Cedar Crest College Week 6 World Religions Questions Discussion

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Question 1-

As noted in the lecture, Islam is covers both familiar and unfamiliar territory. What was the single most interesting thing you learned in this week’s reading? What struck you as different or notable? How is Islam related to any of the religions we have previously studied?


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Question 2-

One of the supplemental videos is from Irshad Manji, a Muslim feminist who writes on issues of liberty and rights from a Muslim perspective. This video is one of the best explanations I have ever heard of relativism and pluralism. Relativism and pluralism represent ethical stances one can take. Some people argue that in a diverse society, such as our own, relativism is the only stance one can take. After watching the video, explain both relativism and pluralism. Which stance does she advocate for and why? How would taking this stance allow us to engage in hard conversations with other religions and cultures?


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With two responses to two students, one short paragraph each.

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REL104 Lecture 6 BSN Islam is the last religion we will study. I hope that you see how it is related to Judaism and Christianity (all three are connected to Abraham). Some elements of Islam should be similar: it is an ethical monotheism and shares some stories that are found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Some elements are also different: Muhammad represents the “seal of the prophets” meaning that he has been given God’s final revelation. From the view point of Islam, the prophets of Hebrew scripture are important because they shared God’s message for their time. Likewise, Jesus is considered an important prophet, but not the Son of God. In fact, considering Jesus divine is akin to idolatry for Muslims. In this line, Muhammad is the prophet who brings God’s final, perfect word, but, Muhammad himself is NOT divine. He is a human prophet specially picked by God. Much was (and is) mad of the fact that Muhammad was unlearned and illiterate. This was important because it helped to verify that his revelation was truly that of God. For the Muslim, Islam is not a very complicated religion. Follow the 5 pillars, keep the creed (Shahadah) top in your mind and try to act in a way that is expected of the supremely Holy God’s followers. Islam has a very ethical dimension and is founded squarely in the revelation related by the Qur’an. Islam then also has a prophetic orientation towards the sacred. Humans can know God’s will, because God’s will has been sent down in the form of the Qur’an. Basic understanding of Islam is particularly important in today’s world. As we speak, there is a group of Sunni militants sweeping out of Syria and into Iraq who have formed a new Caliphate (ISIS). They want to ignore national borders and institute a new Islamic state in the style of the historical Caliphates discussed in the book. It is important to note that not all of the people in this area agree with them. Also, this past summer, Gaza exploded because of Islamic and Jewish extremism. Not all Palestinians agree with Hamas, but they are also treated as less-than-human by Israelis. I do not have the answers to these questions, but before any of us can even truly understand world events, we should understand how Islam views itself. We also have to realize that Islam is not monolithic. Just like every other religion we have studied, there are different ways to be Muslim. The majority of Muslims, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, are not extremists. The majority of Muslims are trying to live their life in a manner that helps them “submit” to God’s will by leading good, ethical lives. In the West we have to find a way to understand Islam so that we do not automatically marginalize a group of people out of fear. Lecture notes for sections 12-1 through 12-3 (Some spellings are different from the book.) 1. Islam-We’ve mentioned this before, but Islam is one of the three Western monotheistic traditions: Judaism (oldest), Christianity, Islam (youngest). All 3 consider themselves linked to Abraham. Judaism-covenant with Abraham, Christianityimportant prophet, paved way for Jesus, Islam-Abraham is the father of Ishmael, with his wife’s handmaid Hagar. 2. Islam-“submission” to Allah, Muslim-“the one who submits to Allah”. We should also note that Islam is also related to “Salam” the Arabic word for peace. In the Muslim worldview, there is a connection between submission and obedience to God and peace. Islam is very dependent on the revelation given to the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad is not considered divine; he is the last, final prophet of the one God. (We cannot compare the prophet to Jesus, son of God, in Christianity.) He was the recipient of a revelation that completes those given to the Jewish and Christian prophets. Muhammad then is the “seal of the prophets;” his revelation completes and corrects all other prophecies. 3. Muhammad-570-632CE. Born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is the holiest city in Islam. We have 2 sources for knowledge of Muhammad: Qur’an “recitation”, Hadiths-“recollections,” collection of remembrances and stories of the prophet by his earliest followers. He was born into a geographic area with a lot of religious ferment going on around him: Judaism, Christianity (various interpretations of these) and other traditions. There were many competing beliefs and ideas. Mecca was already a holy city and a place of pilgrimage before the beginning of Islam. The shrine in Mecca is the Kaaba/Kabah-it is a black square shrine that houses a meteorite that had fallen to earth a long time before Muhammad. The meteorite was believed to be sacred and sent from Heaven (it is still a sacred spot). People came to worship at the Kabah before Muhammad. Muhammad was orphaned at a young age. His father died before he was born, mother died when he was a child. He was sent to live with his grandfather, who died soon after, and then he was sent to live with his uncle-Abu Talib, who was an important protector. He became a caravan driver for a wealthy widow named Khadijah-they were married (595 CE) she was 15+ years older than he, but they had many children. (She was a very stabilizing influence in his life). He had no sons that survived to adulthood; this becomes an important issue in question of succession to Muhammad. With no sons, who succeeds him? He was a very pious and religious person. He spent much time in prayer and meditation (within the religious traditions of his area, there was belief in a supreme God, Allah). 610 CE-Muhammad went to a cave on Mt. Hira to pray and received his first revelation. He encountered the angel Gabriel who revealed the word of Allah. His life is forever changed from this moment. At first he doubts what had happened, but his wife encouraged him to accept the revelations and to believe the truth of what was happening to him: These revelations are true communications from God, and the true words of God. His friends and family believed what was happening to him, and they became the first Muslims. 