Interfaith

More Than 12,000 Christians "Starving" in the Village of Rableh: Humanitarian Law is Invoked

Agencia Fides, the Vatican news outlet for Catholic missioners, is the only news source for reports about Mussalaha, the popular faith-led peace movement in Syria. With violence fracturing along religious/ethnic lines, this inter-religious movement seeks to maintain safe havens for all Syrians who will lay down their weapons. Mussalaha is also smuggling food, medicine, and hope into blockaded cities, such as Rableh where more than 12,000 Christians have been under siege for more than 10 days.

Agencia Fides reports: Over 12 thousand faithful Greek-Catholics are trapped in the village of Rableh, west of Qusayr, in the area of Homs. Food is scarce, the faithful are living on "bread and water", medicine is lacking to treat the sick and wounded. This is the alarm raised by local sources of Fides that invoke respect for humanitarian law, that confirm what the international press is reporting on the situation in Rableh. For more than ten days the village of Rableh is subject to a strict blockade by armed opposition groups, which surround it on all sides....

 ...representatives of the popular initiative for reconciliation "Mussalaha" were able to carry a small load of humanitarian aid to the village. A representative of "Mussalaha" assured the faithful by claiming that "everything will be done to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid." An appeal was launched by His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, visibly moved, to all men of good will so that "Rableh is saved and all other villages affected in Syria, and finally for peace to be reached in our beloved country." Even the Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, His Exc. Mgr. Mario Zenari, called on all parties involved "to the strict observance of the international humanitarian law", pointing out that the resolution of the crisis in Syria depends first of all on its citizens.

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Muslim Group, CAIR, Regains Tax-Exempt Status

Photo by Mark Abraham
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Photo by Mark Abraham

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights group that has frequently drawn fire from conservatives, has regained its tax-exempt status.

The Washington, D.C.-based CAIR and its related foundation were two of about 275,000 nonprofits that lost tax exempt status last year for not filing tax returns for three years in a row. Last month, the Internal Revenue Service sent a letter to the CAIR-Foundation Inc., saying the nonprofit had regained its tax-exempt status.

"We are obviously pleased that all the paperwork issues have been resolved and our tax-exempt status has been restored," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR. Hooper did not know the details of what paperwork, including tax returns, had been filed.

Interfaith Prayer Room Welcomes Worshippers at AIDS 2012

Photo courtesy Jon Pattee
Photo courtesy Jon Pattee

It’s a rare place of worship where Muslims and Baha’is both congregate, and where prayer rugs share space with a silver cross, religious pamphlets on healing in Hebrew, and a bright scarlet AIDS bow. But on Wednesday afternoon, that was the scene at the Interfaith Prayer Room of the AIDS 2012 conference.

“This room is designed for Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Baha’is — for anyone who needs to find a place for quiet and prayer, and counseling, if necessary,” said Imam Dr. Abdul-Malik Ali, who just finished leading prayers beside a broad banner reading “Faith in Action — End Stigma Now.”

A sign in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic welcomed worshippers to the carpeted prayer room.  Double doors cut the clamor of thousands of convention-goers to a murmur, so that inside, even the faintest clicking of the ventilation system was audible. To complete the contrast with the outside’s roar and bustle, the air was cool and the lights were gently dimmed. 

Standing with Nuns, Standing for Compassion

Sisters, javarman / Shutterstock.com
Sisters, javarman / Shutterstock.com

The reprimand that came out of the Vatican last month has familiar echoes.

The statement addressing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80 percent of nuns in the United States, accuses the organization of “serious doctrinal problems” regarding the focus of religious practice, among them, a concern that the Catholic Sisters are too focused on social justice and not enough on voicing the Church’s views on homosexuality or abortion.

For me, the reprimand carries reverberations of similar friction from my undergrad that followed a weeklong retreat on Chicago’s West Side.

