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Religion & Sectarianism: Islam's Many Reformations

The Middle East's principal religions and sects, how they differ, how and why they clash. Learn about the role of religion in politics, law and society, the difficulty of separating religion from politics, how religious differences have fueled numerous wars, and what it is about Sunnis and Shiites that has them reenacting the Reformation--with Arabic subtitles.

Who Are the Islamists?
Islamism is probably the most powerful political force in the Middle East today. Where does this ideology come from, and how does it relate to Islam?

The Difference Between Alawites and Sunnis in Syria
Are the differences between Alawites and Sunnis doctrinal or political? Read about the Alawite beliefs, their place in the Syrian regime, and their alleged links to Iran.

An overview of Sunni-Shiite hotspots in the Middle East, and what is driving...
An overview of Sunni-Shiite hotspots in the Middle East, and what is driving the tension.

Islamists and the Arab Spring Uprisings
The Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 unleashed great political change in the Middle East. Did Islamist groups participate in the protests? How did they get involved, and how have they benefited from the changes?

What Is the Shiite Crescent?
The Shiite Crescent is a contentious notion of an emerging alliance of Shiite political forces in the Middle East, backed by a resurgent Iran, with the specific aim of countering the Sunni Arab, US-backed states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Salafism in the Middle East
Salafis are ultra-conservative Islamists advocating a religious revival in Muslim societies. What are the origins of their thought? Are all Muslims in the Middle East Salafis? Whas is their connection to Al Qaeda?

The Anti-Sharia Law Movement in the United States
Sharia Law, David Yerushalmi and who's behind the Anti-Sharia law movement in the United States.

Is Sharia Law a Threat to the United States and the West?
A movement to "ban" Sharial law is sweeping the United States. Hysteria? Stereotype? Justifiable prevention? You decide.

What is Blasphemy in Islam
The concept of blasphemy in Islam is contentious, because the holy scriptures offer no unequivocal guidance on the issue.

After bin Laden: Al-Qaeda's Relevance Post Osama
Osama bin Laden's death is only the latest confirmation of al-Qaeda's weakened relevance, and of terrorism's

What Are Hama Rules?
Hama Rules is an expression coined by Thomas Friedman to describe Syria's ruthless repression of dissent, emanating from Hafez el Assad's massacre in Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Hama in February 1982.

Peter King's Islamophobia
Peter King's islamophobia, couched as a hearing on "Muslim radicalization" in the United States, should not command the respect implied by a U.S. congressional committee hearing.

False Fears and Shameless Pandering in Opposition to Ground Z…
Opposition to the mosque at ground zero in New York is grounded in false fears and shameless chauvinism by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.

Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban"
A review of Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban" (2000), still the best book on the origins, history and ideology of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What is the niqab in islamic dress and how is it different from face veils, burqas and hijabs or keffiyehs.

The Muslim Veil: A Guide
Not a week--not a day, at times--passes without some controversy somewhere having to do with the Muslim veil, the burqa, the niqab, even the keffieh, which men like to wear. France, Turkey, Britain and many other nations are tangling with whether to prohibit garments favored by a minority of Muslim women, while some conservative clerics in the heart of Islam--in Egypt--have declared full-body cov…

Sarkozy: National identity, an antidote to sectarianism
The full English text of Nicolas Sarkozy's Le Monde column in defense of the Swiss ban banning minarets, which raises the question: Is Sarkozy an Islamophobe?

Should the Burqa Be Banned? - Burqa Bans and Western Society
From France to Egypt to Turkey, Islamic face-coverings (call them burqas, niqabs, chadors or whatever else) are under assault. Should they be banned?

Burqa or Burqah
Brief definition and description of the burqa, the

Allahu Akbar - Are the Terms Allahu Akbar Fighting Words?
Are the Terms Allahu Akbar Fighting Words? Isn't it offensive to equate the words, as some do, with terrorism and jihadism?

The Muhammad Cartoons: Complete Set
The original set of Muhammad cartoons images that exploded in controversy in 2006, after publication in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Nicolas Sarkozy, France and Islamic Dress
Islam and the West: Nicolas Sarkozy, France and the wearing of the Islamic veil, or burqa.

Michael Jackson in Bahrain: Pop Meets Islam
When Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, re-dicovered Islam in Bahrain to escape the glare of child molestation publicity.

Why Sunni Arab Regimes Fear Democracy in Shiite Iran
Why Sunni Arab regimes, avowed enemies of the Shiite regime in Iran, fear democracy in Iran even more.

Obama Declares an End to Clash of Civilizations
Speaking in Istanbul, Barack Obama declared an end to the Clash of Civilizations, the thesis invented by Samuel Huntington that gave Bush's war on terror its language and rationale.