4. Muhammad’s revelations-collected to become the Qur’an: a. radical monotheism-“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet” (shahadah) (creed), rejects Christian belief in God as trinity (similar to Jewish Shema) b. anti-idolotry-all other gods are rejected as false c. iconoclastic-prohibition against images and statues (similar to Judaism, and to some forms of Christianity). God cannot be pictured/imaged in any way (“no graven images”Judaism, no crucifixes in the Presbyterian tradition) Mosques-beautiful, but no decoration that is an image of God or of the prophet. d. prohibition against usury-lend money at interest, you can’t make money on other people’s misfortune. e. importance of honoring contracts-you are duty bound to keep them (we can see, like Judaism, Islam is a religion with a strong moral/ethical code) The last two teaching were unpopular during Muhammad’s time! Mecca was also a large economic center (trade and businesses that sprung up around the holy site) and people regularly made money from usury and breaking contracts. People in Mecca begin to threaten Muhammad, because his teaching threatened their money. 620 CE-the “night journey” or “night of ascent”-he experiences being carried from Mecca to Jerusalem where guided by Gabriel, he ascends to heaven. He meets angels and prophets (Abraham and Jesus) and finally he is brought into the presence of Allah. This experience confirms for Muhammad that he is indeed a messenger of God and that he is receiving God’s revelations. 622 CE-flees Mecca, goes to Medina-“city of the Prophet” (3 holiest cities in Islam: Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem) In Medina, Muhammad establishes the first Muslim community and the first mosque. This is why 622 is considered year 1 in the Muslim calendar. Muhammad returns to Mecca in 630, and defeats the forces of the city and begins to institutionalize his religious ideals. He dies in 632. 5. After Muhammad’s death, Islam spread rapidly into many regions; however, because he had no sons who survived to adulthood there was a problem with deciding who his legitimate successor was. Caliph-originally prayer leader, but became political and spiritual leader. 1st-Abu Bakr-close friend of Muhammad, father of his youngest wife, Muhammad asked him to succeed him as prayer leader, died 2 years later. 2nd-Umar-assassinated 3rd-Uthman-most likely assassinated 4th-Ali-Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, married Muhammad’s daughter Fatima All three of these Caliphs were assassinated because of internal dissention over the issue of successor. This happened as the religion spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Northern Africa and Spain. 6. The problem with succession led to a fundamental division in Islam: Shi’a (Shi’ites)-“party” approx. 15% of Muslims Sunna (Sunnis)-“tradition” approx. 80-85% (3rd group, Sufi, very small division) Shi’ites-party of Ali (4th Caliph); these Muslims felt he should have been the 1st and only Caliph during this time. After Ali’s assassination, the Shi’ite faction felt that his 2 sons, Hasan, Husayn should succeed him as Caliph. -Hasan renounced his claim (but was still killed) and Husayn was killed in 680 CE in the Battle of Karbala (Iraq). He was battling a rival clan for leadership of Islam. Shiite Muslims regard Husayn as a martyr. -For Shi’ites, legitimate succession to Muhammad is hereditary-Ali was a cousin and son-inlaw, this establishes a legitimate bloodline to Muhammad. The bloodline insures a God-given spiritual power (Light of Muhammad) which is passed onto the legitimate successor. -Most Shi’ites agree to 12 legitimate successions (Imams) who are the religious specialist who possess the Light of Muhammad. The last of these Imams, Muhammad al-Mahdi, disappeared around 900 CE. They believe that he did not die, but is “hidden” and inspires the leaders of the Shi’ite tradition. He will return and a new messianic age will come into being. (Similar belief to Judaism-suffering servant, king messiah; Christianity-Jesus coming again). Al-Mahdi is believed to be sinless, hence his special role in ushering in the new age of peace. -Shi’ite Islam is found in Iran (majority), Iraq (majority), and Lebanon (Hesbola) but it is the minority version of Islam. -Ayatollah-a term only used in Shi’ite Islam to represent the most important Imam; this is who al-Mahdi influences. Sunnis-majority of Islam, believe that they best keep the Islamic tradition found in the Qur’an and the hadiths. The predominant history of Islam is Sunni. -Iraq-Sunnis are a minority there. Part of the recent struggle in Iraq is due to the fact that Sadam Hussein’s Sunni minority ruled the Shi’ite majority. Once he was deposed, the Shi’ite majority struck back at the Sunni’s for years of marginalization. -Saudi Arabia-predominantly Sunni (Mecca is there). -Egypt-large Sunni influence especially due to the Islamic scholars from Egyptian universities. Scholarly debate has always been an important part of the Islamic tradition, particularly for Sunni Muslims. -Sunnis do not follow the hereditary succession of Shi’ites, hence, anyone can become an Imam, if he is learned in Islamic tradition. Sufi mysticism-Like all mysticism, Jewish and Christian, the goal of the Muslim mystic is union with the divine. This can be viewed in a suspicious manner in a religion such as Islam because of how sacred and transcendent God is viewed to be. -Sometimes this union is spoken of with the language of erotic love, because it is the closest human language we have to speak of God the Lover and we the beloved. -Intoxicated, ecstatic Sufism had problems with the main religious leaders because of the statements of its practitioners. Like Christianity before it, Islam is very suspicious of people identifying themselves with God, so when a mystic makes statements that seem to be about himself that are reserved for God, he/she will be in trouble. -Sober Sufism is the spiritual side of Islam that many Muslims practice, much as Christians might practice different spiritual practices within their own Christian denomination. Essentially, the Muslim who uses Sufism as a spiritual practice is obligated to remember God. This becomes as second-nature as breathing and grounds the person in relation to God and God’s morality. -From the example of the video on whirling dervishes, Sufism is related very much to the practices that come from many indigenous traditions. As you will recall from the 2nd week, many shamanistic religions use techniques to enter a trance and bring them closer to the spirit world. In many ways, this is what Sufism and dervishes do. The spinning allows the practitioner to enter a trance like state and become closer to God. 7. Islamic philosophy-While not directly covered in the reading, it is important to take a look at Islamic philosophy. As noted in the reading, from about 900-1285, Islam controlled large cultural and educational centers. Islamic thinkers made discoveries in math, science and philosophy that were far ahead of Europe (it was still in the Dark Ages). During this time, Islamic philosophy moved in a liberal direction. -Islamic philosophers hypothesized that humans had innate, God-given abilities to use reason and intellect to seek answers to ultimate questions. -More conservative philosophers started to become suspicious of reason as they saw it as the occasion for human pride in seeking the hidden things of God. Islam has a radical monotheism and God is ultimately transcendent, so seeking knowledge about God is considered dangerous. -These two schools of philosophical thought resulted in different interpretations of the Qur’an: -If you feel that human freedom and reason are God given and are meant for you to ponder deeper, you may feel that the Qur’an should be read more metaphorically, and interpretation should allow for development for new situations. -If you feel that human reason is suspect and that we should leave the ultimate questions unanswered in view of God’s will, you will read the Qur’an as a literal, completely definitive document with no room for, or need to, adapt to contemporary situations. Rather, it is the contemporary situations that should adapt to the words of the Qur’an. -Theological and philosophical debate split Islam as much as the political/tribal issues did. This is one reason why Islamic thought “stopped” in the 13th century. This is the anti-rationalist reaction that much of Islam is still mired in. Lecture notes for sections 12-4 through 12-6 8. Ethics-It is important to understanding Islam that it is a religion with a highly ethical/moral component. This is similar to Judaism and Christianity. God is utterly transcendent; God is all holy, loving and all-powerful. This requires a high level of holiness on the part of the people who follow God. Holiness is best shown through prayer, worship and, most importantly, in how people treat one another. This is called orthopraxy. This is where the ethical demands of religion come into play. