The city of Santa Monica did not violate the First Amendment when it banned the display of nativity scenes in a city park, a federal appeals court unanimously ruled Thursday.

For years, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee erected Christmas dioramas in Palisades Park. But in 2011, a group of atheists was able to secure most of the spots in the park allowed by the city for holiday displays.

The following year, the committee and the atheists filed so many applications with the city that Santa Monica officials decided to shut down the process altogether.

The nativity committee sued the city on free speech grounds but a district judge ruled for the city in 2012. On Thursday, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the committee did not have a “viable claim” that the Santa Monica ban violated the constitution, according to the Los Angeles Times.

TIME Culture

Why I Left My Religion (and Arranged Marriage) Behind

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I didn’t understand why God would give me a brain if I wasn't allowed to question things

Melissa Weisz is an emerging actress, with a current role in the movie Félix & Meira. The film, which tells the story of a young woman in a traditional Hasidic household who leaves her faith and the strict circle of her community when she falls in love, has strong parallels with Weisz’ own life. She told her story to Laura Barcella.

I never thought I’d be an actress, but not just for the reasons most people think they won’t make it. For most of my life, I lived in a traditional family in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, where careers — let alone careers in acting — were rarely discussed. I was fully observant and, when I was 19, I entered into an arranged marriage. Four years later, I left it all behind.

My childhood was loud but happy. I had six sisters and two brothers, so there were lots of kids running around, and lots of makeshift moms — my older sisters were constantly helping out. It felt very safe, because we were in our own super-structured little bubble where everybody was like us. Everyone has one, clear, ultra-traditional direction in life — it was like, “This is where you’re going and this is what you’re doing.” You knew how to dress, how to act at home and at school. You knew what was expected of you.

I’m still not sure why, but one day, I started doubting a lot of what I’d been raised to believe. All of sudden, I was challenging my teachers and crossing the boundaries of what Hasidic kids are supposed to talk about. Some of the stuff I was learning — like the idea of men throughout history having multiple wives, things like that — disturbed me. Why was it okay for men to do that and not women?

It bothered me how, at holidays like Shabbat, the guys would sit quietly and study while the women were expected to serve them. I started to wonder, Why am I serving my little brother? Obviously, I didn’t know anything about feminism then. But, I didn’t understand why God would give me a brain if I wasn’t allowed to question things, and I only got more and more dubious as I grew older.

When I was 19, I had an arranged Hasidic marriage. It was just what was done; my ex-husband and I met a few times, and then we got engaged. Fortunately, he’s a great guy; I actually started to feel like I was falling in love with him during the courtship process. I hadn’t been with anyone else. I didn’t question whether the marriage was right for me (ultimately, it wasn’t). I figured I would make it work no matter what, because I had to. But, when you start questioning things, all the dominoes start to fall.

We were married for four years when I decided to walk away from both my husband and our community. That summer, I’d gone away to Texas and spoken with various Hasidic friends and rabbis, checked out different temples. I was reading a lot about Judaism and realized, once and for all, that it felt false to me. I had been trying to make sense of it and find my own path within it, but I just couldn’t. Religion, in general, just doesn’t really have a place in my life or my belief system.

So, I made the very difficult decision to leave.

After I left, I felt a big sense of relief, but I also realized I needed to figure out how to survive outside the world in which I’d been raised. Practical matters, like finding an apartment, were totally new to me. I was lucky to discover Footsteps, an organization that helps former Orthodox Jews establish new lives outside their communities. I started going to some of its meetings and met a bunch of great people. I found a support system, an apartment, roommates. That was when I finally felt comfortable starting to openly talk about my experiences in the Orthodox world. I put myself through college and got a degree in psychology.

When I left, I didn’t ask my family for their support — I just assumed they wouldn’t give it. I didn’t give them a chance, and after I left there was no real communication for a while. Once, my sister stopped by and left me a care package with a delicious traditional Jewish cake, but she didn’t say “hi.”

Sometimes, still, I feel like a bit of an outsider, and occasionally I miss aspects of my old life. But, we all have moments like that — like when you return to the town where you went to school, or drive past a house you used to live in. It’s nostalgic, but that doesn’t mean you want to be there again. When I pass by Hasidic boys on the street, it gives me a little pang sometimes.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to reconnect with my family. After they realized my leaving wasn’t just a phase, they began to reach out to me again, which was great. My father and I are even thinking about writing a book about the experience.

