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.

Omar Sacirbey 09-05-2012
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Democratic National ConventThe number of Muslion at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The number of Muslim delegates attending the Democratic National Convention has quadrupled since 2004, according to a Muslim advocacy group.  

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations counts more than 100 Muslim delegates representing some 20 states at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week. That's up from 25 delegates in 2004, according to CAIR.

CAIR government affairs coordinator Robert McCaw said the numbers were ”a sign of the American Muslim community’s growing civic engagement and acceptance in the Democratic Party.” He also said that Democrats had targeted outreach to American Muslims. 

Daniel Burke 08-30-2012
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, RNS photo by Enid Bloch

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, RNS photo by Enid Bloch

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has spent most of his adult life trying to build interfaith and international bridges. But to many Americans, he is the public face of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque," one of the most controversial religious projects in recent U.S. history.

Rauf reflects on that turmoil in his new book, Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America. But as the book's subtitle suggests, the longtime imam spends most of his time facing forward — toward the development of a distinctly American brand of Islam. He spoke recently with Religion News Service. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.    

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: I wrote this book because the American public saw me and heard me, but really didn’t get to know me very well, or to understand what my work was all about. This book is my calling card to the American public.

Omar Sacirbey 08-29-2012
RNS photo by Veridicu Photo

hadija Anderson, a Muslim convert in Los Angeles, performs a Butoh dance in 2008. RNS photo by Veridicu Photo

The Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world this week when they beheaded 17 people, allegedly for the crime of dancing at a mixed-gender gathering.

Which prompts the question: Does Islam forbid dancing? While Islamic scholars are divided on the answer, it’s easy to find Muslims in America and abroad who love to boogie down.

“Even though there are scholars who forbid dancing, there is a long tradition of dancing in Muslim cultures,” said Vernon Schubel, a Muslim and professor of religious studies at Kenyon College in Ohio.

There is no mention of dancing in the Quran, which serves as Muslims’ primary source of guidance. There is a story about dancing in the hadith, or collected stories about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, which are the second-most important source of guidance for Muslims.

Kathleen K. Duff 08-17-2012
A Quran photographed in a mosque (2012). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

A Quran photographed in a mosque (2012). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

This year during Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad —  I was in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers throughout the world by reading the Quran. But here's the thing: I am a Roman Catholic.

My copy of the Quran, with more than 1,700 pages, has sat on the top shelf of my bedroom bookcase among other sacred texts for 14 years. Typically I would use it as a sporadic reference and resource to better understanding Islam, reading a few short passages at a time.

However, this Ramadan something at the core of my being was calling me to read the Quran in its entirety. And so my monthlong Ramadan journey began.

Each day and evening, the prayerful poetry in the Quran held me in a meditative mode of peace as I read without being aware of the passage of time.

When I finished reading a week before the end of the month, I felt as if the Quran was almost endless, reaching beyond the confines of my calendar days. I didn’t want to read the last page. I didn’t want to be finished.

The Quran inspired me, taught me and helped me to remember my essential holiness and how that holiness in the image of God should be reflected in the world.

Omar Sacirbey 08-16-2012

After four years of living in the U.S., Mohamed Jedeh is anxious to return to his native Libya.

It irks him that his local mosque in Union City, N.J., won’t broadcast the Muslim call to prayer for fear of angering neighbors, yet nobody complains about the noise from a local bar. Back home, there are no scantily clad women walking across his sight line, and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is easier because almost everyone is doing it.

Jedeh would probably be home by now if he hadn't been asked by a mosque in Boston to help with special nightly Ramadan prayers. After graduating in May with a master's degree in clinical research from the New York University College of Dentistry, he's ready to get back to the small city of Zintan in northwest Libya, where he plans to teach dentistry and work at a local clinic.

“It’s different,” said Jedeh, who flies back on Aug. 20. “I miss the Islamic atmosphere.”

Despite his homesickness, Jedeh said he has had a positive experience in the U.S. He initially worried about his wife's safety because she wears a niqab, or face veil, but except for one insult shouted by a passerby, he and his family have been treated respectfully. 

“I believe you cannot judge any country and say, all people are good or all people are bad,” said Jedeh. 

Lisa Sharon Harper 08-16-2012
Book of Revelation photo, Stephen Orsillo /

Book of Revelation photo, Stephen Orsillo /

It was the summer of 1994 and about 10 friends and I sat huddled around Bibles in my friend’s living room. It was a “scripture party.” The lights were dim and the air was full of anticipation and mystery. We did not know what God might reveal as we opened the book of Revelation and read it out loud, in community, in one night. 

This bears resemblance to the way the early church would have read the scripture. They were an oral culture, not a written one. The Hebrew Bible was written on scrolls that were read aloud to congregations. Most of the New Testament was written as letters to the worshiping bodies of whole cities (i.e. the saints in Ephesus, the church in Philippi, the body in Corinth, etc.). When received, the letters would be read out loud to the whole church community and received as God’s instruction revealed through the apostles for the edification of their communities.

