Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Role that Religion Played and Will Play in the 2011 People’s Movement Uprisings in the Arab World

The corresponding videos can be viewed at: and

3/30/2011 11:45 am (et) Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 11:45 am (et).
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3/30/2011 11:59 am (et) Moderator: Welcome! This is Rebecca from the InterFaith Conference (IFC) and I will be your moderator. As this is still new, let me explain how this will work. On the right, you will see a video playing of our current topic to get the conversation going. If you have a comment and/or question send it along to me, the moderator. As long as I deem it appropriate, the comment will be posted to everyone and the speaker will have the opportunity to answer your question.
3/30/2011 11:59 am (et) Moderator: Today, our topic is “The Role that Religion Played and Will Play in the 2011 People’s Movement Uprisings in the Arab World,” featuring Ms. Sahar Taman, Co-Founder of Journeys to Understanding, a non-profit organization that sponsors interfaith study tours to countries in the Middle East to foster understanding among Jews, Christians, and Muslims through dialogue and cultural immersion as well as providing educational and training materials and being active online social networkers and recipient of the 2010 Award for Citizen Diplomacy by the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy.
3/30/2011 12:00 pm (et) Moderator: A link to their website:
3/30/2011 12:00 pm (et) Moderator: As always, I would like to remind you of the rules of our engagement. This is a respectful place where we come together to learn more about the religions of the world. Whether you agree or disagree, we welcome your comments and questions that are posed in a respectful manner. Please no profane or offensive remarks, they will not be posted. Also, this is a place of learning, so please refrain from “soapboxing.” If there are any issues or questions about this, they can be submitted along with the comments pertaining to our topic. I am here to make this a pleasant and educational experience for all, so enjoy and remember there are no stupid questions, just hostile ones!
3/30/2011 12:01 pm (et) Moderator: Our chat window automatically refreshes to keep the flow going, but if you wish to view the whole of the conversation, just hit the archive button. And lastly, PLEASE do not use double quotes as it led to some issues with posting last week. Once the videos are up, they will remain on the right.
3/30/2011 12:01 pm (et) terry taylor: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:01 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:01 pm (et) Moderator: You can now view the beginning comments on the right. Since the topic this week is so large, we have two videos. Please enjoy and feel free to comment and/or question as you watch.
3/30/2011 12:02 pm (et) Lin: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:02 pm (et).
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3/30/2011 12:03 pm (et) interfaith1017: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:03 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:03 pm (et) Moderator: private message to Sahar Taman: Scroll up you should see both.
3/30/2011 12:05 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Welcome. I am honored that the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, DC has invited me to participate in today’s online chat. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the Co-Founder of Journeys to Understanding: a new NGO that addresses international interfaith dialogue to connect citizen diplomats in the United States and the Muslim world as well as interfaith dialogue within the U.S.
3/30/2011 12:05 pm (et) Sahar Taman: I speak on the topic as someone with experience in international interfaith dialogue between the U.S. and the Arab World. I have worked with grassroots communities on the ground in many Arab countries. I also have deep roots to Egypt as an Egyptian and an Arab Muslim woman although I have lived in the U.S. for 40 years.
3/30/2011 12:06 pm (et) Sahar Taman: The topic of the role of religion in the Arab uprisings is a huge one and there are no experts in it at this time. However, I think we will have a lively conversation and I believe that there are several people on the chat who are connecting from abroad and have direct experience.
3/30/2011 12:07 pm (et) isnerv: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:07 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:07 pm (et) Moderator: A bit of a malfunction but Hengist said: Religions such as Islam can have a positive role in nation-building if they are used in an inclusive, rather than exclusive way. So if two factions use their common beliefs as a bridge, religion is used positively. If the factions use religion as a stick to attack each other, this is negative, and perhaps it would be better to avoid religion in any discourse
3/30/2011 12:09 pm (et) Moderator: kfuquay said: Regarding the word inclusive, it is my understanding from friends in Egypt who are Christian, that both Muslims and Christians saw the recent events as answers to their prayers, so they, on the streets (grassroots) joined hands (metaphorically) throughout the process. Although the US Media did not report much of the inclusive aspect.