Netanyahu, Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock
Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Day: Using the rhetoric of an undivided city to further divide Palestinians and Israelis over the Tenple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.

Melkite - Melkites
Brief definition and history of the Melkites (eastern-church Catholics) of the Middle East.

Christians of the Middle East
Country by Country Facts and Figures on Christians of the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Egypt.

Who Are Egypt's Copts and Coptic Christians?
Brief explanation and history of Egypt's Copts and Coptic Christians, minus the misconceptions and misapplications of the terms.

Can Ayatollah Khomeini's Revolution Survive? - Religion and Reality i…
Striking contradictions undermine the roots of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian Revolution, not least of which the joining of temporal (or political) and spiritual leadership under one "Supreme Leader." Can the revolution survive without force?

What's a "Supreme Leader"?
Shiite Islam, the Iranian Revolution and the Concept of Supreme Leader: an invention of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini.

Afghanistan's "Rape Law" and Women's Protests
What Afghanistan's rape law says and how women got stoned protesting it in Kabul.

Why Afghanistan Is the Wrong War: Blasphemy of Human Rights
Blasphemy after blasphemy of human rights, women's rights and civil rights show why Afghanistan is the wrong war. Yet Barack Obama persists in escalating American troops and staking his future on protecting Afghanistan. Why?

Lebanon's Ayatollah Fadlallah, Shiites' (and Hezbollah's) Spiritual Leader
Beyond stereotype: Lebanon's Ayatollah Fadlallah, Hezbollah's spiritual leader. An analysis of the interview with the Wall Street Journal.

What Was the 1977 Hanafi Siege in Washington, D.C.?
Brief history of the Hanafi siege and kidnapping by 12 Black Muslim gunmen of 134 hostages at three locations in Washington, D.C. on March 9-11, 1977.

Learning to Live With Radical Islam
Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria argues that learning to live with radical Islam is the only way to neutralize its deadlier mutant, bin Ladenism and terrorism. Is Zakaria right?

Profile: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, Reformist Cleric
Iran's Mohammed Khatami: Profile of a Reformist Philosopher-Cleric and Iranian President (1997-2005).

How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas
Beginning in the 1970s, Israel helped to spawn Hamas in Gaza in an attempt to counterbalance the influence of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The gamble failed.

Profile: Ayman al Zawahiri
Ayman al Zawahiri's evolution from the comforts of middle class life in Cairo to the crags of Afghanistan and Pakistan as Osama bin Laden's and Al Qaeda's ideological compass: A profile of Ayman al Zawahiri

Twelver Shiites' 12 Imams
A chronology and list of Shiites' Twelve Imams, founders of Islam's Twelver Shiitism, from Ali ibn Abu Talib to the ever-evanescent "mahdi."

Twelver Shiites, or Ithna Ahariyah
Definition of Twelver Shiites, or Ithna ‘Ashariyah or Imamiyah, a major subdivision of of Shiitism's spiritual suburbs.

Definition of Imam, or Khalifah, in Islam.

How Saudi Arabia Discriminates Against Jews
It isn't a secret that Saudi Arabia has long discriminated against Jews, forbidding them to enter the country. Bot for years, the U.S. government complied and enabled Saudi bigotry.

Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque in Mecca
Definition and brief history of Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque, the holiest site in Islam, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

What Is the Muslim Brotherhood?
What Is the Muslim Brotherhood, when was it founded, by whom and to what purpose? A quick explanation of the Ikhwan movement founded by Hasan al-Banna and remade by Syed Qutb.

Brigitte Gabriel, Islamophobe
Brigitte Gabriel is a Lebanese-born Christian who's marketing her experiences in war-torn Lebanon into fear-whipping Islamophobia in the United States.

Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 Fatwa on Salman Rushdie Over "The Satanic ...
The actual words Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini spoke in his death sentence fatwa on Indian author Salman Rushdie over Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" in 1989.

Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses": Excerpts of Controversial Passages
Excerpts, quotes and explanations of some of the most controversial passages from Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses."

An Appraisal of Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses"
An appraisal of Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" on the novel's 20th anniversary.

Timeline of the Salman Rushdie Affair Over "The Satanic Verses"
A timeline of the Salman Rushdie Affair over "The Satanic Verses" from 1988 to the present, including Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa, or death sentence, on Rushdie and its consequences.

The Satanic Verses in Islamic History
An explanation of the Satanic verses in Islamic history (as opposed to "The Satanic Verses" by Salman Rushdie): What were the verses, why did Muhammad utter them? did he really utter them?

Glossary: Zakat or alms-giving
Zakat, or alms-giving, is one of the five pillars of Islam, the five duties required of every practicing Muslim.