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, believes that people live in a world full of good and evil choices, and that devotion to God means making good choices. Islam also takes a very interesting view of God. God is both incredibly involved in all of daily life and completely transcendent, meaning human actions do not affect God; rather they affect humans in their proper submission to God’s will. 9. Allah-The God-not God’s name; we cannot limit God to one name, because God is called by all things great and holy, and even those names don’t scratch the surface of what God is. However, Allah is personal, God cares and is interested in the life of his creation. Allah is referred to in male terms, but Allah is genderless. 10. 5 pillars (pillars that support one’s faith)-Moral basics of Islam 1. Creed (Shahadah)-“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” This is everywhere: it is heard in the call to prayer, it is written in mosques, and it is mentioned in casual, everyday conversation. It is the fundamental statement of Islamic belief. -What does it say-there is only one God, God is a unity (not Trinity), and Muhammad is not divine, but is a human prophet. Simple! 2. Prayer (Salat)-devout Muslims pray 5 times/day: before dawn, at midday, midafternoon, sunset and nighttime. The times for prayer are called by the muezzin from the top of a minaret (tower on a mosque). They call out the creed and remind everyone that it is time for prayer. There is ritual purification prior to prayer (hands, arms, face, neck and feet). Muslims pray facing Mecca, mosques have a special arch (mihrab/Qiblah) that shows the direction of prayer. Prayer includes several postures: standing, bowing, prostrating, sitting. Friday-day of public prayer (midday) mainly men, but if women are allowed, they sit in separate area of mosque. There is a sermon on Fridays following the prayers. The sermon usually deals with religion, politics and societal issues. There is no notion of a Sabbath day of rest in Islam. 3. Charity (Zakat)-based on Muhammad’s vision of justice and equality. This is a tax on all one owns (roughly 2.5%). In some countries it is collected by government, in others it is a less formal system. 4. Fasting during Ramadan-Ramadan is the 9th month of Muslim calendar (lunar calendar, so this holy month falls in a different time each year according to the solar calendar). It is the month that Muhammad first received his revelation. One is expected to fast from sunrise to sunset. Fasting encourages purification and spiritual reflection. 5. Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)-barring poverty or illness, all Muslims are expected to make this trip at least once in their life. Both men and women are expected to make this journey. As the video shows, it is a massive event. Men-wear special clothing-“robe of Abraham” 2 pieces of white cloth. Women-dress in white, and leave their faces unveiled (if they follow a practice that normally requires them to cover their faces). Everything happens around the Kabah . The shrine is 50 ft. high, 40 ft. wide, covered/draped in black cloth. The meteorite is considered a gift from God. The ritual includes walking around the kabah and paying homage to this gift. Other rituals: based on a different understanding of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice. Muslims believe that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac, as a sign of his devotion. So, families sacrifice an animal in commemoration of Ishmael being spared (in the story that a ram was sacrificed instead). The animal is cooked and eaten. Men have their heads shaved, women have their hair cut, both have their nails trimmed, and this symbolizes that they have been purified by the ritual of the pilgrimage. This purification is the deep, emotional meaning and purpose of Hajj. Pilgrimage is a time of rededicating oneself to God and purifying oneself of all things ungodly. 11. Other Religious practices: When we look at Islam through our eyes, we may see a religion that is overly strict and repressive. But if we remember the context of its origin, (a certain lawlessness and disregard for other people), we can better see how the rules of Islam attempt to set up the ideal conditions for the true flowering of human life. Like Judaism, and Christianity, Islam attempts to proscribe the way of living that God intended for God’s creation. It must be understood according to its own standards. Dietary-in addition to the fasting of Ramadan, Islam follows certain dietary restrictions. Like Judaism, there is a prohibition against eating pork. There is also a prohibition against wine (taken to include all alcohol), because of the effects of alcohol. It can lead to violent behavior, issue of moral/ethical thrust which leads to issue of how one behaves in public. No usury-based on Muhammad’s teaching. He was reacting to the practices around him. If you charge interest on loans, you are taking advantage of another’s misfortune, issue of justice and equality. No gambling-financially risky. Remember, in Islam, your money and your property is to be used in a holy way, you give to the poor, you provide for your family. Circumcision-boys are circumcised at age 7-8, not a demand of the Qur’an, but commonly practiced (sign of submitting to God’s will regarding human sexuality?). Marriage-considered a civil contract. In traditional Muslim countries, marriage is usually arranged by the families and formalized by a contract. The bridegroom’s family pays a dowry. Marriages can be annulled but only for very serious reasons, divorces are allowed, and can be initiated by both men and women. Like many societies that have arranged marriages, there is a very low divorce rate in Islam. 12. Islamic Law-Shar’ia is the law that guides the life of the believer; it is considered divine law. Some countries are governed by Islamic law, there is no separation of Church and State in traditional Islam. Iran is a good example. Their government is a Theocracy and they are ruled by Islamic law. The Ayatollahs are religious leaders and political leaders. They make sure that the government keeps Islamic laws in its dealings. In countries like Iran, all citizens of the country are under the religious law whether or not they are Muslim. There are some other, predominantly Muslim countries that are not ruled by religious law: Turkey has a separation of Church and state, and this is sometimes a source of internal conflict, because some conservative Muslims would like Turkey to go back to being an Islamic state. Because Muhammad was the final, definitive prophet, Muslims believe Islamic law to be universally binding; that is, all people should convert to Islam and follow the true law…this would end chaos. Problem-Christianity also considers its religious law to be universally binding. Both religions actively seek converts and this can lead to conflict. Whose law is correct? 