3/30/2011 12:09 pm (et) Moderator: pastor_kat_royal said: Religon, sadly, seems to be so much about who has the truth, who doesn't, who's right, who's wrong, who's Chosen, etc. I don't believe this is what God wants. I believe God wants us to eventually come to the realization that we are stronger and better together.
3/30/2011 12:10 pm (et) Kimberly: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:10 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:10 pm (et) Sahar Taman: In my experience and perhaps many would agree, religion is an unavoidable topic in any discourse on society. We have seen in the last few years that religion matters, to everybody. Not just at the personal level, but societal and political. Religion plays many roles in society.
3/30/2011 12:10 pm (et) Daryl Wagner: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:10 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:11 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Yes, in Egypt, there were many reports of Muslims and Christians showing support for each other and respect during the protests. The Egyptians focused on this a great deal. I am posting two photos that are representative.
3/30/2011 12:13 pm (et) meherababa: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:13 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:13 pm (et) Moderator: pastor_kat_royal said: Yes, I saw and saved a photo a few months back which I absolutely loved; one where a group of Christians formed a protective circle around a group of Muslims who were knelt to pray.
3/30/2011 12:14 pm (et) Moderator: Tae said: If there was no corruption with the police forces in Egypt, do you think the Muslim Brotherhood would have gained any power? In other words, do you think religion would hold much power if our society is stable?
3/30/2011 12:15 pm (et) DJW: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:15 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:15 pm (et) Moderator: Hengist said: So it is possible and needful for religious groups to work together to restore civil society. I note that authoritarian governments have been known to exploit such differences, so as to make any group fearful of change.
3/30/2011 12:15 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Hello Tae, it sounds that perhaps you are in Egypt. Let's understand that the corruption in the Egyptian police, all the security status was not just corruption over 40 years. It was pervasive and intimidating on daily basis to the regular Egyptian
3/30/2011 12:17 pm (et) Sahar Taman: The Muslim Brotherhood itself is different from Islam as a religion. They are one of many political and social actors that come from a religious point of view
3/30/2011 12:18 pm (et) Moderator: isnerv said: I am interested to know more about Sharia and the misinformation that seems to be swirling about it in this country.
3/30/2011 12:18 pm (et) Moderator: terry taylor said: Terry, last night we co sponsored a presentation on the Rights of Women in Islam...we had a standing room only crowd. There seems to be a great hunger in the US at the moment for good, accurate info on Islam. Sahar, do you think there is a way to build on this to connect people with what is happening in the Arab Middle East
3/30/2011 12:18 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Restoring civil society is the goal for all the Arab countries in uprisings. Please note that civil society existed at different levels in each country. In Libya we can say there was effectively no civil society. In Libya many thing were upside down. There was a Ghadafi Human Rights Prize that was given out for years internationally. Very ironic
3/30/2011 12:20 pm (et) Laura S: private message to Moderator: logs off on 3/30/2011 12:20 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:20 pm (et) Moderator: Hengist said: Religion, when it supports commonly held values can be supportive of civil society and maintain standards of conduct at all levels.
3/30/2011 12:21 pm (et) Moderator: jbeth said: I'm wondering if you might comment on the Egyptian constitution article 2: does Pope Shenuda want clarification or removal of that article?
3/30/2011 12:21 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Terry, the rights of women in Islam is a huge issue that requires that those who know be vigilent in keeping others informed with acurate information. As we know women are granted full rights in Islam, but that doesn't mean that is practised in the world whether it is at the social or poltical scale. But we we need to talk about ist he progress women are making. In Egypt there is discussion from women's groups to keep the door open for a women to become President. They are fighting the wording in the constitution that references gender and setting it up so women can run
3/30/2011 12:23 pm (et) Moderator: terry taylor said: Thanks, Sahar, that's powerful news about the constitution. It sounds like we can build on the interest in Islam to connect people with what is happening in Egypt, Libya etc.