In my newest movie, I actually play a Hasidic woman. It’s been cathartic because it has forced me to face my past. The house where we shot the film was so similar to the one I grew up in, I walked in and immediately started crying. It felt like home — but it definitely wasn’t my home anymore.

Félix and Meira is now in theaters in select cities around the country.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

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TIME Religion

A Bishop’s Resignation Puts All Eyes on Chile

Catholic Bishop Charged
Tammy Ljungblad—AP Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph appears during a bench trial Sept. 6, 2012 at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.

The Vatican’s announcement that Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri, was just one line, released in Tuesday’s daily press bulletin. The only reason given was a provision of canon law that allows bishops to resign early due to illness or another grave cause. But everybody knew the real punch: this was the first time a pope took public action against a priest who covered up sexual abuse.

Today’s Francis fever and sky-high favorability ratings makes it easy to forget just how deeply the story of priestly sexual abuse has defined the Catholic Church in recent decades. The legacy of the scandals in the United States alone is beyond weighty — a 2004 USCCB report detailed the severity of the crisis nationwide — more than 4,000 priests faced more than 10,000 allegations of child sexual abuse from 1950-2002, with half the alleged victims between the ages of 11-14. Dioceses have shelled out millions, and in some cases hundreds of millions, of dollars to settle cases.

For many victims and Vatican watchers, Tuesday’s announcement was a long time in coming, especially since Francis made it clear from the beginning that his papacy would have a zero-tolerance policy. In February 2014, Catholics petitioned Pope Francis to take disciplinary action against Finn. Pope Francis launched an investigation into Finn in September, and in November, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who leads the Church sex abuse commission, said that the Vatican needed to “urgently” address Finn’s case. This past weekend, Irish abuse survivor and member of the sex abuse commission Marie Collins told the Catholic news site Crux, “I cannot understand how Bishop Finn is still in position, when anyone else with a conviction that he has could not run a Sunday school in a parish. He wouldn’t pass a background check.”

It is one thing for Francis to accept the resignation of a bishop who mishandled abuse allegations. It is another for him to appoint and defend one who has long been associated with similar scandal. Protests erupted in January when Francis announced he was appointing Bishop Juan Barros to lead a Chilean diocese. Barros has long been accused of covering up the sexual abuse committed by his mentor, Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty of in 2011. Members of the sex abuse commission have been speaking out in concern in this case as well. “It goes completely against what he (Francis) has said in the past about those who protect abusers,” Collins told the AP last month. “The voice of the survivors is being ignored.”

The Vatican made clear its position on the Barros appointment three weeks ago in another one-sentence statement: “The Congregation for Bishops carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

The lesson of Kansas City is that the Vatican takes covering up abuse seriously. Chile is the next test.

TIME Religion

What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn’t Get About Islam

Man passing through arches of colonnade, Oman
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Carla Power is the author of If The Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran.

Islamic law is more flexible than many think

The author Ayaan Hirsi Ali has called for an Islamic reformation. Her new best-seller Heretic proposes five ways that Muslims need to change their faith so that it sits neatly with her notion of modernity. In a book that reads like a home-made intellectual bomb – a cobbling together of the most vicious examples from Muslim societies – she argues, among other things, that Muslims should rethink the status of Muhammad as infallible and question whether the Quran is truly the word of God.

That’s not going to happen, not in a faith whose bedrock creed is that ‘There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger.” Muslims revere the Quran as the word of God, as revealed to their beloved Prophet Muhammed in 7th century Arabia. To demand that Muslims question the Quran as divine or the prophet as the perfect human is just unthinkable for the vast majority of believing Muslims. It’s also an evisceration of Islam’s fundamental principles, akin to taking a giant eraser to the bits about justice and liberty in the preamble to the American Constitution. As such, Hirsi’s proposal is not so much a proposal as an imperial decree, a tone-deaf declaration rather than an opening of a conversation.

Hirsi’s proposal for a reformation may be a non-starter, but that’s not to say that there’s no hope for a reformation – or rather, given mainstream majority Islam’s lack of a centralized structure – for reformations. Indeed, change is afoot, not just from radical outliers and dissidents, but from Muslims working inside the mainstream tradition. Across the world, Islamic scholars are going back to the texts, peeling off the medieval interpretations that have hardened into truths, and searching for their own answers in the Quran and the Hadith.

