Specific notes of hope, along with the horrors in Nigeria

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I don’t want to turn this into a trend, or anything. Heaven forbid. However, the honorable Bobby Ross Jr. just produced a positive post (horrors) about a news report on Nigeria in The Wall Street Journal and now I am going to do the same thing (horrors 2.0) about a news feature in The Washington Post, also about recent events in Nigeria.

Why “horrors”?

Primarily because, as a rule, GetReligion readers rarely forward or plug positive posts in social media and the same general principle applies, alas, for digital networking when a topic is linked to foreign news topics. So positive reports about foreign news? That’s very bad for social-media statistics.

But here we go again. In this case, it is also no big surprise that I am praising a news report by veteran Post foreign correspondent Pamela Constable, who over the years, including in her books, has shown a high degree of sensitivity to the role of religion in other cultures, especially when touching on topics linked to women and family life.

Thus, I recommend to all her story that ran under this headline: “Ni­ger­ian blasts, likely intended to foster discord, instead promote unity.”

The basic theme is stated right here in the headline. What makes the story work are the careful details. In particular, I liked how she illustrated one of the important trends in Nigeria that rarely shows up in mainstream reports, which is the degree to which an explosion of Pentecostal Christianity has changed the face of Christianity in many parts of Africa.

Thus, we are talking about a head-on collision between to growing, driven forms of faith — Pentecostal Christianity and more intense forms of Islam — in the line between southern and northern Nigeria is the ultimate religious and tribal crossroads. So there are positive developments in the wake of the Jos market bombings? Really?

While both Muslim and Christian residents here Wednesday acknowledged their history of mutual grudges and resentments, they expressed similar revulsion and anger at the bombing. Many instantly attributed it to the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram, which has staged other attacks in this region but has not claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s blasts.

“To be honest, there is still some suspicion between Muslims and Christians here. We don’t generally get together, but none of us believe in this insanity,” said Michael Tyem, 22, a Christian working with a crew to pick up rubble. “We know these terrorists want to divide us and destroy our country. It cannot be allowed to happen.”

OK, here come some of the specifics that caught my eye:

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No ghosts in WSJ’s thorough report on Nigerian bombings

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Last week, I criticized a front-page Wall Street Journal profile of a Nigerian terror group leader. The otherwise enlightening report missed a key element in the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls — the Christian faith of the vast majority of them.

This week, the same Journal correspondent covered the bombings that killed more than 100 people in that West African nation and absolutely nailed the religion angle.

This praiseworthy breaking news report gets right to the point:

ABUJA, Nigeria — Three bombs struck the crowded city of Jos in quick succession on Tuesday, aid workers said, killing at least 118 people and putting one of Africa’s most religiously divided cities back on edge.

Religiously divided how? Read on, and the Journal explains in great detail.

Like the Journal, the New York Times highlights the Christian-Muslim tensions in Jos. But while the Times simply references the tensions, the Journal provides context and depth to help readers understand the religious factors at play.

Just one revealing section of the Journal’s story:

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How to ‘make sense’ of a Muslim ‘atrocity’?

MICHAEL’S QUESTION:

As a “religious pluralist,” Michael needs to “somehow make sense of the seemingly (in many other instances) peace-loving and merciful Muhammad simultaneously being involved in what in all honesty appears quite atrocious.” He refers to Muslims killing 400 to 1,000 Arabian Jews after winning the pivotal Battle of the Trench in 627 (C.E.).

THE RELIGION GUY RESPONDS:

April’s mass kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram has alarmed multitudes. These insurgents claim to champion true Islam, but leaders of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (sort of a Muslim United Nations) have denounced Boko Haram for violating teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad.

History is full of battles with disputed religious aspects, and the past century added the phenomenon of anti-religious powers committing unimaginable atrocities.

Michael is concerned about the earliest such Muslim controversy over a battle in Medina, named for the Prophet Muhammad’s clever tactic of digging a trench to hobble enemy horsemen. After a long siege, the victorious Muslims killed all the town’s Jewish men, reportedly by beheading, seized their properties and consigned the women and children to slavery. The battlefield triumph and subsequent slaughter assured Muslim control of Medina and aided the capture of Mecca and unification of Arabia under one faith.