3/30/2011 12:24 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Jbeth, The discussion on article 2 is fluid and sensitive. The church wants Christians and others to be acknowledge explicitly but perhaps there is a common consensus that taking out the reference to a state religion is now possible at this time. Just referencing the People of the Book will be a significant accomplishment. But the church is not alone, there are many secular Egyptians who want a pluralism described in their constitution. Many others in other countries feel the same.
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3/30/2011 12:27 pm (et) Moderator: terry taylor said: what does article 2 say?
3/30/2011 12:27 pm (et) Sahar Taman: The issue of Sharia in the US is a political and social one. If anyone saw the CNN special Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door on the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, TN, most of the fear of those against the mosque was that Sharia would be implemented somehow in the US.
3/30/2011 12:28 pm (et) Moderator: pastor_kat_royal said: Unfortunately I missed that CNN special, but I'd love to see it. Is there a place where it's archived online?
3/30/2011 12:29 pm (et) Moderator: Amanda Mouttaki said: the full documentary is here
3/30/2011 12:29 pm (et) Sahar Taman: However, on Sharia, let's look at Egypt where the article 2 of the constitutional clause was changed by the regime to specifically say that is the principal source of legislation. This was one of those incidents where the regime was playing with the sentiments of the people, against each other. Sharia is mostly on family law. There are many issues it doesn't address. Also many sharia scholars take the opinion that a sharia edict, a fatwa, is a non-binding religious edict
3/30/2011 12:30 pm (et) Moderator: Amanda Mouttaki: I'm curious - what is the opposition against a pluralistic society? Moral degredation? Distancing from cultural roots?
3/30/2011 12:32 pm (et) Sahar Taman: The opposition is pluralism is in my opinion, a worldwide phenomena based on fear. Fear of the unknown and the 'Other' whoever that might be. The CNN special had two groups of people who admitted in the conversation said they had never met each other. They said the others had never bothed to contact them or vice versa.
3/30/2011 12:33 pm (et) Moderator: isnerv: I recently read an article in which the author took issue with Pres. Obama's position that current reforms are good news for the U.S. - saying that until the U.S. adopts a new position on Israel, we will continue to be looked upon with suspicion. Your thoughts?
3/30/2011 12:33 pm (et) Sahar Taman: In the Arab world, the fear of pluralism is situational in each country. In Algeria and Tunisia the population is 99% Muslim, so pluralism there is accepting different opinions, lifestyles.
3/30/2011 12:34 pm (et) Moderator: pastor_kat_royal said: Sadly that's the problem a lot in the USA especially. We have this 'known us vs scary unknown them' mentality. People go on rumors, half-truths and prejudice with so little fact involved
3/30/2011 12:35 pm (et) Sahar Taman: In Egypt, the pluralism is not just religious Christian, Muslim, Bahai, it is also as we are seeing Salafi (Orthodoxy) and those who want to not live with that way. They fear each other, that people will shove their lifestyles down each other's throats. And sadly in societies where the principles of democracy are not yet there, that is what they try to do
3/30/2011 12:36 pm (et) Moderator: terry taylor said: my organization, Interfaith Paths to Peace has a one page handout that clears up misunderstandings about Islam. If anyone would like a copy email me at and hello to Amanda from Terry in Louisville!
3/30/2011 12:37 pm (et) Moderator: Hengist said: They are afraid of change, Hengist said: and gripping onto the Hengist said: familiar, to the point of Hengist said: forgetting original intent. Hengist said:
3/30/2011 12:37 pm (et) Moderator: Hengist: They are afraid of change, and gripping onto the familiar, to the point of forgetting original intent
3/30/2011 12:38 pm (et) MikeNelson: private message to Moderator: logs off on 3/30/2011 12:38 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:39 pm (et) Moderator: MikeNelson: Question: Are you willing to make a prediction about which other countries in the Mideast might follow the path of Egypt or Tunisia (or Libya)?