As every generation of Muslims has done since the 7th century, modern Muslims are seeking to interpret the spirit of the divine text in light of the mundane realities of its followers. The difference today are the effects of large-scale Muslim migration to the West and modern technology. Education, mobility, and access to information have lead to opportunities of new interpretive freedoms, sped up by the breakdown of the stature of the traditional Islamic authorities. This process cuts both ways: It has made it easy for the Kansan teenager wondering about whether Islam allows her to write her own marriage contract (it does), and it’s also made it easy for fundamentalists to spread a message of intolerance. The same historical disruptions that have produced the horrors of Al Qaeda and ISIL have also produced increasingly confident Muslim activists and scholars, who are working to square their understandings of the Quran’s divine message with universal human-rights norms.

Unlike bombs or beheadings, these gentle disruptions don’t make the news. Earlier this year, the conservative scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi reversed his acceptance of child marriage – a practice generally allowed in medieval Islamic jurisprudence – after two of his female students told him of the ways they’d seen the practice ruin girls’ lives. He also found a fatwa from an 8th-century scholar denouncing the practice. In other words, he found ways to change his understanding of his faith from within.

Too often, non-Muslims and Muslims alike don’t know enough about Islam to see how flexible Islamic laws can be. Like the violent extremists she rightly opposes, Hirsi takes the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s example to be an unbending set of rules and Islam to be “the most rigid religion in the world.” However, its flexibility was one of the reasons it could spread so effectively from Arabia through Asia and Africa, allowing local practices to remain as long as they didn’t contravene its basic tenets.

How could Islam be a rigid set of one-size-fits-all edicts, as the zealots claim, when it’s a faith with followers who range from dreadlocked Oakland grandmas to Hyderabadi mystics to French businessmen? How could it be rigid when interpretations range so widely, running the gamut from bans on women driving (see Saudi Arabia) to giving women the right to lead countries (see Pakistan and Bangladesh)? Such is the decentralized nature of Islam’s majority Sunni sect, which lacks an organized clergy, that it allows followers to go from scholar to scholar until they find an opinion that matches their own.

To reform, Islamic societies needs more Islamic education, not less. The Prophet Muhammad warned his followers against blind faith. A famous anecdote tells of him coming across an Arab nomad walking away from his camel, having neglected to tie it up. When he asked the man why he didn’t secure the beast, the man said, “I put my trust in Allah.” Muhammad’s answer was pithy: “Tie your camel first – then put your trust in Allah.”

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


Sister Simone Campbell: Finally, Affirmation for Nuns

Pope Francis meets members of Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) during a private audience in the pontiff's studio at the Vatican on April 16, 2015.
Osservatore Romano/Reuters Pope Francis meets members of Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) during a private audience in the pontiff's studio at the Vatican on April 16, 2015.

Sister Simone Campbell is the executive director, of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.

We now know that people do understand the value of what we do

I was more than heartened by yesterday’s announcement that the Vatican’s investigation and oversight of the U.S. Catholic nun’s group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), was coming to a close two years earlier than expected. Thankfully, the final report, presented in Rome by officials of LCWR and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, powerfully affirmed the ministry of Catholic sisters in this nation and ended an unneeded investigation that had fostered painful divisions within our church.

The report affirmed what we already knew — and what Pope Francis has eloquently and repeatedly pointed out — namely, that authentic dialogue rather than confrontation is the source of peace-building and reconciliation. Within the report, we also heard more about how U.S. sisters are valued not only because of how we carry out our ministries, but also because there is a deep hunger in this nation for the spiritual nourishment Catholic sisters provide. That was made clear to me personally during the past few years when our “Nuns on the Bus” campaigns traveled thousands of miles, coast to coast, to speak out for federal budget decisions that help people in need, immigration reform, Medicaid expansion, and more. During our journeys we were met by thousands of people eager to show their support and to hear what we sisters have to say about the intersection of faith and social justice.

My hope for the future is that we sisters will continue to be faithful to the love and gratitude we have received from across this nation. When two investigations of U.S. sisters were announced (this one and the “Apostolic Visitation,” which was concluded in a similarly hopeful fashion a few months ago), we received a deluge of support from every corner of the country. We were overwhelmed at times by what we heard and experienced – but also, needless to say, deeply grateful.

