Canada Cuts All Non-Christian Prison Chaplains

Steven Frame / Shutterstock

Handcuffed male hands hold a black Holy Bible. Steven Frame / Shutterstock

TORONTO — The Canadian government is canceling the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons.

By next spring, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and other non-Christian inmates will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance.

In an email to reporters on Oct. 4, the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is responsible for Canada's federal penitentiaries, said the government "strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners."

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.

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.”

Judge Orders Man to Study Hinduism After Hate Crime Conviction

Wall painting depicts the Hindu god Ganesh at the Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan, India.

A man who assaulted two men because he thought they were Muslims and was then ordered to write a report on the cultural contributions of Islam has a new assignment — to write a report on the history of Hinduism.

Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran on Monday sentenced Delane D. Bell, 26, to two years of probation, with the condition that he pen a 10-page report on Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion.

Last March, Bell pleaded no contest to a two-year felony count of ethnic intimidation, stemming from an incident that occurred on Nov. 26, 2011. At that time, Bell was standing outside a bar when he yelled “jihad” and “Osama bin Laden” at two men of Indian descent. He then punched one of the men and struck the other’s car.

When Bell entered his plea, Sheeran ordered him to write a 10-page report on “the greatest accomplishments of Muslims.”

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.

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.

Muslim Parents Wrestle with Passing on Islamic Values

RNS photo by Omar Sacirbey

Fathers Amr Ragy (left) and Mohamad Ali both go the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, Mass. RNS photo by Omar Sacirbey

Muslim immigrants to America frequently worry whether their children will be able to maintain their Islamic identity in a country with a reputation for rampant vice and promiscuity. Many respond by limiting their children’s social contacts to school, family, and mosque.

But that approach can backfire, some Muslim family experts say. While they advise parents to help their children make Muslim friends, they also say Muslim kids can — and should  fully participate in American culture without compromising their Islamic values.

It’s a formula that’s worked for generations.

Farhat Husain was 23 when she left Pakistan in 1964 for England, where her husband received his Ph.D. at Oxford. Her daughter was born there in 1967, before the family moved to New Haven, Conn., in 1969, then to the Boston area in 1971. Her son was born there in 1976.

Both she and her husband were practicing Muslims and well-educated, and wanted the same for their children. She became involved in the international clubs at the universities where her husband worked — cooking for potlucks, manning information booths and presenting about Islam at churches, community centers, and her children’s schools.

How To (and Not To) Respond to the Current Crisis in the Middle East

A shared meal in Hebron.

A shared meal in Hebron.

My heart is heavy.   

Every day for the last week, media outlet have told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen).  Whether it’s pictures of embassies burned to the ground, rioting citizens, or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.

And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.     

My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East. I spend a significant amount of time in there and have built deep, life-long friendships.

Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in the region. A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.  

On the same day, I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.” Lastly — and what keeps playing over and over in my head — are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who said,

“Please give this message to all of your American friends. We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace.  The violence you see in the news does not represent us.  It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism.  Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”

U.S. Muslims, Copts Appeal to Rioters: Stop the Violence

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.