13. Jihad-“effort, exertion, struggle.” Often mistranslated as Holy war. 2 forms-greater and lesser -Greater Jihad-one’s personal struggle to do the morally correct thing. It is the inner struggle or effort to live the law. Islam recognizes that doing the morally correct thing can be difficult for us (we sometimes forget our creation by God) so this requires daily effort and struggle. -Lesser Jihad-effort to spread Islamic belief and law to the outside world. This is the most common understanding, and where the issue of holy war comes from. We must remember that this is the lesser of the two, although it receives the most press. -Terrorism and Jihad-Is terrorism a distortion of the idea of lesser Jihad? Most moderate Muslims see terrorism that is associated with lesser Jihad as a very extreme case that they do not agree with. 14. Role of women-Muhammad made several advantageous proclamations for women in his time. He forbade female infanticide, limited the number of wives a man could have to 4. (At his time, women who were widowed or needed financial support sought out marriage for economic security.) Today, most Muslims have only one wife. Muhammad taught that all wives should be treated equally. He taught that men and women were equal in their basic rights, thus both should take the Hajj, either can seek divorce and a wife must be provided for in the divorce. He also taught that women can own property, and can remarry after divorce. Issue of veiling-in some Muslim societies, women cover their heads when they leave the home (hijab). This is part of the public modesty that is required in Islam. Similar to some forms of Judaism, once a woman is married she takes on a role of greater domestic responsibility and must act the part. Also, they are reserving their femininity for their husbands. The role of women in society depends on the country they live in and the type of Islam that they adhere to. In many countries they are encouraged to seek out education and professions. In other countries they are restricted to the household, job as wife and mother only. There is a large amount of variation on this issue. The different interpretation of women’s roles became big for us when the United States sought to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan. One of the news issues we heard about was the plight of women. (The Taliban have a very strict, very conservative interpretation of Islamic law.) Under the Taliban, women were kept almost intentionally illiterate, and had very limited schooling. They were forced to cover themselves completely in a burkah and faced harsh treatment for breaking modesty codes (this applied to both men and women). 15. Islam and the Modern World-Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world! Islam faces the issue of dealing with Western culture and religious diversity. It is important to note that the cultural trajectory of the Muslim world developed very differently from the West, and this is why there is conflict today. It is a clash between 2 very different worldviews. Globalization-has led to rise of influence of European/American culture. Islam has a problem with this. Our secularized culture does not fit with the traditional Islamic focus on God and morality. We have many gods-consumerism, money, music, TV, film, fast-food, printed media, internet. Our clothing does not fit into personal modesty for even moderate Muslims. Muslim societies do not like or want these influences; they are viewed as an assault on religion or even on Allah. (Example satellite dishes are outlawed in Iran, no movie theatres in Saudi Arabia.) Despite the threat of globalization, most Muslim countries recognize it as inevitable, especially as countries’ economies become more and more co-dependent. So the challenge is to take the economic benefits of globalization without succumbing to Western culture. One way is through the rise of Arabic TV and news stations. An example of this is Al-jazeera cable-TV news. It is a way for Muslim countries to provide their own perspective on the world, their own side of what is happening in the Middle East. Instead of fighting TV, channels like Aljazeera use it for their own purpose. Islam itself creates many political challenges for Western countries, especially Europe. As noted before, Islam is one of the fasted growing religions in the world, especially in Europe. These political challenges can be traced back to WWII. After WWII, Europe was economically devastated. There were no men left to rebuild the countries, they had all died in the war. The US instituted the Marshall Plan (in collaboration with Allies) to rebuild Europe. One of the points of this plan was to invite Muslim men to come to Europe, they had good jobs and they came by the droves. They were able to make good lives for themselves and so they remained. This established Muslim minorities in several European countries. If we fast-forward to today, we can see that some of the tensions in Europe are based on this move. The children and grandchildren of these original Muslim immigrants have found economic stability much more difficult, there is high unemployment in these groups. This has made the Muslim descendants very critical of Western culture and ideals, ideals that they cannot participate in. The riots in France a few years ago were due largely to high unemployment among young, angry Muslim men (roughly 40% unemployment for this group). You can trace these patterns in all cultures, the swing from liberal to conservative. Because they are unable to participate in Western ideals, there is a shift back to finding their Islamic roots, which teaches something very different than the culture they find themselves in. Western culture is seen as an assault on Islam, and the seeds are sown for terrorism to creep into their Islamic ideals. In Europe, most Muslims believe that their unemployment is due to racism, which makes them angry, and when this is coupled with the fact that most Muslims live in ethnic enclaves, closed off from the rest of society, they can feed off of each other’s anger. Democracy and Islam-we see this now in Iraq and its inability at self-governance. US government claimed that we wanted to help spread democracy to the Middle East, that this would make the Middle East more stable. This obviously hasn’t happened. Democratic governments are quite underrepresented in the Middle East. The democracies that do exist in the Islamic world are constantly under threat of being overthrown. A prime example is Lebanon. Turkey-most similar form of democracy to what we know, still working to become member of EU and retain membership in UN. As we mentioned above, they have a secular government, but they are constantly dealing with conservative elements that would like to turn it back to Islamic law. Monarchies-also in danger of being overthrown as happened in Iran during the Islamic Cultural Revolution which overthrew the monarchy of the Shah in the 80’s. Countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia are Islamic countries that are ruled by a monarchy and work hard to keep the religious leaders happy. The only form of government that seems to be truly compatible with Islam is a Theocracy like Iran. REL104 Lecture 6 CBM Islam is the last religion we will study. I hope that you see how it is related to Judaism and Christianity (all three are connected to Abraham). Some elements of Islam should be similar: it is an ethical monotheism and shares some stories that are found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Some elements are also