Michael says it’s hard to know what to think because information comes from either “pro” or “anti” Muslim sources. Actually, a Muslim wrote the only contemporary account but the Prophet’s defenders say the version that survived is unreliable. Still, though body counts vary there’s general agreement on events among non-Muslim historians and such western Muslim authors as Cyril Glasse. Also note the Quran 33:25-27.

When Muhammad’s Hijra (“Flight”) took him from Mecca to Medina, three Jewish tribes lived there alongside pagan Arabs. The Jews and Muslim newcomers were friendly at first, but relations deteriorated as Jews resisted appeals to convert and sometimes ridiculed the Prophet. The Muslims eventually drove two of the Jewish tribes into exile, leaving the Qurayzah (or Quraiza or Kuraiza) Jews, who allied with pagans against Muhammad, culminating in this battle.

Muslims contend that the Qurayzah broke a pact with Muhammad, secretly conspired with the pagans, and so were properly punished for treason. Muhammad referred the verdict to Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, a heroic Muslim convert who was dying of battle wounds. Islam’s own Hadith traditions indicate that the Prophet chose Sa’d, agreed with his verdict, could have overruled him, and thus bears responsibility for the outcome. Glasse states that Sa’d decided “the adult men should be put to death and the women and children sold into slavery.” (He does not mention beheading.) To this day Jews (also Christians) are barred from entering Medina.

Michael is especially upset because Muhammad’s involvement contrasts markedly with the moral examples of the Buddha and Jesus. Muslims can argue that it’s unfair to compare Muhammad with the founders of Buddhism and Christianity because he was the supreme political and military ruler with duties toward his community, whereas the other two were teachers who never sought such powers.

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Persecution in India: It matters only if it’s about Muslims

Nice to know the New York Times cares so much about religious freedom in India — at least for Muslims.

“For Nation’s Persecuted Muslim Minority, Caution Follows Hindu Party’s Victory,” warns a headline in an 1,100-plus-word story on that nation’s elections Friday. And the newspaper wastes no time in sympathizing, with these as the third and fourth paragraphs:

Discrimination against Muslims in India is so rampant that many barely muster outrage when telling of the withdrawn apartment offers, rejected job applications and turned-down loans that are part of living in the country for them. As a group, Muslims have fallen badly behind Hindus in recent decades in education, employment and economic status, with persistent discrimination a key reason. Muslims are more likely to live in villages without schools or medical facilities and less likely to qualify for bank loans.

Now, after a landslide electoral triumph Friday by the Bharatiya Janata Party of Hindu nationalists, some Muslims here said they were worried that their place in India could become even more tenuous.

The article then quotes an amazing nine sources: journalists, small businessmen, even a professor in London. They remind us of modern India’s violent birth in 1947, when most Muslims were split off into Pakistan. They tell about housing discrimination, with some Hindus even complaining that Muslim neighbors would lower property values.

The sources tell about 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, who died in riots in 2002 in Gujarat, Modi’s home state in India. (However, Modi was personally cleared of any participation.) And a member of the “liberal intelligentsia,” as the Times calls him, fears that Modi is a “threat to India’s secularism.”

All that is certainly newsworthy stuff when 15 percent of all Indians belong to the world’s second-largest religion. Helping nearly 190 million people feel safer is a good idea. But what about the safety of Indian Christians and other religious minorities?

Sure, they may amount to less than 28 million Indians, but they’re members of the world’s largest religion — which, of course, is the majority of the Times’ American readers. Yet a search of recent Times stories, especially connected with the election, shows no such concern for them.

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About those Nigerian Christian girls, chanting in Arabic

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As I have said many times, I have no idea how foreign correspondents do the work that they do, especially when working in regions that are being torn apart by civil war and complex events linked to terrorism. While readers tend to see events in terms of good guys and terrorists, the reporters on the ground know that reality is much more complex than that.

The events unfolding in the overwhelmingly Muslim northeast corner of Nigeria are a perfect example of this, once you dig deeper than the Twitter #bringbackourgirls hashtag and the vague words of various government spokespersons.

