Austrian Bill Would Ban Foreign Funding for Mosques

Eyüp Sultan mosque in Telfs, Austria. Photo courtesy of Hafelekar via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

Austria’s Muslim community is incensed over the government’s plans to amend the country’s century-old law on Islam.

The new bill, championed by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration Sebastian Kurz, forbids foreign funding of mosque construction or of imams working in the country and requires a unified German-language translation of the Quran.

The government argues the legislation, which Parliament will vote on this month, will help combat Islamic radicalism. Muslim groups and civic activists say it flouts the principle of equality.

“There is a general tone of mistrust toward Muslims,” said Carla Amina Baghajati, a prominent Muslim rights activist and spokeswoman for the country’s Islamic Religious Authority, referring to the bill. “The 1912 Islam law has set up a model of how state acknowledgment of a religious minority can help this minority better integrate. Muslims in Austria are proud of this law.”

The Ice Bucket Competitor: Can the Quran Challenge Go Viral?

“Young Muslims are caught in between tradition and modernity,” said Ostebo. Photo via kamomeen/shutterstock.

Move over Ice Bucket Challenge. Muslims have a new take on the viral social media phenomenon: the Quran Challenge.

The new campaign seeks to raise awareness and funds for Muslim “da’wah” — a call to propagate the faith — by reciting verses from the Quran on various online platforms.

Issam Bayan, a 26-year-old student and professional Islamic singer, came up with the idea as a way to awaken Muslim piety, just as the Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness and well over $30 million for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease..

While the #QuranChallenge has no specific cause, Bayan, who lives in Germany, said he wanted to make it available to all Muslims regardless of their financial ability to make a contribution. In an email interview, he said the benefits for this challenge are the rewards that a Muslim receives for reciting the Quran.

Bayan posted his first video to Facebook and YouTube on August 30 with the words, “Let’s collect the rewards and challenge your friends by reciting some verses of the Holy Quran.”

Muslim and Anti-Muslim Bus Ads Battle Heads to Round 3

Image courtesy of Ibrahim Hooper via the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew turn up together on a Washington, D.C., bus.

It’s no joke. They’re the faces of a new ad campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group. And the ad is the latest volley between Muslim and anti-Muslim groups that has played out most recently on the sides of buses in the nation’s capital.

First, the American Muslims for Palestine ran ads during peak D.C. tourism season, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, condemning U.S. aid to Israel.

A month later, blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative responded with bus ads featuring photos of Hitler meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a text equating opposition to Israel’s territorial policies with Nazism.

COMMENTARY: Blasphemy Charges Pervert Islam's Teachings

Qasim Rashid is the author of "The Wrong Kind of Muslim." Photo courtesy of Qasim Rashid. Via RNS

Sentenced for professing his atheism, Alexander Aan was recently released after 18 months in an Indonesian prison.

Masood Ahmad has already served over two months in a Pakistani prison for reading the Quran as an Ahmadi Muslim.

Pastor Saeed Abedini languishes in an Iranian prison for preaching Christianity.

They are but a sliver of the ongoing persecution, including murders, of Ahmadi Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and atheists at the hands of extremists claiming Islam requires death for apostasy and blasphemy.

Muslim Christmas celebrations gain a toehold

Photo courtesy Zeyna Ahmed

Zeyna Ahmed, with daughters Nadyah Abdul-Majid, 13, Hadyah Abdul-Majid, 11, during Christmas. Photo courtesy Zeyna Ahmed

A generation or two ago, when America’s Muslims were new immigrants who made up an even smaller minority of Americans than they do today, they viewed the lights, trees, carols, gifts, and festive spirit of Christmas as a threat to their children’s Islamic faith.

But these days, a growing number of Muslims celebrate Christmas, or at least partake in some ways, even if they don’t decorate their homes with trees and a light show. Indeed, many Muslim families have created their own Christmas traditions.