different: Muhammad represents the “seal of the prophets” meaning that he has been given God’s final revelation. From the view point of Islam, the prophets of Hebrew scripture are important because they shared God’s message for their time. Likewise, Jesus is considered an important prophet, but not the Son of God. In fact, considering Jesus divine is akin to idolatry for Muslims. In this line, Muhammad is the prophet who brings God’s final, perfect word, but, Muhammad himself is NOT divine. He is a human prophet specially picked by God. Much was (and is) mad of the fact that Muhammad was unlearned and illiterate. This was important because it helped to verify that his revelation was truly that of God. For the Muslim, Islam is not a very complicated religion. Follow the 5 pillars, keep the creed (Shahadah) top in your mind and try to act in a way that is expected of the supremely Holy God’s followers. Islam has a very ethical dimension and is founded squarely in the revelation related by the Qur’an. Islam then also has a prophetic orientation towards the sacred. Humans can know God’s will, because God’s will has been sent down in the form of the Qur’an. Basic understanding of Islam is particularly important in today’s world. As we speak, there is a group of Sunni militants sweeping out of Syria and into Iraq who have formed a new Caliphate (ISIS). They want to ignore national borders and institute a new Islamic state in the style of the historical Caliphates discussed in the book. It is important to note that not all of the people in this area agree with them. Before any of us can even truly understand world events, we should understand how Islam views itself. We also have to realize that Islam is not monolithic. Just like every other religion we have studied, there are different ways to be Muslim. The majority of Muslims, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, are not extremists. The majority of Muslims are trying to live their life in a manner that helps them “submit” to God’s will by leading good, ethical lives. In the West we have to find a way to understand Islam so that we do not automatically marginalize a group of people out of fear. Lecture notes for sections 12-1 through 12-3 (Some spellings are different from the book.) 1. Islam-We’ve mentioned this before, but Islam is one of the three Western monotheistic traditions: Judaism (oldest), Christianity, Islam (youngest). All 3 consider themselves linked to Abraham. Judaism-covenant with Abraham, Christianityimportant prophet, paved way for Jesus, Islam-Abraham is the father of Ishmael, with his wife’s handmaid Hagar. 2. Islam-“submission” to Allah, Muslim-“the one who submits to Allah”. We should also note that Islam is also related to “Salam” the Arabic word for peace. In the Muslim worldview, there is a connection between submission and obedience to God and peace. Islam is very dependent on the revelation given to the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad is not considered divine; he is the last, final prophet of the one God. (We cannot compare the prophet to Jesus, son of God, in Christianity.) He was the recipient of a revelation that completes those given to the Jewish and Christian prophets. Muhammad then is the “seal of the prophets;” his revelation completes and corrects all other prophecies. 3. Muhammad-570-632CE. Born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is the holiest city in Islam. We have 2 sources for knowledge of Muhammad: Qur’an “recitation”, Hadiths-“recollections,” collection of remembrances and stories of the prophet by his earliest followers. He was born into a geographic area with a lot of religious ferment going on around him: Judaism, Christianity (various interpretations of these) and other traditions. There were many competing beliefs and ideas. Mecca was already a holy city and a place of pilgrimage before the beginning of Islam. The shrine in Mecca is the Kaaba/Kabah-it is a black square shrine that houses a meteorite that had fallen to earth a long time before Muhammad. The meteorite was believed to be sacred and sent from Heaven (it is still a sacred spot). People came to worship at the Kabah before Muhammad. Muhammad was orphaned at a young age. His father died before he was born, mother died when he was a child. He was sent to live with his grandfather, who died soon after, and then he was sent to live with his uncle-Abu Talib, who was an important protector. He became a caravan driver for a wealthy widow named Khadijah-they were married (595 CE) she was 15+ years older than he, but they had many children. (She was a very stabilizing influence in his life). He had no sons that survived to adulthood; this becomes an important issue in question of succession to Muhammad. With no sons, who succeeds him? He was a very pious and religious person. He spent much time in prayer and meditation (within the religious traditions of his area, there was belief in a supreme God, Allah). 610 CE-Muhammad went to a cave on Mt. Hira to pray and received his first revelation. He encountered the angel Gabriel who revealed the word of Allah. His life is forever changed from this moment. At first he doubts what had happened, but his wife encouraged him to accept the revelations and to believe the truth of what was happening to him: These revelations are true communications from God, and the true words of God. His friends and family believed what was happening to him, and they became the first Muslims. 4. Muhammad’s revelations-collected to become the Qur’an: a. radical monotheism-“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet” (shahadah) (creed), rejects Christian belief in God as trinity (similar to Jewish Shema) b. anti-idolotry-all other gods are rejected as false c. iconoclastic-prohibition against images and statues (similar to Judaism, and to some forms of Christianity). God cannot be pictured/imaged in any way (“no graven images”Judaism, no crucifixes in the Presbyterian tradition) Mosques-beautiful, but no decoration that is an image of God or of the prophet. d. prohibition against usury-lend money at interest, you can’t make money on other people’s misfortune. e. importance of honoring contracts-you are duty bound to keep them (we can see, like Judaism, Islam is a religion with a strong moral/ethical code) The last two teaching were unpopular during Muhammad’s time! Mecca was also a large economic center (trade and businesses that sprung up around the holy site) and people regularly made money from usury and breaking contracts. People in Mecca begin to threaten Muhammad, because his teaching threatened their money. 620 CE-the “night journey” or “night of ascent”-he experiences being carried from Mecca to Jerusalem where guided by Gabriel, he ascends to heaven. He meets angels and prophets (Abraham and Jesus) and finally he is brought into the presence of Allah. This experience confirms for Muhammad that he is indeed a messenger of God and that he is receiving God’s revelations. 622 CE-flees Mecca, goes to Medina-“city of the Prophet” (3 holiest cities in Islam: Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem) In Medina, Muhammad establishes the first Muslim community and the first mosque. This is why 622 is considered year 1 in the Muslim calendar. Muhammad returns to Mecca in 630, and defeats the forces of the city and begins to institutionalize his religious ideals. He dies in 632. 5. After Muhammad’s death, Islam spread rapidly into many regions; however, because he had no sons who survived to adulthood there was a problem with deciding who his legitimate successor was. Caliph-originally prayer leader, but became political and spiritual leader. 