Consider, for example, the role of Islam on both sides of this story. Over and over, your GetReligionistas note the accuracy of the post-9/11 media mantra “there is no one Islam.” That is absolutely true, yet many journalists have hesitated to cover the complex and often violent divisions inside this major world religion.

Think this through for a minute. At the very least, you have four different “Muslim” camps in this kidnapping story.

* Obviously, you have Boko Haram and its hellish, truly radical take on sharia law and Islam.

* Then you have, at the other extreme, the small number of Muslim families who were willing to enroll their daughters in the non-Islamic Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, in a heavily Christian corner of the primarily Muslim northern half of Nigeria. A dozen or more of the kidnapped girls were Muslims, while the vast majority have been identified as Christians or animists.

* However, it’s important to remember that many radical Islamists in Nigeria and abroad — those who seek a strong form of sharia law — clearly oppose Boko Haram’s fiercely violent methods and have rejected, in particular, the kidnapping of these girls. So that’s a third camp.

* Finally, there are those who could be called the mainstream Muslims of northern Nigeria, those who work with the regional government, the local police and the military. I do not know quite how to describe their faith perspective, but it clearly represents an approach different than the various Islamist groups. Yes, this could overlap with the viewpoint of the Muslim parents in my second camp.

Why bring this up? This past week, I read two news reports that seemed to offer radically different, even clashing, takes on a crucial recent development, the release of the video claiming to show some of the kidnapped girls, wearing hijabs and chanting Islamic prayers in Arabic. One story ran in The New York Times and the other at a religious outlet, Baptist Press. First, here is a crucial section of the Times piece, the lede anecdote:

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Reuters: On apostasy and the death penalty in Islam

A 27-year-old woman, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, has been sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy by a Khartoum court. That fact, plus her marital and family status (pregnant mother with a 20-month-old child and a Christian husband) are about the only things about which the newspaper accounts agree.

Reuters’s account conflicts with those offered by some Christian NGOs and differ from the BBC and NBC, whose reports on the case appear to be based upon a press release provided by Amnesty International. Reuters also enters into this story with an assumption about Islamic law and the penalty for apostasy, writing as if all apostates from Islam are to be treated in the same way.

There is the shock value to Western eyes of the death sentence for apostasy. But this story should also trouble Muslim readers for what Reuters reports about Sudanese sharia law is at odds with Islamic jurisprudence. Not only is the sentence barbaric — but unjust from a Western and Islamic perspective.

The lede to the Reuters story as printed in the Daily Mail states:

A Sudanese court gave a 27-year-old woman who is eight-months pregnant with her second child, until Thursday to abandon her newly adopted Christian faith and return to Islam or face a death sentence. 

All accounts I’ve seen agree with Reuters up to the point where the wire service writes: “her newly adopted Christian faith.”

The key word here is “newly” — for this word controls Ibrahim’s fate under sharia.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports Ibrahim is not a new Christian.

Mrs Ibrahim was born in Western Sudan to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left the family when she was six years old and she was subsequently brought up as a Christian by her mother. Under Shari’a law in Sudan, Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men. Moreover, since Mrs Ibrahim’s father was a Muslim, she is considered to be a Muslim, rendering her marriage to Mr Wani invalid.

Mrs Ibrahim testified before the court on 4 March that she is a Christian, showing her marriage certificate, where she is classified as Christian, as proof of her religion.

NBC reports her accusers say she was legally born a Muslim, reared as a Christian, became a Muslim as an adult and then returned to Christianity.

She told the court in the capital Khartoum that she had been raised by her mother as an Orthodox Christian, but the court said there was no evidence of this beyond 2005 and that she had recently converted from Islam.

Reuters offers conclusions of law, which are also questionable. It writes:

Meriam is a Muslim by default because she was born in Sudan.

That cannot be true. There is a Christian minority in the Sudan — Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and members of African Independent Churches. In an article I wrote on sharia law in the Sudan a few years back I reported:

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WSJ profiles Nigerian terrorist with no mention of ‘Christians’

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Is there a religion angle on the heartbreaking story of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls?

Of course there is, as GetReligion has made clear in previous posts, including tmatt’s insightful analysis titled “So #bringbackourgirls is finally a news story! Why now?”

