FACT-CHECK: Is Zoroastrianism a Monotheistic Religion?

To commemorate the Zoroastrian holiday of Khordad Sal, World Religions News recently resurrected a December 2015 article meant as a primer for the little- known Iranian religion, which has had a big syncretistic impact on the development of successive religious traditions in the region,[1] including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.[2] The piece, titled, “What do you know about the world’s oldest monotheistic religion?” lists “10 Facts About Zoroastrianism,” the first being, “Zoroastrians believe in only one God, which is Ahura Mazda.”[3]

This triggered an old memory from an early World Religions class, when I was told that Zoroastrians were considered dualists—not monotheists. I recall learning that, similar to Manichaeism, Zoroastrian cosmology consists of two equally balanced deities, holding the universe together in perfect polar opposition. Or at least that’s what I think I remember.

However, in researching this claim, I discovered both understandings to be insufficient representations of the true complexity of Zoroastrianism. My quest to categorize Zoroastrian belief introduced me to the long history of this at-least two and a half millennia year old tradition[4] and its at-times frustratingly abstruse belief system. This question also led me to investigate how broader criticisms of the “World Religions Paradigm” may be represented by this particular problem.

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FACT-CHECK: Violence Against Non-Muslims in the Qur’an (Sura 5:33)

Anti-Muslim activist and co-founder of the English Defense League (EDL),[1] Tommy Robinson (a pseudonym), reacted to a Qur’anic verse quoted last Sunday during an Academy Awards acceptance speech. The verse was largely overshadowed by two other notable wins, with Mahershala Ali and Iran’s “The Salesman” winning for best supporting actor and best foreign film respectively, which both drew Muslim issues into last Sunday’s awards show spotlight.

In a video published Friday by Rebel Media, Robinson slams “Hollywood elites” for constantly “ramming Islamic scripture down our throats” while unwittingly “calling for their own execution.” Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon,[2] left the EDL in 2013 and has since become involved in PEGIDA UK,[3] the British iteration of Germany’s nationalist movement that aims to counter what it views as the “Islamization” of Europe.[4]

The chapter (sura) was quoted by Orlando von Einsiedel, director of “White Helmets”: a film chronicling the treacherous lives of the famous troop of volunteer rescue workers of the same name, who chase explosions throughout warn-torn Syria to provide medical services to blast victims. The film won an Oscar for best documentary short. Receiving the award, von Einsiedel recited a statement from Raed Saleh, founder of the White Helmets,

“We are so grateful that this film has highlighted our work to the world. Our organization is guided by a verse from the Qur’an: to save one life is to save all of humanity. We have saved more than 82,000 Syrian lives. I invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.”[5]

To most rational people, Saleh’s statement reads as to a call to peace. Yet, in his response, Robinson dismisses the statement as a nothing more than a liberal deception to mischaracterize Islam. Despite the White Helmets’ acts of immense charity in the face of unimaginable horror, and Robinson’s history of anything but,[6] he still felt morally justified in his condemnation of Islam’s sacred text in this context. In his discussion of the “real meaning” of Saleh’s verse, Robinson also felt comfortable serving in the role of expert in the Arabic words “Taqiya” and “Kitman” and correctly interpreting the Qur’an—1,400 years of Islamic scholarship notwithstanding.

While the subsequent sura at the center of Robinson’s response is indeed violent and disturbing, his application of the verse—as evidence that Saleh’s “to save one life” is really a message of war against the infidel West—is unsupported, corrupted by his determination to find no moral nuance in Islam and to view all Muslims as fundamentalists, who unlike the majority of Christians and Jews, are compelled to follow every word of their most sacred text.

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FACT CHECK: POTUS’ ‘Sweden Incident’ sparks CBN Trump apologists to cite fake statistics from Islamophobic blog

Donald Trump’s most recent public gaff at a rally in Melbourne, Florida has generated a chain reaction among his “friendly reporters.”[1] Among those anti-“MSM” publications viewed as a favorite of the president’s is the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), demonstrated by Trump choosing a CBN Chief Political Correspondent David Brody as one of only two—both conservative leaning news outlets—to be called on during the February 15th Netanyahu press conference.[2]

Trump’s Sweden comments were meant to grant justification for his anti-refugee, anti-immigrant positions. Instead, his blunder drew negative attention to the ban’s dubious legal foundation, and the deeply engrained xenophobic prejudices underlying the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim policies. The president stated,

“When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”[3]

These comments drew immediate criticism from former Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, who wrote on Twitter, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”[4] The Swedish Embassy in Washington later contacted the White House asking for clarification on Trump’s remarks, and one Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Catarina Axelsson told the Associated Press that she was unaware of an “terror-linked major incidents.”[5] The reaction from the Swedish government prompted Trump to state on Twitter that his comment “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”[6]

Today, CBN’s Dale Hurd and Gary Lane discussed the president’s controversial Sweden comments on air, staunchly defending Trump’s statements. Hurd argues that Sweden, which likes “to think of itself as a Humanitarian superpower,” has “brought in all of these refugees, and it’s a mess” and that crime has “become a regular occurrence in Sweden.”[7] Lane followed with a report from a blog that goes by the name “Muslim Statistics,”[8] which claims, “est 77% of rapes [in Sweden] committed by 2% Muslim male population.”[9],[10]

This blog is explicitly and unapologetically anti-Muslim. It reposts statistics from reputable sources such as the Pew Research Center, with misleading headlines beside gory photos of beheadings meant to manufacture fear of Muslims as violent jihadist rapists, which are utterly inimical to Western ideals.[11] However the blog also includes “reports” based on skewed data and all out fabrications. This Sweden report is one example. Below I will highlight the faults in this report, and comment on the reckless reporting of CBN, which not only cited this malicious lie on television, but reproduced it on an online article[12] as the only counterexample to a Washington Post article that reported a decline in the average crime rate in Sweden in recent years, including for lethal violence and sexual assaults.[13]

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