1st-Abu Bakr-close friend of Muhammad, father of his youngest wife, Muhammad asked him to succeed him as prayer leader, died 2 years later. 2nd-Umar-assassinated 3rd-Uthman-most likely assassinated 4th-Ali-Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, married Muhammad’s daughter Fatima All three of these Caliphs were assassinated because of internal dissention over the issue of successor. This happened as the religion spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Northern Africa and Spain. 6. The problem with succession led to a fundamental division in Islam: Shi’a (Shi’ites)-“party” approx. 15% of Muslims Sunna (Sunnis)-“tradition” approx. 80-85% (3rd group, Sufi, very small division) Shi’ites-party of Ali (4th Caliph); these Muslims felt he should have been the 1st and only Caliph during this time. After Ali’s assassination, the Shi’ite faction felt that his 2 sons, Hasan, Husayn should succeed him as Caliph. -Hasan renounced his claim (but was still killed) and Husayn was killed in 680 CE in the Battle of Karbala (Iraq). He was battling a rival clan for leadership of Islam. Shiite Muslims regard Husayn as a martyr. -For Shi’ites, legitimate succession to Muhammad is hereditary-Ali was a cousin and son-inlaw, this establishes a legitimate bloodline to Muhammad. The bloodline insures a God-given spiritual power (Light of Muhammad) which is passed onto the legitimate successor. -Most Shi’ites agree to 12 legitimate successions (Imams) who are the religious specialist who possess the Light of Muhammad. The last of these Imams, Muhammad al-Mahdi, disappeared around 900 CE. They believe that he did not die, but is “hidden” and inspires the leaders of the Shi’ite tradition. He will return and a new messianic age will come into being. (Similar belief to Judaism-suffering servant, king messiah; Christianity-Jesus coming again). Al-Mahdi is believed to be sinless, hence his special role in ushering in the new age of peace. -Shi’ite Islam is found in Iran (majority), Iraq (majority), and Lebanon (Hesbola) but it is the minority version of Islam. -Ayatollah-a term only used in Shi’ite Islam to represent the most important Imam; this is who al-Mahdi influences. Sunnis-majority of Islam, believe that they best keep the Islamic tradition found in the Qur’an and the hadiths. The predominant history of Islam is Sunni. -Iraq-Sunnis are a minority there. Part of the recent struggle in Iraq is due to the fact that Sadam Hussein’s Sunni minority ruled the Shi’ite majority. Once he was deposed, the Shi’ite majority struck back at the Sunni’s for years of marginalization. -Saudi Arabia-predominantly Sunni (Mecca is there). -Egypt-large Sunni influence especially due to the Islamic scholars from Egyptian universities. Scholarly debate has always been an important part of the Islamic tradition, particularly for Sunni Muslims. -Sunnis do not follow the hereditary succession of Shi’ites, hence, anyone can become an Imam, if he is learned in Islamic tradition. Sufi mysticism-Like all mysticism, Jewish and Christian, the goal of the Muslim mystic is union with the divine. This can be viewed in a suspicious manner in a religion such as Islam because of how sacred and transcendent God is viewed to be. -Sometimes this union is spoken of with the language of erotic love, because it is the closest human language we have to speak of God the Lover and we the beloved. -Intoxicated, ecstatic Sufism had problems with the main religious leaders because of the statements of its practitioners. Like Christianity before it, Islam is very suspicious of people identifying themselves with God, so when a mystic makes statements that seem to be about himself that are reserved for God, he/she will be in trouble. -Sober Sufism is the spiritual side of Islam that many Muslims practice, much as Christians might practice different spiritual practices within their own Christian denomination. Essentially, the Muslim who uses Sufism as a spiritual practice is obligated to remember God. This becomes as second-nature as breathing and grounds the person in relation to God and God’s morality. -From the example of the video on whirling dervishes, Sufism is related very much to the practices that come from many indigenous traditions. As you will recall from the 2nd week, many shamanistic religions use techniques to enter a trance and bring them closer to the spirit world. In many ways, this is what Sufism and dervishes do. The spinning allows the practitioner to enter a trance like state and become closer to God. 7. Islamic philosophy-While not directly covered in the reading, it is important to take a look at Islamic philosophy. As noted in the reading, from about 900-1285, Islam controlled large cultural and educational centers. Islamic thinkers made discoveries in math, science and philosophy that were far ahead of Europe (it was still in the Dark Ages). During this time, Islamic philosophy moved in a liberal direction. -Islamic philosophers hypothesized that humans had innate, God-given abilities to use reason and intellect to seek answers to ultimate questions. -More conservative philosophers started to become suspicious of reason as they saw it as the occasion for human pride in seeking the hidden things of God. Islam has a radical monotheism and God is ultimately transcendent, so seeking knowledge about God is considered dangerous. -These two schools of philosophical thought resulted in different interpretations of the Qur’an: -If you feel that human freedom and reason are God given and are meant for you to ponder deeper, you may feel that the Qur’an should be read more metaphorically, and interpretation should allow for development for new situations. -If you feel that human reason is suspect and that we should leave the ultimate questions unanswered in view of God’s will, you will read the Qur’an as a literal, completely definitive document with no room for, or need to, adapt to contemporary situations. Rather, it is the contemporary situations that should adapt to the words of the Qur’an. -Theological and philosophical debate split Islam as much as the political/tribal issues did. This is one reason why Islamic thought “stopped” in the 13th century. This is the anti-rationalist reaction that much of Islam is still mired in. Lecture notes for sections 12-4 through 12-6 8. Ethics-It is important to understanding Islam that it is a religion with a highly ethical/moral component. This is similar to Judaism and Christianity. God is utterly transcendent; God is all holy, loving and all-powerful. This requires a high level of holiness on the part of the people who follow God. Holiness is best shown through prayer, worship and, most importantly, in how people treat one another. This is called orthopraxy. This is where the ethical demands of religion come into play. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, believes that people live in a world full of good and evil choices, and that devotion to God means making good choices. Islam also takes a very interesting view of God. God is both incredibly involved in all of daily life and completely transcendent, meaning human actions do not affect God; rather they affect humans in their proper submission to God’s will. 9. Allah-The God-not God’s name; we cannot limit God to one name, because God is called by all things great and holy, and even those names don’t scratch the surface of what God is. However, Allah is personal, God cares and is interested in the life of his creation. Allah is referred to in male terms, but Allah is genderless. 10. 