We now know that people do understand the value of what we do when we stand in solidarity on a daily basis with people at the margins who must contend with many forms of injustice — economic, racial, and so many more. We stand together and work to overcome injustice because that is the Gospel’s call. That is what our faith demands.

I hope that the value of dialogue will be recognized throughout our church and world. That means dialogue from the beginning, not just dialogue that comes about after a period of confrontation or misunderstanding. We would welcome with gratitude an opportunity to explain who we are and how our actions are a faithful response to what the Gospel calls us to do.

That said, I am personally profoundly grateful for the closing of this recent painful chapter in our church’s history. I am also thankful for the opportunity to live out my faith as a woman religious, knowing that our mission to take the Gospel of love and inclusion into the world has been once again affirmed.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

The 3,000-Year-Old Trick to Being Happy

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Consider the poor

Here is some 3,000-year-old advice on happiness: “Happy is the one who considers the poor” (Psalm 41:1). When we think about people who are more fortunate than we are, we become unhappy. Aspirational perhaps, but not happy.

Yet Americans spend an inordinate amount of time considering the rich. Reality TV shows portray families who are gifted with extravagant wealth. Magazine covers are plastered with the lives of the rich and famous, although rarely do they feature the happiness of the rich and famous. The American formula seems to be: Find someone who should be happy, demonstrate that they are not, shout gleefully.

Granted, it can give you an endorphin kick to see that a princess has anger-management problems or the heir to a fortune trampolines from detox center to detox center. And who doesn’t thrill to the never-tired saga of someone getting cheated on by their lover or hounded by the IRS? Still, schadenfreude, the pleasure we take in the misfortunes of others, carries you only so far. Sooner or later you have to return to your own life, and knowing that rich people are periodically miserable doesn’t really put a spring in your step.

But when we see how truly wretched many others are, we return to our own tables, groaning with food, with gratitude. And, perhaps, with a resolve to help those less fortunate. Directing our attention to the poor may not come naturally to us. Gossip is always about our social equals or superiors. Very few people sidle up to you explaining they have juicy gossip about the “help.” Upstairs doesn’t concern itself very much with downstairs. But maybe we should rethink this societal tendency to “voyeur up.” The Psalmist has it right.

I’ve met many people who work with the poor, and very few of them are unhappy. They may be frustrated at lack of progress, but they don’t have the pouting, resentful jealousies the rest of us develop when we only look at the lives of those who have more than we do.

Social envy has its purposes. The desire to better oneself can arise from seeing how much others have, and, with one’s nose pressed to the glass, dream of one day accomplishing more to make it inside. But motivational stargazing is far less common than simply wistful imagining. And that kind of envy leaves us hollow and unaware of the exuberant blessings in our own lives.

The Bible was right. We should spend more time considering the poor. Better for them. Better for us.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Vatican

Vatican to Host Summit on Climate Change

Pope Francis leads general audience in Vatican City
Baris Seckin—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Pope Francis arrives at St. Peter's square on April 15, 2014 to lead his weekly general audience in Vatican City, Vatican on April 15, 2015.

The move is part of Pope Francis's environmental strategy

The Vatican will host a summit on climate change and sustainability efforts later this month, officials announced on Tuesday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will give the opening address of the “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity” event, and faith and science leaders will give speeches and participate in panels. The goal of the summit is to highlight “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people—especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations,” according to the Vatican’s website.

The summit is part of a larger effort by Pope Francis to bring the Catholic Church into the conversation about sustainability and the environment. The Holy See will write a papal letter to bishops this summer about the Vatican’s position on climate change—a fitting mission for a Pope whose namesake, Francis of Assisi, is the patron saint of the environment.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Would Spare Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Life

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
FBI/AP Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Christopher Hale is executive director at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the co-founder of Millennial.

"Mercy is only way to heal the wounds in Boston"

Last week, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted for his heinous acts in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The verdict itself wasn’t a surprise, as Tsarnaev confessed to the crimes shortly after his arrest in April 2013. The true drama of the case has always lied in the upcoming sentencing phase, when a jury will decide whether or not Tsarnaev will receive the death penalty.

Immediately following the verdict, the Massachusetts Catholic bishops, including Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, released a statement opposing Tsarnaev’s possible execution. Quoting the American bishops’ conference, they wrote “‘no matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.’”

Pope Francis has gone a step further, arguing that life imprisonment itself is a “hidden death penalty” and should be off the table as a means for punishing criminals. His predecessor John Paul II even personally lobbied the late Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan to spare the life of a convicted murderer on death row before the pope’s January 1999 visit to the city.

Bostonians seems to agree with the church’s stance. Recent polling suggests that only 27% of Bostonians believe that Tsarnaev should be put to death. The death penalty has been outlawed in Massachusetts since 1984.

Despite this, the Justice Department decided last year to seek capital punishment against Tsarnaev. As Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig notes, the political calculus was easy: “No administration wants to be the one that went soft on a terrorist.”

But the moral calculus is decidedly more complicated. Why do Pope Francis and the Catholic Church oppose Tsarnaev’s execution?

The original directive comes from God himself. In scripture, God gives Moses as one of the commandments “thou shall not kill.” Of course, not all situations are created equal, and a person who kills someone in self-defense commits neither a crime nor a sin. But the modern-day death penalty is never an act of self-defense.

Critics will argue that imposing the death penalty on Tsarnaev is an act of justice. After all, this is a man responsible for the attack that killed three people, injured 260 others and terrorized a city and the nation for a week. The arguments against the death penalty for Tsarnaev cannot be separated from this reality. They must be made from the context of those who were killed and those who still suffer to this day.

One such voice has recently spoken up, the sister of Sean Collier, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police office who the Tsarnaev twins murdered in the aftermath of the bombing. Jennifer Lemmerman wrote the following on her personal Facebook page:

Whenever someone speaks out against the death penalty, they are challenged to imagine how they would feel if someone they love were killed. I’ve been given that horrible perspective and I can say that my position has only strengthened. It has nothing to do with some pursuit of forgiveness. I can’t imagine I’ll ever forgive him for what he did to my brother, to my family, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life, whether he is on this earth or not. But I also can’t imagine that killing in response to killing would ever bring me peace or justice. Just my perspective, but enough is enough. I choose to remember Sean for the light that he brought. No more darkness.

Lemmerman’s post seems to resonate with the church’s belief that killing another person never brings new life to victims or the families. In the end, it’s clear that the medicine of mercy is only way to heal the wounds in Boston and throughout the nation.

St. Paul tells Corinth that “the wages for sin is death” but that God’s gift in Jesus changes everything. The world and our justice systems often act as if mercy is the lowest form of justice. But Jesus re-imagines the world and turns everything upside down. He teaches us God’s radical truth that mercy is in fact is the highest form of justice.

The pope tells us that “justice can never be wrought by killing a human being” and that God’s justice is “merciful and healing” and allows convicts to experience “inner conversion and contrition.” If the goal of our justice system is to seek revenge against criminals, then Tsarnaev should be executed. But if the goal is to seek justice, then spare his life.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

What India Can Teach Us About Islam and Assimilation

Shikha Dalmia is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation.

What Ayaan Hirsi Ali gets wrong about Muslim immigration

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali, Muslim-born émigré who is one of Islam’s fiercest critics in the West, warned in TIME that Americans should stop thinking of Charlie Hebdo-style massacres as something that “couldn’t happen here.” Sure, America doesn’t have Islamists calling for the “United States of Sharia,” as in Europe. But the Muslim population in America is on track to grow at over twice the rate of that in France over the next 15 years, she maintains. And this is a problem given that even moderate Muslims might be resistant to the American melting pot because they’ll want ultimately to live in a society governed by sharia. Therefore, they may instinctively “turn a blind eye to the use of violence and intimidation tactics…against apostates and dissidents.” And Americans need to wake up from their torpor and confront the threat.

The suggestion that Americans, who have spent trillions on multiple wars and an intrusive “homeland security” apparatus post 9/11, are insufficiently alarmed about Muslim extremism is more than a little bizarre. But setting that aside, how accurate is Hirsi Ali’s suggestion that Muslims are inherently incapable of assimilating in non-Muslim societies?

Not very, if the experience of India, the world’s most populous democracy, is any indication. Muslims make up almost 15% of India’s population, compared to 0.8% in America. And they couldn’t be any more dissimilar to the portrait drawn by Hirsi Ali.