From that post:

The bottom line: The girls were taken from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School and the vast majority were Christians and the others were Muslims who were willing to attend a non-Islamic school with Christians, a violation of Boko Haram’s vision of true Islam.

So when a top Wall Street Journal editor touted that newspaper’s front-page profile of the terror group’s leader, I was curious to see if the story would reflect the important role of religion. (Tip: If you get the subscriber-only version when you click the link, Google the headline and you should be able to open the full story.)

Let’s start at the top:

ABUJA, Nigeria — When he appeared in a video on Monday boasting of having abducted more than 200 schoolgirls, the leader of terror group Boko Haram took the occasion to egg on the U.S. Army and get in a dig at ancient Egypt.

“We don’t fear any American troops,” shouted Abubakar Shekau, whose Islamist insurgency has terrorized northern Nigeria and recently drawn search-and-rescue advisers from the U.S. and other countries. “Let even the Pharaoh himself be sent down here! We will deal with him squarely!”

Bombastic and bellicose, Mr. Shekau has shown a boundless appetite for celebrity. He has sought to achieve it through mass murder and most notably through the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in April from a boarding school in the country’s north.

By boasting—and laughing—about these deeds on YouTube, often with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder, Mr. Shekau has attained the distinction that has long eluded him: Africa’s most notorious terrorist.

“He seems to want to distinguish himself by the depth of his brutality,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former counterterrorism chief at the State Department who is currently director of Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. “It is a big part of his calling card.”

Way up high, there’s the reference to “Islamic insurgency.”

A little deeper in the story, the Journal provides this important background:

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Missing elements in NYTimes marital rape report from India

Marriage was a hot topic this week in the Indian press following rulings by two Delhi Courts. The High Court held that apostasy was automatic grounds for granting a divorce under the country’s Muslim Marriage Act, while the Court of Additional Sessions in Delhi ruled that there was no such thing as “marital rape” under Indian civil law and the Hindu Marriage Act.

Religion — in this case the intersection of Hinduism and Islam — played a prominent role in the reporting of the first story. But it was absent from overseas reports on the second. The Hindu reported that a Muslim wife who quits her faith for another may be granted an automatic divorce from her Muslim husband.

A Division Bench of the High Court, rejecting an appeal of one Munavvar-ul-Islam against a decree of a family court in Saket, has held that dissolution of his marriage with Rishu Arora, who first converted to Islam but later reconverted to her original religion, was valid under the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939.

“It is an admitted fact that the respondent (Rishu) was initially professing Hinduism and had embraced Islam prior to the marriage, and then reconverted to Hinduism. … The trial court was right in specifying that the marriage stands dissolved from the date on which the respondent apostatised from Islam,” stated the Bench, comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Najmi Waziri, in its 30-page verdict delivered on Friday.

The Indian Express’s lede typifies the interpretation of the ruling.

One’s religious faith is above any law, the Delhi High Court has ruled while granting divorce to a girl who converted to Islam for marriage and then reconverted to her original religion.

The New York Times picked up the marital rape story, running a piece on page A7 of its May 13 print edition entitled: “India: Court Rules That Marital Sex, Even When Forced, Is Not Rape.”

The Times story, which was reprinted by some Indian outlets, comes down on the side of the wife, while other Indian newspapers were skeptical of the claims made in her pleading. The Times wrote:

NEW DELHI – A Delhi court has ruled that sex between a husband and wife, “even if forcible, is not rape.” The judge’s decision, which was made public Saturday, upheld section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which does not recognize “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age,” as rape.

Last October, a Delhi woman filed a complaint against a man she accused of drugging her, abducting her and taking her to Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, to register their marriage. Afterward, she told the court, he raped her.

The judge in the case wrote that there was “no clinching or convincing evidence on record to show that the accused had administered any stupefying substance.” The man accused in the case said that the couple was married in 2011 at the woman’s home in Delhi in the presence of her family, and that they had decided to register with the court only last year on the insistence of the woman. He also said, according to court documents, that the rape complaint was filed by the woman under pressure from her family members, who were not in favor of their marriage.

The Indian Express came down on the side of the husband. Adding these details:

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