5 pillars (pillars that support one’s faith)-Moral basics of Islam 1. Creed (Shahadah)-“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” This is everywhere: it is heard in the call to prayer, it is written in mosques, and it is mentioned in casual, everyday conversation. It is the fundamental statement of Islamic belief. -What does it say-there is only one God, God is a unity (not Trinity), and Muhammad is not divine, but is a human prophet. Simple! 2. Prayer (Salat)-devout Muslims pray 5 times/day: before dawn, at midday, midafternoon, sunset and nighttime. The times for prayer are called by the muezzin from the top of a minaret (tower on a mosque). They call out the creed and remind everyone that it is time for prayer. There is ritual purification prior to prayer (hands, arms, face, neck and feet). Muslims pray facing Mecca, mosques have a special arch (mihrab/Qiblah) that shows the direction of prayer. Prayer includes several postures: standing, bowing, prostrating, sitting. Friday-day of public prayer (midday) mainly men, but if women are allowed, they sit in separate area of mosque. There is a sermon on Fridays following the prayers. The sermon usually deals with religion, politics and societal issues. There is no notion of a Sabbath day of rest in Islam. 3. Charity (Zakat)-based on Muhammad’s vision of justice and equality. This is a tax on all one owns (roughly 2.5%). In some countries it is collected by government, in others it is a less formal system. 4. Fasting during Ramadan-Ramadan is the 9th month of Muslim calendar (lunar calendar, so this holy month falls in a different time each year according to the solar calendar). It is the month that Muhammad first received his revelation. One is expected to fast from sunrise to sunset. Fasting encourages purification and spiritual reflection. 5. Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)-barring poverty or illness, all Muslims are expected to make this trip at least once in their life. Both men and women are expected to make this journey. As the video shows, it is a massive event. Men-wear special clothing-“robe of Abraham” 2 pieces of white cloth. Women-dress in white, and leave their faces unveiled (if they follow a practice that normally requires them to cover their faces). Everything happens around the Kabah . The shrine is 50 ft. high, 40 ft. wide, covered/draped in black cloth. The meteorite is considered a gift from God. The ritual includes walking around the kabah and paying homage to this gift. Other rituals: based on a different understanding of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice. Muslims believe that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac, as a sign of his devotion. So, families sacrifice an animal in commemoration of Ishmael being spared (in the story that a ram was sacrificed instead). The animal is cooked and eaten. Men have their heads shaved, women have their hair cut, both have their nails trimmed, and this symbolizes that they have been purified by the ritual of the pilgrimage. This purification is the deep, emotional meaning and purpose of Hajj. Pilgrimage is a time of rededicating oneself to God and purifying oneself of all things ungodly. 11. Other Religious practices: When we look at Islam through our eyes, we may see a religion that is overly strict and repressive. But if we remember the context of its origin, (a certain lawlessness and disregard for other people), we can better see how the rules of Islam attempt to set up the ideal conditions for the true flowering of human life. Like Judaism, and Christianity, Islam attempts to proscribe the way of living that God intended for God’s creation. It must be understood according to its own standards. Dietary-in addition to the fasting of Ramadan, Islam follows certain dietary restrictions. Like Judaism, there is a prohibition against eating pork. There is also a prohibition against wine (taken to include all alcohol), because of the effects of alcohol. It can lead to violent behavior, issue of moral/ethical thrust which leads to issue of how one behaves in public. No usury-based on Muhammad’s teaching. He was reacting to the practices around him. If you charge interest on loans, you are taking advantage of another’s misfortune, issue of justice and equality. No gambling-financially risky. Remember, in Islam, your money and your property is to be used in a holy way, you give to the poor, you provide for your family. Circumcision-boys are circumcised at age 7-8, not a demand of the Qur’an, but commonly practiced (sign of submitting to God’s will regarding human sexuality?). Marriage-considered a civil contract. In traditional Muslim countries, marriage is usually arranged by the families and formalized by a contract. The bridegroom’s family pays a dowry. Marriages can be annulled but only for very serious reasons, divorces are allowed, and can be initiated by both men and women. Like many societies that have arranged marriages, there is a very low divorce rate in Islam. 12. Islamic Law-Shar’ia is the law that guides the life of the believer; it is considered divine law. Some countries are governed by Islamic law, there is no separation of Church and State in traditional Islam. Iran is a good example. Their government is a Theocracy and they are ruled by Islamic law. The Ayatollahs are religious leaders and political leaders. They make sure that the government keeps Islamic laws in its dealings. In countries like Iran, all citizens of the country are under the religious law whether or not they are Muslim. There are some other, predominantly Muslim countries that are not ruled by religious law: Turkey has a separation of Church and state, and this is sometimes a source of internal conflict, because some conservative Muslims would like Turkey to go back to being an Islamic state. Because Muhammad was the final, definitive prophet, Muslims believe Islamic law to be universally binding; that is, all people should convert to Islam and follow the true law…this would end chaos. Problem-Christianity also considers its religious law to be universally binding. Both religions actively seek converts and this can lead to conflict. Whose law is correct? 13. Jihad-“effort, exertion, struggle.” Often mistranslated as Holy war. 2 forms-greater and lesser -Greater Jihad-one’s personal struggle to do the morally correct thing. It is the inner struggle or effort to live the law. Islam recognizes that doing the morally correct thing can be difficult for us (we sometimes forget our creation by God) so this requires daily effort and struggle. -Lesser Jihad-effort to spread Islamic belief and law to the outside world. This is the most common understanding, and where the issue of holy war comes from. We must remember that this is the lesser of the two, although it receives the most press. -Terrorism and Jihad-Is terrorism a distortion of the idea of lesser Jihad? Most moderate Muslims see terrorism that is associated with lesser Jihad as a very extreme case that they do not agree with. 14. Role of women-Muhammad made several advantageous proclamations for women in his time. He forbade female infanticide, limited the number of wives a man could have to 4. (At his time, women who were widowed or needed financial support sought out marriage for economic security.) Today, most Muslims have only one wife. Muhammad taught that all wives should be treated equally. He taught that men and women were equal in their basic rights, thus both should take the Hajj, either can seek divorce and a wife must be provided for in the divorce. He also taught that women can own property, and can remarry after divorce. Issue of veiling-in some Muslim societies, women cover their heads when they leave the home (hijab). This is part of the public modesty that is required in Islam. Similar to some forms of Judaism, once a woman is married she takes on a role of greater domestic responsibility and must act the part. Also, they are reserving their femininity for their husbands. The role of women in society depends on the country they live in and the type of Islam that they adhere to. In many countries they are encouraged to seek out education and professions. In other countries they are restricted to the household, job as wife and mother only. There is a large amount of variation on this issue. The different interpretation of women’s roles became big for us when the United States sought to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan. One of the news issues we heard about was the plight of women. (The Taliban have a very strict, very conservative interpretation of Islamic law.) Under the Taliban, women were kept almost intentionally illiterate, and had very limited schooling. They were forced to cover themselves completely in a burkah and faced harsh treatment for breaking modesty codes (this applied to both men and women). 