As Hateful Ads Expand to D.C., So Does Sojourners’ Response

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.

The Lord Says: 'Love Thy (Muslim) Neighbor': Jewish and Christian Groups Reach Out to Muslims

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.

Toledo and the Power of Love

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.”

Shiite Muslims Quietly Establish a Foothold in U.S.

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.

Mosque in Toledo, Ohio Scorched by Arson

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.”

The Big Something: When A Campaign Gets Personal

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.

Vatican Walks a Fine Line on Trying to Combat Blasphemy

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.

'Love Your Neighbor' Wasn't Just a Suggestion

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.

Survey: Syrian Rebels Seek Islamic Democracy

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.

Taming the Tongue

“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?