If Hirsi Ali were right about the perennial allure of radicalism for Muslims, India, a country where I grew up and lived before moving to the United States and making Michigan my home, should be Ground Zero for Islamic militancy. Instead, Indian Muslims participate fully and enthusiastically in their nation’s civic and cultural life, including, remarkably, its majoritarian Hindu religious traditions, without experiencing too much cognitive dissonance. As of last year, four of them were known to have joined ISIS — while the total number who may have gone is unknowable, it appears to be far fewer than the numbers in Europe and America that Hirsi Ali plays up. Those known cases may be four too many. However, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, there are always some malcontents in liberal societies who are attracted to illiberal ideologies. Some Americans left for the Soviet Union during the heyday of communism.

Muslims have lived in India for a millennium, first arriving in small pockets as traders and then in large numbers as invaders. They established the Mughal dynasty that ruled the country for 300 years till the Hindu majority took over and established a secular democracy after colonial rule ended in 1947. If Hirsi Ali were correct, the ignominy of being deposed from power and subjected to infidel rule would bring out their worst extremist tendencies.

Instead, India’s Muslims are no more prone to violence than anyone else. Muslim insurgency has broken out in some parts of India like Kashmir. But that’s at least partly a response to an abusive and obtuse central government that has ignored local needs, much like the Sikh separatist Khalistan movement in the 1980s. That’s why George W. Bush famously introduced Manmohan Singh to Laura Bush as “the prime minister of India, a democracy which does not have a single al-Qaida member in a population of 150 million Muslims.”

Rampant prejudice in housing and elsewhere — along with occasional outburst of Hindu nationalist violence — has hindered Muslim progress, relegating Muslims to the lowest socio-economic rungs. Yet, Indian Muslims have avoided the sword and eagerly seized the opportunities afforded to them by their country’s (imperfect) democracy.

Consider: Four Muslims have served as India’s president — a ceremonial but high office reserved for civilians of major accomplishment. One of them, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, played a leading role in developing India’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program with no apparent qualms that he was boosting the military of a nation of infidels. The founder of Wipro, a software giant that is India’s pride and joy, is Azim Premji, a Muslim man. Muslims are among India’s most prominent cricketers, a sport that means even more to India’s national pride than a moon landing may someday.

Muslims are an integral part of every facet of Bollywood, India’s 125-year-old film industry whose open veneration of romantic love is deeply subversive of puritanical Islamic strictures. Indeed, Bollywood’s three top male stars right now are Muslims (all with the last name of Khan) — and Muslim women have always been among Bollywood’s top actresses. Also, some of these stars are among India’s most vocal progressives fighting for the rights of gays, women, and minorities — not to mention sexual liberation.

But nothing speaks more to the depth of Muslims’ cultural assimilation in India than the fact that Muslims have written, composed and sung some of the most popular bhajans or Hindu devotional songs. The late Mohammad Rafi, a Muslim singer who is a household name in India, sang bhajans so poignant and soul stirring that they bring tears to the eyes even of a Hindu-turned-atheist like me. Iqbal, a Muslim poet, wrote the lyrics of arguably the most patriotic song in India that celebrates “Hindustan” as the best nation in the world. More recently, A.R. Rahman, an observant Muslim composer who won an Oscar for his score in Slumdog Millionaire, has recorded the most goose-bump-inducing rendition of Vande Mataram — an ode to the Hindu Motherland. (Conversely, Hindu musicians have created many moving Islamic Qawwalis or Sufi songs dedicated to allah.)

Indian Muslims are proud of their tradition of tolerance and moderation and guard it zealously from Wahhabi influence. They’ve even refused to bury the bodies of Muslim suicide bombers, including the Mumbai attackers, the ultimate punishment because it forever deprives the bombers of a spot in heaven. Indeed, in recent years many Indian Muslims have been fighting tooth-and-nail against Saudi-funded Wahhabis who are trying to take over India’s madrassas and Muslim shrines. Some even submitted a memorandum to Indian authorities demanding that madrassas be reformed to include modern education alongside traditional religious instruction.

In other words, the moral high ground among Indian Muslims is decisively on the side of moderates, not extremists — in complete contradiction to Hirsi Ali’s predictions for America.