Imagine being one of the very first followers of the Jesus “Way” (Acts 9:2). 

Imagine being a persecuted religious group. You have to use code — the sign of the ichthys — to identify yourself to other believers for fear of religious persecution. Only when you are gathered together in secret can you speak openly about your faith. Only then can you be fully known and appreciated for the whole image of God that lives inside of you.

Imagine huddling in a secret meeting place and reading the Apostle John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ for your nascent faith community in Ephesus or Smyrna, or Pergamum, or Thyatira, or Sardis, or Philadelphia, or Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). Imagine living in Ephesus and reading Paul’s prayer for your church to understand its hope and inheritance (Ephesians 1:17-2:22). 

And imagine being rich in the early church and hearing James’ letter warning: “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your field, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”

Imagine hearing it all for the first time. It all feels so real. The call to holiness feels so urgent because God feels so present. 

Chris Lisee 08-14-2012
RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Portland's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of Portland, draws diverse Muslims. RNS photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Nearly all Muslims can agree on the basic beliefs of Islam: There is one God, Muhammad is God’s prophet, Muslims should fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and give alms to the poor.

Yet beyond these central pillars of the faith, Muslims worldwide vastly differ as religious convictions are shaped by cultural and social contexts, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” draws on 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 39 countries, and finds that Muslims differ sharply over questions of faith like who counts as a Muslim and what spiritual practices are acceptable.

With 1.6 billion adherents, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, behind Christianity, and accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ramadan's first day of fasting began today at dawn. This year, Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, has chosen to keep the fast during the Muslim holy month alongside our friend, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Both Lisa and Imam Feisal will be blogging regularly during the coming days and weeks of Ramadan, sharing with our readers their personal reflections on what the holy month, the fast and journeying together as a Christian and a Muslim means to them. To learn more about Ramadan and its sunrise-to-sunset monthlong fast, click HERE.

In 2004 I led a group of Intervarsity students on a journey through Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia on a Pilgrimage for Reconciliation. For four weeks we traveled throughout all three countries investigating the roots of conflict and seeds of peace being planted between the Catholic Croatians, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs. Along the way, we met with Miroslav Volf, who was vacationing in his home country of Croatia at the time. One of my students asked Volf the same question I asked my mentor years before: “How do you engage in interfaith activity without watering down your own faith?” Volf answered with one word: “Respect.”

He explained that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love requires respect. We may not agree with our neighbors, but we must respect their minds and their ability to choose the faith they will practice...

That is why I have chosen to embrace my Muslim neighbors by practicing the Fast of Ramadan this year with a spiritual leader who I admire and look forward to learning from, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Jason Grant 07-11-2012
RNS photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger

Syed Farhaj Hassan, RNS photo by John Munson/The Star-Ledger

At 26, Syed Farhaj Hassan was a devout Muslim, and a man who took a lot of pride in being one of the relatively few Muslim Americans to join the military and then go to war in Iraq.

He dropped out of Rutgers University and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2001. He was sent to Iraq two years later, where he served with a unit that assessed and planned the rebuilding of places like the war-torn city of Hillah, where he even slept some nights in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces.

Born in Chicago and raised in New Jersey, he’d grown up engrossed in military-themed TV shows like “M*A*S*H” and “G.I. Joe.” And nearly a decade after his war service, he’s still patriotic — he’s even an active reservist in a civil affairs brigade.

But these days, Hassan is also frustrated and upset with an arm of the U.S. government. Hassan said that he’s been “betrayed” by the New York City police department for its years of post-9/11 spying on Muslim communities in New Jersey.

Connie Jakab 06-19-2012
Muslim woman praying, wong yu liang  /

Muslim woman praying, wong yu liang /

I have been discovering more each day how much I love Muslim people. They are beautiful, warm people, yet we are afraid of them because of misconceptions based on our stereotypes of their race.

I have friends who were living in the Middle East for four years and were sharing about how amazing they find Muslim people. Through my own encounters and my friend’s experiences, here’s what muslim people have taught me.

Helen Jung 06-14-2012
Hands with Muslim prayer beads, Omer N Raja /

Hands with Muslim prayer beads, Omer N Raja /

In the past two years, the FBI has placed at least five men with affiliations to the mosque, including its longtime religious leader, on the nation's no-fly list, a roster of suspected terrorists barred from flying in the United States. None has been charged with a terrorism-related offense, and federal officials haven't told them why they're on the list.

The unexplained actions are aggravating the FBI's already poor relationship with the mosque and fueling fear and frustration among Muslims that their house of worship appears to be once again in the government's crosshairs.

"It's not that we're doing anything wrong," said Jesse Day, who converted to Islam two years ago and regularly attends the Friday services. But like many others at the mosque who flinch at the sight of a camera and suspect an informant moves among them, he worries.

the Web Editors 04-30-2012
Terry Jones in a Michigan courtroom, 2011. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

Terry Jones in a Michigan courtroom, 2011. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

Over the weekend, the (seemingly) perennial fire-starter and certifiable wingnut Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., a 50-member self-proclaimed Christian congragation, made good on his threats to burn a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in what he said was a protest of the ongoing incarceration of a Christian pastor in Iraq.

