New York Times

The Sunday Review


Agonies of an Archbishop

Published: March 17, 2012

IN February of 2008, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, delivered an address on the fraught subject of Islam in English Law. The speech, which circled around the question of whether a civil justice system could accommodate Islamic legal codes, was learned, recondite and occasionally impenetrable. The headlines it generated were not: The head of the Church of England, the newspapers blared, had endorsed Shariah law in Britain. Which he had — sort of, kind of, in the most academic and nuanced and trying-not-to-offend-anyone way imaginable.

For Williams, who announ
ced on Friday that he will lay down his mitre at the end of this year, the Shariah controversy was typical of his tenure.  

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Higgs Boson: 'God Particle' Discovery Ignites Debate Over Science And Religion

Religion News Service | By Posted: 07/14/2012 10:38 pm Updated: 07/14/2012            

(RNS) The Higgs boson is perhaps better known by its sexier nickname: the "God particle."

But in fact, many scientists, including the physicist for whom it is named, dislike the term.

In 1993 when American physicist Leon Lederman was writing a book on the Higgs boson, he dubbed it "the goddamn particle." An editor suggested "the God particle" instead.

One thing is clear: The July 4 discovery that marked a new chapter in scientific knowledge also reignited debate over the universe's origins -- and the validity of religious faith as scientific knowledge expands.

The Higgs boson explains why particles have mass -- and in turn why we exist. Without the boson, the universe would have no physical matter, only energy.

The cosmological implications are hotly debated. Can God fit in a scientific story of creation?

The answer is "no" for Lawrence M. Krauss, an Arizona State University theoretical physicist. He argued in Newsweek that the Higgs boson discovery "posits a new story of our creation" independent of religious belief.

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"Humans, with their remarkable tools and their remarkable brains, may have just taken a giant step toward replacing metaphysical speculation with empirically verifiable knowledge," he wrote.

With enough data, physics would make God obsolete, he said. "If we can describe the laws of nature back to the beginning of time without any supernatural shenanigans, it becomes clear that you don't need God."

Religious believers see things differently.

Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno argued in a Washington Post column that scientifically deduced universal laws expose "the personality" of God. "The mysteries revealed by modern science are a constant reminder that reality is bigger than our day-to-day lives," he wrote.

Alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra said in a YouTube video that the boson hints at a divine interconnectedness of all things.

"It only strengthens the notion that the universe comes out of a nothingness which is everything," he said.

This much is true: Higgs bosons -- which permeate the universe -- help us understand how something comes from nothing.

The awe we feel with this heady topic causes even nonreligious people to use religious language, said Philip Clayton, dean of Claremont School of Theology and a researcher of science and religion.

"Humans are really fascinated with what we know scientifically and what lies right at the boundaries of what we can know," he said.

Albert Einstein's quip that God "doesn't play dice with the world" is a metaphor to help explain our quest for order in a world that seems chaotic, Clayton said.

Such metaphorical language helps to explain the world at the particle level where physical laws such as gravity break down, and physicists rely on abstractions to describe how particles interact.

Clayton said discussing whether the discovery "disproves religion or supports creation" misses the point. "The fans and the foes of religion ... are overreaching on both sides. The quest for the Higgs boson, and its ultimate discovery, neither proves nor disproves God," he wrote in a Huffington Post column.

But Krauss says science isn't trying to disprove God. Rather, data only have to offer an explanation for the universe that would make a divine creator redundant. When English physicist Peter Higgs proposed the Higgs boson in 1964, it helped codify an incomplete model of the universe. This model was shown accurate through experimentation culminating in July 4's discovery.

Krauss said further experimentation will lead toward a "unified theory" of the universe that accounts for everything from quarks to galaxies.

"That's the difference between science and religion," he said. "We don't require the universe to  hat we want -- we force our belefs to conform to the evidence of reality."


New York Times

Op-Ed Contributor

The Freedom of the Hijab


Published: July 13, 2012

It’s been over two months since I decided to become a hijabi — one who wears a head scarf and adheres to modest clothing — and before you race to label me the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere, let me tell you as a woman (with a master’s degree in human rights, and a graduate degree in psychology) why I see this as the most liberating experience ever.


Prior to becoming a hijabi, I did not expect myself to go down this road. Although I knew modesty was encouraged in my culture and by my faith, I never saw the need nor had the opportunity to explore the reasons behind it.

My experience working as a Faiths Act Fellow for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and dealing with interfaith action for social action brought me more understanding and appreciation of various faiths. I found that engaging in numerous interfaith endeavors strengthened my personal understanding about my own faith. The questions and challenges I encountered increased my inquisitiveness and drive to explore and learn for myself various fundamental aspects of Islam. Thus began my journey to hijab-dom.

I am abundantly aware of the rising concerns and controversies over how a few yards of cloth covering a woman’s head is written off as a global threat to women’s education, public security, rights and even religion. I am also conscious of the media’s preferred mode of portraying all hijabi women as downtrodden and dominated by misogynist mullahs or male relatives who enforce them into sweltering pieces of oppressive clothing. But I believe my hijab liberates me. I know many who portray the hijab as the placard for either forced silence or fundamentalist regimes; but personally I found it to be neither.

For someone who passionately studied and works for human rights and women’s empowerment, I realized that working for these causes while wearing the hijab can only contribute to breaking the misconception that Muslim women lack the strength, passion and power to strive for their own rights. This realization was the final push I needed to declare to the world on my birthday this year that henceforth I am a hijabi.

In a society that embraces uncovering, how can it be oppressive if I decided to cover up? I see hijab as the freedom to regard my body as my own concern and as a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women. I refuse to see how a woman’s significance is rated according to her looks and the clothes she wears. I am also absolutely certain that the skewed perception of women’s equality as the right to bare our breasts in public only contributes to our own objectification. I look forward to a whole new day when true equality will be had with women not needing to display themselves to get attention nor needing to defend their decision to keep their bodies to themselves.

In a world besotted with the looks, body and sexuality of women, the hijab can be an assertive mode of individual feministic expression and rights. I regard my hijab to be a commanding question of “I control what you see, how is that not empowering” mixed with a munificent amount of authority emanating from the “My body is my own concern” clause. I believe my hijab gives me the right to assert my body, femininity and spirituality as my own and under my authority alone.

I know many would agree with me when I say that the hijab is basically an expression of spirituality and a personal bond with one’s creator, a tangible spiritual reminder that guides everyday life.

Yes, my hijab is a visual religious marker that makes it very easy for anyone to spot me in a crowd as a separate entity representing or adhering to a particular religion. This is all the more reason why, being a hijabi in the public arena is an escalating force that drives me to work in ways that would help break the undignified stereotypes, barriers and prejudices that my Islamic faith is relentlessly and irrationally associated with. As an extension of my personality and identity, it instigates me to challenge the misconception that Muslim women lack the bravery, intellect and resilience to challenge authority and fight for their own rights.

Every time I see my reflection in the mirror, I see a woman who has chosen to be a rights activist, who happens to be a Muslim and covers her hair incidentally. My reflection reminds me of the convictions that made me take up the hijab in first place — to work for a world where a woman isn’t judged by how she looks or what she wears, a world in which she needn’t defend the right to make decisions about her own body, in which she can be whoever she wants to be without ever having to choose between her religion and her rights.

Ayesha Nusrat is a 23-year-old Muslim Indian from New Delhi.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 14, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune.