On Maundy Thursday, Pope Washes Feet at Youth Prison

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis on Thursday washed the feet of 12 young inmates, including two girls and two Muslims, during a Maundy Thursday Mass at a youth detention center in Rome.

The Argentine pontiff, who has shown an eagerness to break with tradition in the two weeks since his election to the papacy on March 13, chose to celebrate the rite in the Casal del Marmo prison in northwest Rome, rather than in the traditional venue of the St. John Lateran Basilica.

Francis has repeatedly stated his desire to bring the papacy and the church closer to the poor and the marginalized.

One Woman’s Journey Out of Faith, Family, and Fear

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Samya enjoys peaceful places, she likes music and attends meetings with other atheists once a week. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

On a summer night in a Western town of flat fields and hazy sunsets, a young woman stood outside a Greyhound bus with a ticket in her hand and a backpack over her shoulder. Boarding the bus, she said later, would be the hardest thing she had done in her 18 years.

Harder than saying a last goodbye to her mother, father, and five siblings that morning. Harder than the two years since as she tried to make a new life, alone, in a strange city.

Now 20, she asked to go by the name Samya. If her true identity were known, Samya believes, her family would seek her out and possibly kill her. They would certainly try to persuade her — if not force her — to come home.

Her parents, she said, think she is guilty of two serious crimes: She rejected a marriage arranged by her father, who came to the U.S. from the Middle East when Samya was an infant. And perhaps more serious to her parents: She has become an atheist.

Chicago is Ground Zero in U.S. Muslim Renaissance

RNS photo by Monique Parsons.

Rami Nashashibi founded IMAN in 1997. RNS photo by Monique Parsons.

CHICAGO — Religious affiliation may be on the wane in America, a recent Pew study asserts, but you wouldn’t know it walking into the storefront near the corner of West 63rd Street and South Fairfield Avenue.

Inside a former bank in a neighborhood afflicted with gang violence, failed businesses and empty lots, a team of volunteers drawn by their religious faith is working to make life better for Chicago’s poorest residents.

The free medical clinic has expanded its hours; 20-something college graduates are clamoring to get into its internship program; rap stars swing by its alcohol-free poetry slams; and the budget has increased tenfold in the past decade.

The storefront belongs to Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and it is part of a wave of new Muslim institutions emerging at an unprecedented pace. More than a quarter of the nation’s 2,106 mosques were founded in the last decade, according to a recent University of Kentucky study, and new social service organizations, many of them run by 20- and 30-something American-born Muslims, are thriving as never before.

A Kinder, Gentler, More Radical Monotheism?

Cross image, © Carsten Medom Madsen  /

Cross image, © Carsten Medom Madsen /

Radical monotheism. It sounds like a frightening term, when there are fundamentalist Christians and Muslims around the world and here inside our own borders, religious folk who want to turn our nation-states into theocracies under gods crafted according to their own images. When we think of radical monotheism, we hear, “My god is bigger than your god. No, wait: Your god’s a fake!”

But theologian H. Richard Niebuhr proposed a kinder, gentler, more generous idea of radical monotheism. He was writing between the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the clash between two “social gods” — capitalism and Marxism — bloodied the globe:

New Congress More Religiously Diverse, Less Protestant

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, RNS photo courtesy Tulsi Gabbard's campaign

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, RNS photo courtesy Tulsi Gabbard's campaign

Three Buddhists, a Hindu, and a “none” will walk into the 113th Congress, and it’s no joke. Rather, it’s a series of “firsts” that reflect the growing religious diversity of the country.

When the new Congress is sworn in next January, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District and will become the first Hindu in either chamber on Capitol Hill.

The 31-year-old Gabbard was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii as a child. She follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, which venerates the deity Lord Vishnu and his primary incarnations.

Gabbard takes over the seat held by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, who won a Senate race on Nov. 6 and will become the first Buddhist to sit in the upper chamber. There were already two other Buddhists in the House of Representatives, both of whom won re-election: Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a fellow Hawaii Democrat.

Study: Muslims and Hindus Less Likely to Have Premarital Sex

 North-Central India, XI century A.D., Sandstone

North-Central India, XI century A.D., Sandstone

With their “True Love Waits” jewelry, conferences and T-shirts, Christians may be the face of the abstinence movement, but Muslims and Hindus are more likely to abstain from premarital sex.

That's the conclusion of a new study in the American Sociological Review, which also found that Muslims and Hindus -- at least in the developing world -- are more likely than Christians and Jews to refrain from extramarital sex.

“All major world religions discourage sex outside of marriage, but they are not all equally effective in shaping behavior,” said Amy Adamczyk of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who co-authored the study with John Jay doctoral student Brittany E. Hayes.

Drawing on the Demographic and Health Surveys funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the study included data from 31 developing nations collected between 2000 and 2008. The authors focused on individuals' responses to questions on religious affiliation, marital status, and sexual behavior outside of marriage.

Adamczyk said the study evolved from another study she was doing that found countries with large Muslim populations have very low rates of HIV and AIDS. "I was trying to figure out why that would be,” she said. One reason she considered was lower rates of sex outside of marriage.

Weapons of Terror

Ami Vitale/Getty Images

Woman whose house burned in Hindu-Muslim violence in Pakistan.Ami Vitale/Getty Images

When the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world was ushered into a period of weapons paranoia. The Cold War, of course, was hallmarked by the obsessive weapons one-upmanship of the United States and the Soviet Union.

Who, then, would have thought that in the 21st century, the seeming weapon of choice would not be some sort of super-nuclear missile or an ultra-deadly biological toxin, but that it would, instead, be women?

“Women are being used as weapons of terror,” Dr. Rubina Greenwood told an audience last week at a congressional briefing on the rights of minority women in Pakistan organized by the Hindu American Foundation. 

A (Possibly) Significant Development in Muslim-Christian Relations

A possibly significant development in Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations is being spear-headed by the Islamic Scholars of North America (ISNA). In July of 2012, ISNA Director of Community Outreach, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, convened a small multilateral forum of scholars in Mauritania to discuss challenges faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world.

Mauritania is an interesting choice, since it has no indigenous Christian population, and the CIA World Factbook lists the country as “(official) 100% Muslim.”

So, officially, Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, which begs the question: If the ISNA is reaching out to Islamic scholars in Mauritania on the issue of minority religious rights, and the (official) statistic is that Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, is this a tacit recognition on  ISNA’s part that some of the 100 percent officially Muslim Mauritanians have secretly switched their religion … and that international human rights standards should allow them to do so?

If that’s the case, then this is a significant development in interfaith relations.

… the key word being if.

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.