“I teach my three children, who attend public school and happen to be born into an interfaith Christian-Muslim family, that we absolutely do celebrate Christmas because we are Muslim,” Hannah Hawk of Houston wrote in an email. Rather than putting up a tree or lights, “we celebrate the reason for the season, Jesus, by studying all that is written about him in the Quran and by examining historical theories.”

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Burning Qurans

Screenshot from Mike Ghouse's video.

Screenshot from Mike Ghouse's video.

Three years ago, a nobody from nowhere got famous for doing something unpleasant.

The self-ordained pastor of an unknown Florida church threatened to burn a Quran. And then he did it. And then others with their own intentions picked up the story and used it to inflame Muslims in several nations.

The result: At least 50 people were killed, including seven United Nations employees.

Now that nobody is back, threatening to burn 3,000 Qurans on Wednesday as a “memorial” to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

You may have noticed I’ve not named the man. That’s not an accident. Publicity is what he wants and I had decided that my small protest against him would be to not contribute to it. While I defend his legal right to do this, nobody needs to add to his spotlight.

And then I heard about a planned counterdemonstration by a Muslim interfaith activist, Mike Ghouse, who’s been plugging away at his cause for years. This year he’s bringing his 10th annual “Unity Day USA” to the same Florida town where the pastor has threatened to burn the Qurans.

Keep Doomsday Religion Out of the Syrian Conflict

Crosses on a monastary in Maalula, near Damascus. Photo courtesy Valery Shanin/s

Crosses on a monastary in Maalula, near Damascus. Photo courtesy Valery Shanin/shutterstock.com

As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons at the outskirts of Damascus and President Obama mulls a U.S. military response, some theologians hope for an alarming endgame to the 30-month-long Syrian conflict.

For these Christians and Muslim, the civil war in Syria heralds nothing less than the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Before you label the premise as a conspiracy theory, consider that there are a number of Muslim videos and several Christian websites — not to mention conservative talk radio shows — all making promoting versions of this unfortunate connection. And that’s wrong.


Shariah 101: What Is It and Why Do States Want to Ban It?

Photo courtesy RNS.

Anti-Shariah demonstrators rally against a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York. Photo courtesy RNS.

North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill to prohibit judges from considering “foreign laws” in their decisions, but nearly everyone agrees that “foreign laws” really means Shariah, or Islamic law.

North Carolina now joins six other states — Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee — to pass a “foreign laws” bill. A similar bill passed in Missouri, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it, citing threats to international adoptions.

The bills all cite “foreign laws” because two federal courts have ruled that singling out Shariah — as Oklahoma voters originally did in 2010 — is unconstitutional.

Can Dog Owners Still Be Good Muslims?

Cane Corso and French Bulldog

Cane Corso and French Bulldog

Worshippers at Toronto's Salahuddin mosque were bracing for protests Friday as part of "Walk Your Dog in Front of a Mosque Day."

The event is being organized by supporters of a man who claims Muslim protestors kicked his English mastiff, Cupcake, during an anti-Israel rally last month.    

While claiming that they wanted to draw attention to Muslim attitudes toward dogs, the organizers' Facebook page is replete with hostilities. One man wrote that he would throw protestors into a "lake of fire" and shoot their dogs, and the event has been promoted on a white supremacist website, StormFront.org.    

Some Muslims responded with their own "Good Muslims Love Dogs" Facebook page, including at least one photo of a veiled woman with a veiled dog.    

Muslims' alleged canine-phobia is often cited by critics of Islam as an example of how the faith is incompatible with Western values. Some Muslims have perpetuated that narrative, such as when a Somali cab driver in Minneapolis made national headlines in 2007 when he refused to let a blind man bring his seeing-eye dog into his car. 

Yet many Muslims all over the world have dogs, and dogs figure prominently is some Islamic countries, such as Turkey, famous for its Kangal and Akbash breeds.  

What Catholics Can Learn From the Quran

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.