Tobias Winright 11-02-2012

Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War. Palgrave Macmillan.

Omar Sacirbey 10-29-2012
Muslim families walking in Los Angeles.

Muslim families walking in Los Angeles.

Nearly nine in 10 Muslim American voters pulled the lever for the Democratic candidate in the last two presidential elections, partly because of Republican policies and rhetoric that many considered anti-Muslim. In 2008, they also thought President Obama would usher in an era in which Muslims would be more accepted at home, and relations between America and the Islamic world would see improvement.

But this year, Muslim American support for President Obama shows signs of waning, which could be enough to affect the 2012 election in key swing states where a few thousand votes could have a big impact.

Several of those swing states -- most notably Virginia, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Ohio -- have enough Muslim voters to turn a tight race, experts say.

According to a poll of 500 Muslim American voters released Wednesday (Oct. 24) by the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Washington, 68 percent of Muslims said they would vote for President Obama, while 25 percent were undecided. The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points, also found that 91 percent of Muslims intend to vote.

Janelle Tupper 10-10-2012
The "Love Your Muslim Neighbors" Sojourners ad.

The "Love Your Muslim Neighbors" Sojourners ad.

Responding to attacks on Muslims, Sojourners has been placing ads around the country with a simple reminder of Jesus' command regarding how we treat others. The billboards and subway ads read: “Love Your Muslim Neighbors.”

Now, the attacks have reached our nation’s capital. Pamela Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s hateful ads that refer to Muslims as “savages” were placed in Washington, D.C., Metro stations this week following a lengthy court battle. Sojourners was ready for this development and has purchased “Love Your Muslim Neighbors” messages that will be going up in the some of the same Metro stations targeted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative and should appear by the 15th of October.

The ongoing attacks against religious minorities both in the United States and around the globe are saddening and disturbing. You can help respond to the latest developments in DC by clicking here.

Omid Safi 10-05-2012

The racist, anti-Muslim ad in the New York Subway that used the language of civilized and savages has more than met its match.

A large group of Jews and Christians have countered that hateful message by tapping into the rich mines of neighborly love that are at the heart of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions.     

New ads by Rabbis for Human Rights , United Methodist Women, and Sojourners have tapped into the rich religious commandment to “love thy neighbor” to remind all of us to love our neighbors.

Janelle Tupper 10-04-2012

A house of worship in Ohio was hit by an arsonist this weekend, causing an estimated million dollars in damage. Services were rescheduled, members toured the building to see the destruction, and statements were made. The religious community felt targeted and was afraid of future attacks.

The fact that the space in question was the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo should not change our outrage. As Christians, we need to stand for religious liberty for people of all faiths. We need to love our neighbors and speak out against hate.

Soon after this weekend’s attack was made public, we put a plan into action to demonstrate our solidarity. As we have done in Missouri, Tennessee, and New York, we will be offering a simple, biblical message: “Love your Muslim neighbors.”

Omar Sacirbey 10-03-2012
4634093993 / Shutterstock

Muslim men singing a lament. 4634093993 / Shutterstock

The variation in the proper way to pray is one among several differences that exist between Shiites, who make up about 15 percent of Muslims globally and in America, and the majority of Sunnis. Until recently, those differences mattered little in the United States, where the two groups bonded as Muslim minorities and prayed in the same mosques. 

"There weren't enough of either to justify the cost of building sectarian mosques, and because in general, early generation immigrants were less focused on establishing formal houses of worship," said Andrea Stanton, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver.

That is changing, however, as American Shiites are increasingly establishing their own mosques. According to "The American Mosque 2011," a survey sponsored by several Muslim American organizations, 7 percent of roughly 2,100 mosques in America are Shiite, and most have been built in the last 20 years.  

One reason: Shiites have become numerous and financially strong enough to manage the expensive process of buying or building their own mosques. Another factor: the growth in Shiite populations as immigrants flee persecution in Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where Taliban gunmen recently executed at least 22 Shiite bus passengers.

David Yonke 10-03-2012
RNS photo by David Yonke

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. RNS photo by David Yonke

TOLEDO, Ohio — Muslim worshippers are reeling from an arson fire at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, but are grateful for an outpouring of support from the local interfaith community.

“All the support we get is very welcome because if you are going through a tragedy and you have a friend who is holding your hand it means a lot,” said S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for theUnited Muslim Association of Toledo.

Perrysburg Township police ruled that the Sept. 30 fire was arson. Surveillance footage from the mosque shows a “person of interest” — a white middle-aged male wearing a camouflage sweatshirt and hat  at the mosque’s entrance shortly before the fire, which was reported about 5 p.m.

Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center, said the suspect poured gasoline in the center of the main floor where men worship at the mosque. Women pray on the same main floor, but in an area separated by a low divider.

“It was set in the men’s prayer area and the sprinklers turned out the fire. There is a lot of water damage from the sprinklers,” Islam said. “The Islamic Center is uninhabitable for easily three months.”

Carrie Adams 09-27-2012

The Iraqi flag painted on a wall.

It takes a lot for me to get excited.

Maybe I'm cautious, or maybe I'm just a tough sell, but it takes a big something to get me on board.

