Cathleen Falsani 02-21-2012
Obama at an April 4, 2004 Palm Sunday mass in Chicago. Via Getty Images.

Obama pictured at Palm Sunday mass in Chicago where Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke, April 4, 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.

We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the
Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.

Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on
God’s Politics.

~ Cathleen Falsani

Tim Townsend 02-12-2012
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.

Caryn Shinske 02-10-2012
Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Obama prays during a Medal of Honor ceremony, 9/15/11. Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The people behind a popular chain e-mail about President Obama and the National Day of Prayer might want to think about the sin of omission.

That's omission, as in omitting facts.

The widely circulated e-mail claims that Obama canceled a National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House in 2009, but later that year, a National Day of Prayer for Muslims was permitted on Capitol Hill, beside the White House.

the Web Editors 02-06-2012

TORONTO — Muslim clerics in Canada have issued a fatwa against so-called "honor killings" a week after three members of an Afghan family in Montreal were convicted of the murders of four relatives.
The religious decree -- only the third of its kind in Canada -- also prohibits domestic violence and hatred of women. It was issued on Saturday (Feb. 4) on the eve of Mawlid an-Nabi, the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.
"These crimes are major sins in Islam, punishable by the court of law and almighty Allah," said Imam Syed Soharwardy of Calgary, representing 34 clerics affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.

Jack Palmer 02-06-2012

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus is a true Internet phenomenon, garnering more than 18 million views and sparking a global debate.

As with most internet phenomena, the viral video has given birth to dozens of similar videos from folks around the world, each adding a different (sometimes serious, sometimes not) perspective to the debates.

Whilst none has had quite the same impact as the original in terms of millions of hits, clicks and media coverage, there are conversation starters aplenty in many of these intriguing (and entertaining) videos.

See a roundup of some of the most interesting responses inside the blog...

the Web Editors 02-01-2012
Front Page of Canada's National Post announcing the Shafia Murder Convictions.

Front Page of Canada's National Post announcing the Shafia Murder Convictions.

According to the Associated Press:

A jury on Sunday found three members of an Afghan family guilty of killing three teenage sisters and another woman in what the judge described as "cold-blooded, shameful murders" resulting from a "twisted concept of honor," ending a case that shocked and riveted Canadians.

Prosecutors said the defendants allegedly killed the three teenage sisters because they dishonored the family by defying its disciplinarian rules on dress, dating, socializing and using the Internet.

The jury took 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

After the verdict was read, the three defendants again declared their innocence in the killings of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia's childless first wife in a polygamous marriage.

Read a roundup of the ongoing coverage of the Shafia trial and the religious, political and social issues related to the so-called "honor killings" inside the blog...

Lisa Sharon Harper 12-15-2011

Lowes pulled its ad dollars from a show that aims to tighten the tapestry we call America because of a faux controversy drummed up by a hate group that said, through its claims of “propaganda," that it's not possible for Muslims to be American.

But the fabric of our nation exists because of the genius of our nation’s founder, who, in the very first amendment to our Constitution, protected the integrity of religion by forbidding the establishment of any one religion as the religion of the state.

In every single society before the founding of our Union, religion and state were married. History has taught us that religion co-opted by the state loses its integrity and its prophetic power. 

Ours was a grand experiment that built America into a grand tapestry of ethnic and religious groups that thrive side by side in relative peace—more so than in any other nation in the world.

Cathleen Falsani 12-14-2011

Last night on "The Daily Show," host Jon Stewart and "senior Muslim correspondent" Aasif Mandvi took a few clever swings at the Florida Family Association and Lowe's for their opposition to the new TLC series "All-American Muslim," which depicts Muslim-American families living in Dearborn, Mich.

Timothy King 12-13-2011
Sisters Shadia, Suehalia, and Samira from All American Muslim. Image via TLC.

Sisters Shadia, Suehalia, and Samira from All American Muslim. Image via TLC.

They are dangerous. And no, I’m not talking about the five Muslim families in Dearborn Michigan depicted in TLC’s new series All American Muslim.