3/30/2011 12:39 pm (et) Sahar Taman: visne; The question of Israel is a big one. It has 100 levels of understanding. Let's start with the premise that the fear of Israel was used as a fear factor by all the Arab regimes, even those who had relations with Israel. The situation of the Palestinian people at the grassroots is one of great injustice, but many were taking advantage of it at all costs under the regimes. However, a new world, a new Egypt, a new Tunisia, a new Yemen, even a new Syria, does not mean that Israel will be at war with its Arab neighbors. These uprising were dignity movements and they don't want war. The want to move on with their lives
3/30/2011 12:42 pm (et) Tony M: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:42 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:43 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Terry, I am sure that we all have learned that information is not enough, there needs to be experience withthe others. Can anyone write a onepager on Christianity? It is so vast, so rich. We need to be aware of that and get people together. Just one meeting sometimes with a Muslim and Christian, or a Jew makes a difference
3/30/2011 12:44 pm (et) Moderator: terry taylor said: I have a one pager on christianity, too (actually about ten different religions. Would you like a copy of the coument about Christianity for review?
3/30/2011 12:45 pm (et) Moderator: Actually, not to plug the IFC but we have a handbook called Teaching About Religion, which answers basic questions from 11 different faith perspectives.
3/30/2011 12:45 pm (et) Moderator: pastor_kat_royal said: So true. We can read until we are blue in the face, but until we experience for ourselves we can't fully believe or it won't fully sink in. I personally never appreciated the anti-Muslim hysteria over here, but what really hit home for me was when a Muslim saved one of my family members, knowing we are Christians. To me it just drove the point home how much society is lacking real experience and believing mass hysteria
3/30/2011 12:46 pm (et) Sahar Taman: The question on prediction of what will happen next is interesting. No one can be a prophet on this and no many really saw the uprisings coming. But I always used to say that at least each of the dictators would eventual die as is God's law. Yet, Yemen is very close the edge of a new regime. It is the most complex case where there are tribal issues, seccsion issues, historical issues, power plays. But one notable item is a great woman, a friend, Tawakkol Karman, an activist who has become a protest leader of the people. Unusual for a woman, but she has become a symbol an icon. She has respect from many sides.
3/30/2011 12:47 pm (et) Moderator: Daryl Wagner: To change the subject a little I am under the impression that Islam to some extent encouraged revolution with many actions starting with gatherings at Mosques and then pouring into the streets. The people seem to gather strentgh from there religious beleifs.
3/30/2011 12:48 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Daryl, in all the case of these Arab uprisings, Islam really had nothing to do with getting the people on the street. In no situation, even Bahrain, where it is portray as a sectarian divide, but it is also a dignity uprising.
3/30/2011 12:49 pm (et) Moderator: Hengist: Are Sharia Scholars currently trying to reinterpret Sharia for very different circumstances, such as modern Egypt or the United States?
3/30/2011 12:50 pm (et) Sahar Taman: What was predicted was that the Arab people, if and when they ever stood up to their governments (and the countries which supported the regimes) would pour into the street from groups like the Muslim Brother (MB) calling them. They used to say the MB could bring out 1 million people in a minute. That didn't happen. The people came by themselves. People want their rights, their opportunties, their freedoms, accountability. They want that and then they deal with religion.
3/30/2011 12:53 pm (et) Moderator: jbeth: It seems that the drafting or revising of a constitution is contentious in any society. [remember the contstitutional debates in the US around 1800?) Even when the deliberators share a worldview/religion, civil discourse is a very difficult task. Comments?