You may recognize Jones from his infamous 2011 Quran burning, one that federal authorities and President Obama personally attempted (in vain, sadly)  to prevent the wrong-headed from what many critics feared would only serve to perpetuate further anti-American violence by so-called Islamic extremists and terrorists around the world.

This time, Jones claimed to be stoking his fires of unrest on behalf of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Muslim convert to Christianity who has been imprisoned by the Iranian government for nearly three years on charges of apostasy and reportedly is facing execution for his "crimes."

The Gainesville Sun newspaper reports that this weekend's Quran burning, which also included an effigy of Islam's Prophet Muhammad set aflame, took place in front of 20 spectators outside Jones' church, and the whole incident was broadcast live on the Internet.

Omar Sacirbey 04-30-2012
Image via Zurijeta / Shutterstock

Image via Zurijeta / Shutterstock

The Pentagon is investigating whether military officials ignored complaints from senior officers about a course that was found to have inflammatory and inaccurate content about Islam.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, ordered the inquiry on Tuesday (April 24), the same day he canceled "Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism," a training course that asserted that Islam was at war with the West. The course had been offered as an elective at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va., since 2004.

Roughly 20 officers have complained about the course's content, although it's not clear when, or to whom, or what kind of action was taken. "We don't know what was done with those objections," said Cmdr. Patrick McNally, a Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman.

Amanda Greene 04-13-2012
Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/

Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/

Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 -- his year of conversion.

But he's not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn't call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha'i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen's aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

Jack Palmer 04-04-2012
Alain de Botton. Image via

Alain de Botton. Image via

This is not another book that simply critiques religion. In Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, Alain de Botton, a noted author on a wide range of themes – from architecture to the works of Proust – examines those engaging and helpful aspects of religion (particularly focusing on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism) that might, as he puts it, “fruitfully be applied to the problems of secular society.”

Anyone who might be offended by a work that from the outset (indeed on its very first page) asserts that “of course no religions are true in any God-given sense”, is encouraged to steer clear of this book by the author himself.

It is a book that seems to swing between revulsion of religion and the “religious colonization” that atheists are charged to reverse and a recognition that all is not well in the secular world, and that these ills may be somewhat righted by looking toward religion – let me clarify – toward those aspects of religious traditions that de Botton believes are relevant to the world today: community, kindness, education and art, for example.

The very first subject to be tackled is that of community – something that Sojourners knows a little something about (check out Nicole Higgins’ recent review of Wanderlust for some insights) – and what strikes me as interesting is that de Botton’s hypothesis on the loss of community mirrors a phrase often spoken by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis:

Did we lose our sense of community when we began to privatize our faith?

Omar Sacirbey 03-06-2012

Australian-Egyptian soccer player Assmaah Helal wears a hijab, during a training session. TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Muslim female soccer players are celebrating a decision by the International Football Association Board to allow them to test specially designed head coverings for four months.

Soccer's international governing body, known as FIFA, has prohibited headscarves since 2007, citing safety concerns. The new headscarves will be fastened with Velcro rather than pins.

The headscarf prohibition has generated controversy among fans of the world's most popular team sport, especially in Muslim countries in Africa, the Middle East and central Asia.

Omar Sacirbey 03-04-2012
Understanding Shariah ad from ICNA.

Understanding Shariah ad from ICNA.

Against a backdrop of heartland fears that U.S. Muslims seek to impose Islamic law on American courts, a leading Muslim group will launch a campaign Monday to dispel what it called misconceptions about Shariah.
The "Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shariah" campaign comes at a time when more than 20 states are considering or have passed laws forbidding judges from considering Shariah in their deliberations.
Many Americans associate Shariah with the harsh punishments carried out in a few Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, even as U.S. Muslim groups insist they have no desire to introduce Islamic law on themselves or others.
"There were all these wrong notions about Shariah," said professor Zahid Bukhari, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, which is sponsoring the campaign.
The most worrisome thing, he said, was that the level of hatred toward Shariah had spread from the margins of society to the mainstream. The ICNA campaign has already drawn fire from "anti-Shariah" groups in the United State

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Muslim leaders address issues around police surveillance of Muslims in NJ last month. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

NEWARK, N.J. —  Amid concern over the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslims beyond New York City, New Jersey and federal law enforcement officials plan to hold a summit Saturday (March 3) to assure Muslim leaders that they are addressing the NYPD probe.

Amin Nathari, a spokesman for Newark's Muslim Community Leadership Coalition, said Muslim leaders planned to meet in Trenton with representatives of the FBI, the New Jersey State Police and the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to discuss the NYPD operations.

The U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey, the state police and the FBI's division in Newark confirmed they plan to attend, but offered no specifics. The state Attorney General's Office and Homeland Security declined to comment.