15. Islam and the Modern World-Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world! Islam faces the issue of dealing with Western culture and religious diversity. It is important to note that the cultural trajectory of the Muslim world developed very differently from the West, and this is why there is conflict today. It is a clash between 2 very different worldviews. Globalization-has led to rise of influence of European/American culture. Islam has a problem with this. Our secularized culture does not fit with the traditional Islamic focus on God and morality. We have many gods-consumerism, money, music, TV, film, fast-food, printed media, internet. Our clothing does not fit into personal modesty for even moderate Muslims. Muslim societies do not like or want these influences; they are viewed as an assault on religion or even on Allah. (Example satellite dishes are outlawed in Iran, no movie theatres in Saudi Arabia.) Despite the threat of globalization, most Muslim countries recognize it as inevitable, especially as countries’ economies become more and more co-dependent. So the challenge is to take the economic benefits of globalization without succumbing to Western culture. One way is through the rise of Arabic TV and news stations. An example of this is Al-jazeera cable-TV news. It is a way for Muslim countries to provide their own perspective on the world, their own side of what is happening in the Middle East. Instead of fighting TV, channels like Aljazeera use it for their own purpose. Islam itself creates many political challenges for Western countries, especially Europe. As noted before, Islam is one of the fasted growing religions in the world, especially in Europe. These political challenges can be traced back to WWII. After WWII, Europe was economically devastated. There were no men left to rebuild the countries, they had all died in the war. The US instituted the Marshall Plan (in collaboration with Allies) to rebuild Europe. One of the points of this plan was to invite Muslim men to come to Europe, they had good jobs and they came by the droves. They were able to make good lives for themselves and so they remained. This established Muslim minorities in several European countries. If we fast-forward to today, we can see that some of the tensions in Europe are based on this move. The children and grandchildren of these original Muslim immigrants have found economic stability much more difficult, there is high unemployment in these groups. This has made the Muslim descendants very critical of Western culture and ideals, ideals that they cannot participate in. The riots in France a few years ago were due largely to high unemployment among young, angry Muslim men (roughly 40% unemployment for this group). You can trace these patterns in all cultures, the swing from liberal to conservative. Because they are unable to participate in Western ideals, there is a shift back to finding their Islamic roots, which teaches something very different than the culture they find themselves in. Western culture is seen as an assault on Islam, and the seeds are sown for terrorism to creep into their Islamic ideals. In Europe, most Muslims believe that their unemployment is due to racism, which makes them angry, and when this is coupled with the fact that most Muslims live in ethnic enclaves, closed off from the rest of society, they can feed off of each other’s anger. Democracy and Islam-we see this now in Iraq and its inability at self-governance. US government claimed that we wanted to help spread democracy to the Middle East, that this would make the Middle East more stable. This obviously hasn’t happened. Democratic governments are quite underrepresented in the Middle East. The democracies that do exist in the Islamic world are constantly under threat of being overthrown. A prime example is Lebanon. Turkey-most similar form of democracy to what we know, still working to become member of EU and retain membership in UN. As we mentioned above, they have a secular government, but they are constantly dealing with conservative elements that would like to turn it back to Islamic law. Monarchies-also in danger of being overthrown as happened in Iran during the Islamic Cultural Revolution which overthrew the monarchy of the Shah in the 80’s. Countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia are Islamic countries that are ruled by a monarchy and work hard to keep the religious leaders happy. The only form of government that seems to be truly compatible with Islam is a Theocracy like Iran.
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Question 1
It was fascinating to know that even before the Dark Ages from about 900-1285, Islam made
great contributions on the academic fields. In addition to that, they led in different learning training
grounds: cultural, education, etc. Consequently, scientific breakthroughs, math discoveries and
philosophical realizations bloomed more than that of Europe. It was interesting to know that Islamic
philosophy flourished on that age. With Islamic philosophers become lovers of wisdom, they continually
search for knowledge in answering ultimate questions. But their urges in solving the mysteries had
stopped because they viewed God as divine and it really showed that they respect and feared God.
What I found notable is that how the Islam religion puts so much emphasis on being able to live
a holy and peaceful life. The different practices were inclined on having an intimate relationship with
God. Muslims obey these practices as if their lives are on the line. The value taught on the Qur’an
imparts the value of showing kindness to others which is very surprising because most people viewed
Muslims as terrorists.
Islam is associated with various religions like Judaism and Christianity in a way that it is
stemmed on the belief that there is an ultimate transcendent being. The acceptance that there is a
supreme one proves that there are things which the even the most intelligent human can’t fathom.
Moreover, its similarity is also relevant in the portrayal of angels and prophets. The prophets which are
the messengers of God are recognized by Islam in the character of Moses and Jesus (though other
religions viewed Jesus as God). Likewise, the inclusion of supernatural beings like angels, especially
Gabriel (who Muhammad stated that it was him who gave God’s revelation), makes the religions
somewhat connected.

Question 2
Relativism is the belief that truth’s dependence lies on what the people stand for. It is the
viewpoint of making judgment on the way how other societies act, behave a...


Anonymous
Excellent resource! Really helped me get the gist of things.

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