3/30/2011 12:53 pm (et) Interesting: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:53 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:53 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Hengist: The question on Sharia is huge, Sharia is constantly in interpretation. There are a legal vehicles for its interpretation. Sharia scholars are lawyers. It is much more than just constitutional law in the U.S. for example. In the U.S. there are lawyers working to apply Sharia principles in cases where they are relevants such as the rights of divorce for women where under Sharia, women have more rights than in some statres
3/30/2011 12:54 pm (et) Moderator: Amanda Mouttaki: so how can these pathways to democracy be organically fostered in societies disconnected from the principles of democracy? Further exposure, and interaction but the economically disadvantaged who make up large segments of these pop. have bigger concerns this
3/30/2011 12:55 pm (et) Moderator: Hengist: Unfortunately, lawyers often do not make law more relevant or easy to understand.
3/30/2011 12:57 pm (et) Moderator: Alright everyone, as Ms. Taman is typing to the last two question I am going to post the remaining three I have. Once we have all said our piece on these, it will unfortunately time for us to sign off. .
3/30/2011 12:58 pm (et) Moderator: Sahar Taman said: Amanda, I believe that all democracy is local democracy and that is what is missing in countries crippled by authoritarian states. We need to start there. In every country, starting now, democracy builders (not nation-builders) can flood the streets providing knowledge transfer in community organizing, building libraries, places of assembly, local governments, parent assn in schools,
3/30/2011 12:58 pm (et) Moderator: Sahar Taman said: This provide power to the people who are used to waiting (because they had no other choice) for the central authorities to take care of things.
3/30/2011 12:58 pm (et) lori.merrill: private message to Moderator: logs in on 3/30/2011 12:58 pm (et).
3/30/2011 12:58 pm (et) Moderator: jpwogaman: If God is greater than we are, is that a strong Muslim basis for openness to God at work through others, thus underscoring religious liberty?
3/30/2011 12:58 pm (et) Moderator: raymndsigrist: will the new Egypt, etc. be in a better position to help the Palesinians?
3/30/2011 12:58 pm (et) Moderator: meherababa: When we addrwss the question of how religion WILL affect the peoples' movement in the Middle East, wouldn't it be most sensible for religions to begin looking at their respective holy text and find the passages that recognize pluralism and the main dictate to work together to serve others. The following quotes might be examples: QURAN Tablespread 5-48 As it is written in the Koran [5.48] ‘For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn't) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah, so He will let you know (after Judgement Day) that in which you differed.’ There is also the teaching of the Biblical prophet Micah (4:5) that in the end of days-the Messianic Age ‘All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever.’
3/30/2011 1:00 pm (et) Hengist: private message to Moderator: logs off on 3/30/2011 1:00 pm (et).
3/30/2011 1:01 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Dear Meherababa, yes all religious actors (leaders, laymen) have, should and I think will look at their texts which all indicate pluralism is what God intended.
3/30/2011 1:02 pm (et) Sahar Taman: What Islam says and what people do are not the same as we know. Religion liberty is a key in Islam, by text and historical precedent.
3/30/2011 1:03 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Final question on Egypt and Palestinians, the empathy of the Egyptian people is for Palestinian justice. Now they need to press their gov't for that. It will be part of an open and loud debate and I hope all the issues will be loud and open and democratic.
3/30/2011 1:03 pm (et) Sahar Taman: Thank you all.
3/30/2011 1:03 pm (et) Moderator: Thank you for your participation today. If you are interested in further communication with our speaker, you can email her at The videos are available on YouTube at and transcripts of the chat will be available at
3/30/2011 1:03 pm (et) Moderator: We hope to see you back here next week, same place, same time, the topic will be “The Role of Religion in Environmental Action” featuring Joelle Novey of Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (GW-IPL), a project of the IFC.
3/30/2011 1:04 pm (et) Moderator: Also, this is a new effort on our part so we welcome your feedback! Any comments will be helpful. If you have any suggestion please feel free to email me at