College Students Find Life 'Better Together'

Both college and religion are in the news as I write. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum called Barack Obama’s faith “phony theology” and spoke of campuses as “indoctrination mills.”

Our main partners in interfaith cooperation at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) are college campuses, and as founder and president I’ve set foot on dozens and worked indirectly with hundreds more. My experience offers a very different perspective than Santorum’s. With the right leadership, curriculum, and activities, campuses are places where people can deepen their faith identities and learn the very American art of interfaith bridge-building. In fact, campuses are environments that can model this interfaith bridge-building for the rest of society, a place where students can learn the knowledge base and skill set of interfaith leadership.

Take the University of Illinois, for instance, where interfaith cooperation has been a priority for the better part of a decade. The student leaders of Interfaith in Action include evangelicals, Jews, humanists, Muslims, and Hindus. Together, they mobilized thousands of volunteers from different traditions to package more than 1 million meals for Haiti in the aftermath of the tragic 2010 earthquake. The group is now coordinating a spring conference that will empower student leaders from around the country to engage people of different faiths and act together on pressing issues such as hunger and homelessness. One of the leaders of the effort, Greg Damhorst, told me he does interfaith organizing because gathering people from different faiths to serve others is one way of living out the command of Jesus to offer comfort to the afflicted.

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FBI, Muslim Groups Report Progress in Training Materials

FBI officials say they are willing to consider a proposal from a coalition of Muslim and interfaith groups to establish a committee of experts to review materials used in FBI anti-terrorism training.

The coalition raised the idea during a Feb 8 meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller, who met with the groups to discuss pamphlets, videos and other anti-terrorism training materials that critics say are either Islamophobic or factually incorrect.

"We're open to the idea, but they need to submit a proposal first," said Christopher Allen, an FBI spokesman who was in the meeting.

Groups at the meeting included the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Interfaith Alliance, and the Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign.

Church Seeks Line Between Interfaith and Intolerance

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.
Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.

DES PERES, Mo. — More than 100 Lutherans streamed into the basement classroom at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Des Peres recently for a Bible study called "Islam Through a Lutheran Lens."

It was a better-than-expected showing, and people carefully balanced their Styrofoam coffee cups as they rearranged extra folding chairs into rows to capture the overflow crowd.

"We're going to be looking at (Islam) though the lenses we have been given through God's word, the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions," the Rev. Glen Thomas told them. The executive director of pastoral education for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had taught a similar series of classes in the fall called "Mormonism Through a Lutheran Lens."

"How many people here know a Muslim?" Thomas asked.

Three hands went up. Thomas pressed on.

Five Questions for Catherine Rowan

Bio: Consultant for member organizations of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Website: www.iccr.org

1. How have your experiences as a Catholic Maryknoll lay missioner shaped you? They have had a profound effect. My family lived in Brazil from 1988 to 1994—years when Brazil was subject to the “structural adjustment” programs of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. My oldest son, who was 8 years old at the time, got it right away. After a few months living in São Paulo, he said: “Brazil has so much. Why do they have to keep sending their wealth out of the country?”

2. What are justice issues you’re working on now? We’ve all seen how unregulated banking can devastate people’s livelihoods. Inspired by our faith traditions, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) are working for an open, well-regulated global financial system that serves the needs of all—one in which banks are accountable for the risk from their business activities. We’re putting forth a shareholder proposal calling for transparency to prevent companies from dressing up their balance sheets to hide liquidity problems that could increase system-wide risk.

We’re also using our shareholder power to work with community groups to pressure Bank of America and WellsFargo to reform their mortgage modification practices and invest in communities devastated by foreclosures.

3. What are your next big priorities? With so many people in the U.S. unable to afford the medicines they need, I have been working with other ICCR members to press pharmaceutical companies about drug price increases. Increasing access to medicines is critical to preventing millions of deaths around the world. We believe companies need to find a balance between seeking profits and the moral mandate to meet public health needs.

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