What Is Ramadan? A Social and Historical Explanation of Islam's Holy Month
Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim lunar calendar. For those 29 or 30 days, Muslims, as a spiritual exercise designed to bring them closer to God through contemplation and humility, but not without joy and festivities, are required to abstain from food, drink and sex of any sort during daylight hours.

The Five Pillars of Islam
The five pillars of Islam are the five duties required of every practicing Muslim. Sunnis believe in the Five Pillars. Shiites do as well, though they add two or three. An historical explanation.

Glossary: Hijab, or Veil (Burqah, Chador)
A definition of the many meanings and applications of the Arabic word hijab, or veil, in the Middle East and the Islamic world.

Glossary: Mahdi Army
Definition of the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia founded by Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr in August 2003.

Images and the Prophet Muhammad: What Do the Koran and Islam Say?
Muslim tradition generally prohibits the representation of the human figure in art. But does the Koran actually ban representations of Muhammad or others?

Al-Qaeda, Al Jazeera, and the Muhammad Cartoons Controversy
Danish newspapers' decision to reprint a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban re-ignites the controversy. Al-Qaeda and Al-Jazeera weigh in, with ominous results.

The False Seductions of Wafa Sultan
The more serious problem with Sultan is how she has taken her fame — based on some necessary observations about present-day Islam — and turned it into a sword that sees Islam and the Koran as exclusively evil, backward, repressive.

Malcom X in Mecca
It was in mecca that Malcolm X experienced the epiphany that would change his worldview, away from hatred for whites and toward a more universal brotherhood of men--but a brotherhood possible only under Islam.

Glossary: Ihram
Definition of Ihram, the state of purity required of Muslim pilgrims before conducting the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Does the Quran Require Women to Wear the Veil?
The veil is one of the most contentious issues in Islam and the Western world. But is the veil, or any form of head covering, actually required by the Quran, or is it an Islamic convention?

Iraq: The Kurdish Question
What is Kurdistan? Who are the Kurds? Where are they located? What are they after? And is Iraqi Kurdistan the first step toward an independent Kurdish nation?

Return of Repression in Afghanistan - Afghanistan's Taliban-Lite Repression
The ouster of Afghanistan's brutal Taliban regime in 2001 was supposed to usher in freedom and democracy respectful of civil liberties and human rights. Reality is proving assumptions wrong.

The Muslim Veil and the Law in Europe, the United States and Canada
A country-by-country look at where the Islamic veil may be worn in public schools and universities, and where it's banned or restricted.

Glossary: Mujahidin, Mujahid
Definition of the Arabic word for "one who engages in jihad," or "warrior of God."

Glossary: Jihad
A definition of the Arabic word for "holy war," one of the most mis-applied and misunderstood words in the Islamic lexicon.

Glossary: Surah
Definition of the Arabic word surah, or "chapter."

Glossary: Wahhabism, or Wahhabiyah
A definition of Wahhabism, founded by Muhammad Ibn al-Wahhab, the rigid interpretation of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabian society.

Glossary: Ashura
Definition of Ashura, day of the commemoration of the martyrdom of Husayn, Muhammad's grandson and the third imam of Shiite Islam.

Glossary: Sharia or Shariah
A definition of Sharia, or Islamic law, with background on historical and contemporary practices

The Difference Between Sunnis and Shiites
The difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam, the origins of the split between the two sects, and demographics about the two sects throughout the Middle East.

The Muhammad Cartoons Controversy
In 2005, a Danish newspaper published a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons were of astonishingly bad taste. The newspaper's point was to test freedom of expression. The Islamic world didn't see it that way. Repercussions have been far-reaching.

Official Web Site of A Common Word
138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals have unanimously come together to declare common grounds between Christianity and Islam, with an open letter to the world's churches. Every denomination and school of thought in Islam is represented, as is every major Islamic country. This is the movement's Web site.

How to Understand Islam
A review essay by Malise Ruthven, author of several books on Islam, covering several new books on Islam and secularism, Islam's ongoing reformation, and the anti-Islamism of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ground Zero Mosque: Should It Be Built? - Does a Mosque Belong Near G…
The proposal to build a $100 million, 13-story mosque two blocks from ground zero is provoking heated reactions. Should the mosque be built there?

Who Is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Man Behind the Ground Zero Mosque?
Brief profile and background on Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is at the heart of the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque in Lower Manhattan.

What Is the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar?
Description and brief history and purpose of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, designed by I.M. Pei

Saudi Arabia's Dismal Human Rights and Civil Liberties Record
Saudi Arabia's human rights record, along with its civil liberties record, continues to be dismal.

Middle East Response to “Innocence of Islam” Film
A film depicting Prophet Mohammed in an unfavorable light triggered the worst anti-Western unrest in the Middle East since the Mohammed’s cartoons controversy in 2005. Read who's behind the protests.

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