Today was that big something.

Last week, Pamela Geller of the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, put up ads in New York City subway stations that read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

Well, I think that's a problem. And Sojourners thinks that's a problem.

Our world is a powder keg, and Geller flagrantly lit a blowtorch with these ads, which, in case you were wondering, are protected fully under the Constitution.

They may be legal, but they're not moral.

Alessandro Speciale 09-27-2012
RNS photo by Jimmy Harris via Flickr

View down Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy. RNS photo by Jimmy Harris via Flickr

Just one week after Pope Benedict XVI ended his successful visit to Lebanon, the country's most senior Catholic leader called for a United Nations resolution “that will ban denigrating religions.”

Meanwhile in Pakistan, the country's only Catholic cabinet member, Minister of Harmony Paul Bhatti, this week told an interfaith gathering in Lahore that he will press U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to pass a UN resolution that condemns "defamation and contempt against religions." Bhatti said "we must not allow anyone to break our harmony" between Christians and Muslims.

Both moves are understandable in light of increasingly popular efforts in predominantly Muslim countries to outlaw blasphemy or defaming religion. But they could prove problematic for the Vatican as it fights to protect the rights of Christian minorities around the world.

The debate suggests a widening gap between the Vatican's official position, which opposes such measures, and the day-to-day reality of Catholic leaders on the ground, who often feel compelled to support Muslim efforts to protect religious tenets and religious figures from defamation.

Jim Wallis 09-27-2012

The most recent discussions of U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East, once again say more about politics during an election year, than they do about the fundamental issues we must confront if we want to see substantial change.

So let’s look at the basic issues and fundamental choices we need to make.

Today the Middle East — where about 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25 — is a region dominated by humiliation and anger.

Failure + rage + the folly of youth = an incendiary mix.

The roots of anti-American hostilities in the Middle East run deep (literally and figuratively). We can start with the fact that our oil (and its economy) lies beneath their sands. Couple that with U.S. support of repressive and backward regimes, the continual presence of foreign troops on their land and in their holy places, and the endless wars waged there, ultimately fueled by the geopolitics of energy.

Add to that incindiary cocktail the unresolved Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which continues to drive the deepest emotions of mutual frustration, fear, and retaliation throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Injustices and violence caused by the oil economy have sparked a reaction from dangerous religious fundamentalists in the Islamic world. Fundamentalism — in all our faith traditions — is both volatile and hard to contain once it has been unleashed, and it becomes hard to reverse its essentially reactive and predictably downward cycle.

Oren Dorell 09-26-2012

Members of the Syrian opposition generally want a democratic government that protects the rights of minorities, though many also want a constitution based on Islam, according to a recent survey.

Their aspirations are important because the Obama administration has said it is refraining from arming the opposition, which has been pummeled by Syrian security forces for 18 months, in part out of fear of igniting sectarian violence. There's also fear that weapons would reach Islamist radicals who would threaten allies in the region.

The survey by the International Republican Institute, which trains democracy activists around the world, found high support for a government that "respectfully acknowledges religion" and treats all religions equally. The second-most popular model of choice was for a constitution "based on Islam."

"Most of the opposition is Sunni Muslims and they are democratically minded, but they want a government based on some kind of Islamic law or that follows Islamic guidelines," says Elizabeth O'Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who helped the survey writers find contacts in the opposition movement.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” 

How many of us grew up with this old adage ringing in our ears? How many of us believe it’s true? 

I’ve gone back and forth over the years. I understand that the saying is an invitation to turn our backs on harsh, mean-spirited words thus robbing them of their power, but how many of us are really capable of simply doing that? The truth is words do hurt and sometimes they do more than hurt. Sometimes they are downright destructive and on a large scale.
I think this is what the writer of James is getting at in this morning’s text. Words, the works of our tongues, can be used for good and evil. It is not always easy for us to shape our words and move our tongues in a fashion that serves our faith, our calling as Christians, our work for the reign of God on earth.

One important spiritual discipline, one vital element to our faith formation, then, is learning to tame the tongue. That is, we are challenged to develop custody of our speech in such a way that good news is proclaimed and people are lifted up toward the fulfillment of their creation in the image and likeness of God.  Remember, James is especially concerned that we align our words and our work so we both “talk the walk” and “walk the talk.”

If we are offspring of the heavenly parent, if we are made in the likeness of God, how should that shape our speech and control the way we wag our tongues?

Omar Sacirbey 09-19-2012

Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in the U.S. are pledging not to let a spate of violent protests in some 20 Islamic countries derail recent efforts to improve the sometimes troubled relations between the two communities.

On Sept. 18, the Egyptian government ordered the arrest of seven Egyptian-born Copts now living in the United States who were allegedly involved in an anti-Muslim film that portrayed Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.

“We cannot allow the actions of a few deceived fanatical individuals to define our communities,” said Bishop Serapion, head of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speaking during a press conference on Sep. 17 with Muslim leaders in Los Angeles.

“We call on members of both religions to lean on our faiths to counter the hate and the violence with good speech and positive work,” added the Egyptian-born bishop.