Furthermore, notes William Dalrymple, a celebrated British writer who has written extensively about the Islamic world, Indian Muslims are not all that unique. Even in countries where they are the majority, Muslims are often doctrinally flexible, allowing a great deal of give-and-take with other religions and sharing their festivals and sacred spaces (Saudi Arabia and other countries where Islam is the sole religion are a different story). For example, he notes, the Coptic festivals in Egypt attract thousands of Muslims as do many Christian shrines in Syria, such as the pilgrimage church of Our Lady of Seidnaya outside Damascus, which attracts many Muslim couples seeking children. He is a friend of Hirsi Ali, and admires her spirit, yet regards her fears that Islam is inherently — and ineluctably — prone to extremism as “entirely wrong-headed.” Her reading of Islam is colored by her own tragic experience growing up in Somalia (where she endured genital mutilation), he argues, not from a wide-ranging familiarity with Islamic practices. “She has now spent much more of her life in Europe and the Beltway than in the Muslim world,” he says.

All of this suggests that if 150-million-plus Muslims have managed to “melt” in the “pot” of India’s young and fragile democracy without boiling over into violence, they’ll be able to do so in America even more easily, especially given that its democracy is stronger and more established, and their numbers are much smaller. What won’t help, however, is anti-Muslim fear mongering based on a narrative knit from gaudy acts of extremism that fails to take full measure of the broader Muslim reality.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


Missouri Town Repeals Protections for LGBT Residents

Courtesy of PROMO Signs hung at a business in Springfield, Mo., express support for upholding a local non-discrimination measure for LGBT residents, which was repealed on April 7, 2015.

Like recent political battles in Indiana and Arkansas, the fight pitted some religious groups against the LGBT community

Residents in Missouri’s third largest city narrowly voted Tuesday to repeal protections for LGBT residents that had been put in place six months before. The vote in Springfield drew passionate campaigners on both sides, pitting a group of socially-conservative Christians worried that their faith was being steamrolled against supporters of LGBT rights, echoing recent political battles over religious freedom restoration laws in Indiana and Arkansas.

“There’s absolutely disappointment. And there’s absolutely sadness,” says Stephanie Perkins, deputy director of PROMO, a statewide organization that promotes LGBT rights. The election was close and the side fighting to uphold the non-discrimination law was leading for a time, but in the end the law was repealed with 51% of the vote.

In October, Springfield city council voted 6-3 to approve a non-discrimination measure that had first been introduced more than two years earlier. That update to the city’s civil rights law made it illegal to discriminate against people in housing, employment or public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That means that in the hypothetical case of the baker who is asked to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, the baker would be in violation of the law if he or she refused based on disapproval of homosexual relationships. Advocates say the measure would also prevent more “life-altering” discrimination that often goes unreported without a law on the books that prohibits it. “People do get fired for being gay and transgender. People do get evicted from their homes. They do get denied services,” Perkins says. “That’s why these laws are important.” A report from the liberal think tank Center for American Progress puts numbers on these issues.

The organization spearheading the effort to repeal the law, Christians Uniting for Political Action, could not be reached for comment. A leader in their group, Calvin Morrow, previously published this statement articulating his support for repealing the law:

There are many people in Springfield who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle and yet treat everyone the same. If people leave Springfield because many disagree with their lifestyle, they will find those same people wherever they go … Christian businessmen all over the country are being sued for not participating in gay weddings. To serve those types of celebrations violates their consciences … Do we suspend free speech for Christians and use police powers to force compliance?

Lawsuits against such businesses are uncommon, but they resonate with the electorate in Springfield, a traditionally conservative and religious city in the Southwest part of the state. Headquarters for the Assemblies of God are located there, and churches are found on corner after corner. While many religiously motivated residents voted to repeal the law, some congregations came out in support of the measure. Morris has said that position “does not line up with doctrine.”

While those who campaigned to uphold the law were saddened by the results of the election, Perkins says that the experience was heartening overall. Nearly 200 local businesses came out in support the of law, while some evangelical congregations made it clear, for the first time, that they welcomed LGBT worshipers. “In Springfield, to stand up and say that out loud is scary,” says Perkins, who lives in the city.

A statewide non-discrimination measure similar to the now-defunct Springfield law is currently being considered in the Missouri legislature. Advocates like Perkins hope that people brought out to campaign in Springfield might be able to channel their support to that fight. “No one I’ve talked to have said they wanted to give up,” she says. “Yes there’s disappointment, but it’s nothing compared to the hope that has been created in this community.”

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