I’m talking about the Florida Family Association(FFA). They are a group with a campaign targeting the show's advertisers and who have successfully gotten Lowe's to remove their commercials.

From the FFA website:

The Learning Channel's new show All-American Muslim is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law. The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish. ...Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show.

Yup. That’s their complaint. Having a show that would dare to depict “ordinary” Muslims.

Joshua Witchger 11-09-2011

Looking at reality TV’s latest sensation: All American Muslim, stories of Missouri's Chocolate University harvesting more than cocoa beans, exploring the terms behind the latest anti-bullying legislation, Bill McKibben, social media meets religion, God and sports, Proposition 8, and more.

Eboo Patel 11-01-2011

The Oslo shooter took inspiration from America's own anti-Muslim rightists.

Jack Palmer 10-12-2011

yusuf-300x225The news cycle often moves so quickly that very often big news stories are forgotten within a day, sometimes even more quickly.

I prayerfully hope that this is not and will not be the case with the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian leader who has been sentenced to death for refusing to recant his religious beliefs and convert to Islam.

Arrested in 2009 on a charge of apostasy, he has spent two years in jail, with his wife also being jailed on similar charges last year.

The world's media was watching then.

the Web Editors 10-04-2011

ev churchWhat are "the evangelicals," you ask?

Certainly not a political or ideological monolith, as recent polling and survey numbers demonstrate.

Here is a compilation of some recent statistics related to evangelicals and their political, spiritual and ideological habits.

the Web Editors 10-04-2011

A truck bomb has killed at least 70 people in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, including a crowd of young students applying for scholarships to study abroad.

the Web Editors 09-30-2011
UPDATES: Earlier today (Friday, Sept. 30), the Iranian Embassy in the U.K. issued the following statement regarding Pastor Nadarkhani:
Alex Awad 09-26-2011
Late last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the United Nations to request an official recognition of Palestine as an independent state with full statehood status at the UN.
Eboo Patel 09-09-2011

Ten years on, I'm remembering the literature I read and the music that kept me going in the days and months after 9/11. I had Rumi and Whitman on my bedside table, reading them back to back, alternating between selections of the Mathnawi and poems from Leaves of Grass, sometimes feeling like the two were one, the soul of America, and that the soul of Islam were intersecting at some point beyond where the eye could see:

Whoever you are!, motion and reflection are especially for you, The divine ship sails the divine sea for you. -- Walt Whitman

Come, come, whoever you are, Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, Ours is not a caravan of despair. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times It doesn't matter Come, come yet again, come. -- Rumi

Until then, the Quran for me was a book of personal spiritual guidance, a convening symbol for my religious community. But after 9/11, I viewed it as a balm for my country's pain, especially lines from Ayat al-Kursi: "His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them."

Jim Wallis 09-08-2011

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in Washington, D.C. getting ready to go to Sojourners' office. I was upstairs listening to the news on NPR when I heard the first confusing report of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately called downstairs to Joy and asked her to turn on the television to see what was going on. Moments later, as we ate breakfast together with our three-year-old son Luke, we watched the second plane strike the north tower. I still remember my first response to Joy, "This is going to be bad, very bad," I said.

Of course, I meant more than just the damage to the Twin Towers and the lives lost, which became far greater than any of us imagined at first. Rather, my first and deepest concern was what something like this could do to our country and our nation's soul. I was afraid of how America would respond to a terrorist attack of this scope.

Bob Smietana 08-19-2011

Rev. Steve Stone was just trying to be a good neighbor.

Two years ago, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis, learned that a local mosque had bought property right across the street from the church. So he decided some Southern hospitality was in order.

A few days later, a sign appeared in front of the church. "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood," it read.

That small act of kindness was the start of an unlikely friendship between the two congregations, one that made headlines around the world. Members of the mosque and church have shared meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and become friends over the past two years. When Stone learned that his Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn't ready, he opened up the doors of the church and let them hold Ramadan prayers there.

Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, "Probably." Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.

According to the New York Times, the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind "a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination." If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century.