The show of solidarity comes almost a week after protesters in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 90 million Egyptians are Coptic, attacked the U.S. embassy, setting off protests in other Muslim countries, including neighboring Libya, where American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Oren Dorell 09-18-2012

Anti-American protesters in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir, India., on Sept. 14, 2012.

Anti-American riots that have spread to more than a dozen countries across the Middle East are a sign of fissures between radical and more moderate Islamists that are vying for power as their societies undergo change, Middle East experts say.

Whether U.S. foreign policy has helped create a political environment where radicals are struggling to remain relevant, or emboldened extremists to act out, is a matter of disagreement.
President Obama's approach to the Arab Spring, to engage with the Islamists and not the secularists, "is seen by our foes as disengagement, while the radicals are not backing off," said Walid Phares, an adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and author of the 2010 book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.

"When we withdraw, they advance."
Tamara Wittes, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs until a few months ago, sees it differently.
The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq removed "a massive source" of grievance for ultra-conservative Muslims, called Salafis, who have been leading the charge in the recent protests and who are ideologically close to Islamic terrorists who have warred with the U.S., Wittes said. "Now they're left trying to gin up anti-American feelings over this campy movie. If Salafi groups are left having to troll the Internet for a pretext, I think we're in pretty good shape."

Omar Sacirbey 09-17-2012
Cane Corso and French Bulldog

Cane Corso and French Bulldog

Worshippers at Toronto's Salahuddin mosque were bracing for protests Friday as part of "Walk Your Dog in Front of a Mosque Day."

The event is being organized by supporters of a man who claims Muslim protestors kicked his English mastiff, Cupcake, during an anti-Israel rally last month.    

While claiming that they wanted to draw attention to Muslim attitudes toward dogs, the organizers' Facebook page is replete with hostilities. One man wrote that he would throw protestors into a "lake of fire" and shoot their dogs, and the event has been promoted on a white supremacist website,    

Some Muslims responded with their own "Good Muslims Love Dogs" Facebook page, including at least one photo of a veiled woman with a veiled dog.    

Muslims' alleged canine-phobia is often cited by critics of Islam as an example of how the faith is incompatible with Western values. Some Muslims have perpetuated that narrative, such as when a Somali cab driver in Minneapolis made national headlines in 2007 when he refused to let a blind man bring his seeing-eye dog into his car. 

Yet many Muslims all over the world have dogs, and dogs figure prominently is some Islamic countries, such as Turkey, famous for its Kangal and Akbash breeds.  

Kellie Kotraba 09-14-2012
 RNS photo by Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FAVS

Tattered prayer rugs are among the remains of what was once a mosque in Joplin, Mo. RNS photo by Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FAVS

When the mosque in Joplin, Mo., on the outskirts of town burned to the ground on Aug. 6, the imam’s 4-year-old son knew what to do.

He wanted to build another.

After all, that’s what his family had done with their home after it was destroyed by the tornado that tore through the town a little more than a year earlier.

The imam's family has a new home, but the wait for a new mosque is going to take a while.

A little more than a month after the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque was destroyed by fire, the local Muslim community is moving forward with support from the interfaith community.

But progress is slow.

Daniel Burke 09-13-2012
RNS file photo by David Gard/The Star-Ledger

Terry Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as s sexual pervert. RNS file photo

When inflamed mobs stormed the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, the media quickly looked to a likely spark.

Florida Pastor Terry Jones ignited deadly riots by threatening to burn Qurans in 2010, and by torching the Islamic holy text last year. Recently, Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a foolish sexual pervert.

But in the days before the protests, Jones made no public mention of the film called Innocence of Muslims — even as he prepared to stage an “International Judge Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.

Instead, the man who translated the film into Arabic, sent it to Egyptian journalists, promoted it on his website and posted it on social media was an obscure Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who lives near Washington and proudly touts his ties to Jones.

Christian Piatt 09-13-2012
Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa.  Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.

That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.

RNS photo by Sid Hastings/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Members of the Islamic Foundation of St. Louis perform in honor of Sept 11. RNS photo by Sid Hastings/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Timothy O'Leary sat in an audience of 2,000 New Yorkers listening to the Brooklyn Philharmonic perform a concert about terrorism — the 1985 murder of an American tourist by members of the Palestine Liberation Front on a Mediterranean cruise ship. It was one of the most powerful moments he'd ever had in a theater.

Terrorism stories are rarely happy stories, and yet the path O'Leary has taken — from bringing the controversial opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" to St. Louis last year to a Sept. 11 memorial concert on Sept. 9 — ends with a hopeful, permanent pairing of faith and the arts in St. Louis.

Religious rights activists are hailing the release over the weekend of an Iranian pastor accused of apostasy and a Pakistani girl who was charged with blasphemy.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was released on Saturday after a six-hour hearing, reported the American Center for Law and Justice, which worked to garner American support for the minister’s release. The Christian convert had faced possible execution.

“Your prayers, your advocacy, and your voice has been heard,” read an online announcement from ACLJ.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed Nadarkhani’s release “after being unjustly imprisoned for three years because of his faith,” said its chair, Katrina Lantos Swett.