The Student Behind Viral #IStandWithAhmed: 'I Had To'

Image via WFAA-TV/RNS

Fort Worth, Texas, native Amneh Jafari never expected to help spark an international movement.

But when the senior University of Texas Arlington psychology major saw a picture on the news showing Irving teen Ahmed Mohamed in handcuffs for bringing a homemade clock to MacArthur High School, it felt personal.

“It really saddened me,” Jafari said.

“I have younger siblings, and I felt like I was looking at them.”

Group Prods Fellow Mormons to Get Behind Family-Friendly Immigration Reform

Image via @Kate_Kelly_Esq / Twitter / RNS

Mormons teach, preach, and sing about families being together forever in heaven, but some members of the Utah-based faith want to exclude one group from that promise, at least on Earth.

Undocumented immigrants.

And, while the LDS Church supports immigration reform that keeps families together, its leaders have not pushed that idea in worship settings where Mormons are gathered. Nor has it called out those who disagree. In other words, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gone largely silent on the issue.

#FergusonTaughtMe: What People of Faith Have Learned Over the Past Year

a katz /

Activists march in New York City on October 11, 2014 in solidarity with renewed protests in Ferguson, Mo. Photo via a katz /

One year after the shooting and killing of Michael Brown, #FergusonTaughtMe is trending on Twitter. Activists, faith leaders, intellectuals, and everyday members of the movement have used the hashtag to explain how Ferguson fundamentally altered their racial consciousness. Embedded are a few tweets from Christian leaders who shared how Ferguson changed the way they do faith. 

Are #Christian Hashtags Rallying the Faithful or Just Luring Trolls?

Photo via Sarah Pulliam Bailey / RNS.

Some leaders use trending topics or hashtags to build momentum around a certain conversation. The idea is that by pointing followers to a catchy hashtag, activists can spark conversation and rally supporters around a cause. On Nov. 24, for example, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #PrayForFerguson after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who fatally shot a black teenager.

One of the earlier noteworthy mobilizing campaigns included #KONY2012, a movement founded by a Christian, who launched a campaign to try to capture African Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. First Lady Michelle Obama famously participated in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign after more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

But everyone on Twitter is learning that a hashtag cuts both ways — it can be hijacked or lampooned by detractors, and it’s a key way that online activists are pushing back against opposing messages or what some might even call hate speech.

Hashtag Activists Battle Online Anti-Muslim Speech, but #DoesItWork?

Linda Sarsour protests during a rally in Ferguson, Mo. Photo via Linda Sarsour/RNS

ISIS terrorist rampages, waves of anti-Muslim hate speech and fear-mongering Islamophobia are inspiring an outburst of online activism in the form of Twitter hashtags.

The question is: Does it work, especially over the long term?

An army of “clicktivists” — a mix of earnest advocates and pointed satirists — has entered the fray armed with 140-character positive, peaceful or humorous counter-messages.

Using names such as #TakeOnHate, #IStandUpBecause, and #NotInMyName, the pushback approach promotes the complexity, diversity and positive contributions of Islam and Muslims. Others, such as #MuslimApologies, offer sarcasm in service of the same message.

Yet the hashtags are often immediately co-opted by trolls spewing an opposite message. And some experts question whether clicktivist campaigns have lasting worth.

Linda Sarsour has no doubt they do. She’s a Brooklyn-based Palestinian activist in the streets and on social media and a co-creator of #TakeOnHate. The hashtag is accompanied by a resource website, launched in March by the National Network for Arab American Communities.

“The insidious thing about anti-Arab hate speech is that it seems to be acceptable, where the ‘N-word’ or anti-Semitic remarks are not taken with the same degree of outrage,” said Sarsour, who was chased down the street in September by a man who was later arrested for threatening to behead her

VIDEO: Not in Our Name

When facing a new threat, it is easy for the media and news consumers to cast judgment on an entire demographic, as is being done to the Muslim community in the wake of ISIS. In his piece “On Being a Muslim Parent” (Sojourners, December 2014), Eboo Patel addresses the struggles of having to shield his children from Islamophobia in a time when fear is contagious.

Likewise, British Muslims have begun a social media campaign called #notinmyname to combat these stereotypes perpetrated by the Islamic State militants. In this way, members of the Muslim community are able to speak in defense of themselves and the values their community truly stands for.

Watch the video below and read tweets from online #notinmyname users to hear truth and clarity from an active and global Muslim community. 






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Online, Offline Faith Go Hand in Hand

Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, offers a Facebook page, online sermons, and live chats . Photo via Christ Fellowship/RNS.

God bless online media. Almost half of U.S. adults (46 percent) say they saw someone sharing “something about their faith” on the Internet in the last week.

And one in five (20 percent) say they were part of the Internet spiritual action on social networking sites and apps — sharing their beliefs on Facebook, asking for prayer on Twitter, mentioning in a post that they went to church.

“The sheer number of people who have seen faith discussed online is pretty striking,” said Greg Smith, associate director of religion research for Pew Research Center.

Megachurch pastors have mega-followings online. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church streams his Houston services online. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has 1.8 million likes on his Facebook page. And Pope Francis has more than 4.6 million English-language followers, chiefly American, for his @Pontifex Twitter feed.

Atheists Tweet More Often than Muslims, Jews, Christians, Study Shows

This tag cloud shows the top 15 most discriminative words used by each group studied. Photo courtesy of Lu Chen/RNS.

What does a map of the U.S. religious landscape look like in 140 characters?

A new study of Twitter finds that self-identified religious users are more likely to tweet to members of their own faith than to members of a different one. The study examined people whose Twitter profiles identified them as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and atheist.

And while adherents of all six groups studied tweet frequently, atheists — among the smallest populations in the U.S. — are the most prolific.

“On average, we can say the atheists have more friends, more followers, and they tweet more,” said Lu Chen, a doctoral candidate at the Kno.e.sis Center at Wright State University who co-authored the study with Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn of Rutgers University-Camden. They will present their findings in November at the sixth annual International Conference on Social Informatics.

Mormons Embrace Social Media to Push Back Against Official Church Teachings

Mitch Mayne, Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Wendy Montgomery, and Diane Oviatt during the screening. Photo via Mitch Mayne/RNS.

It was a gathering that would have been unthinkable just five years ago.

On a cool summer evening, in a borrowed classroom overlooking San Francisco Bay, about 150 men and women gathered to screen a short documentary about a Mormon family whose 13-year-old son came out as gay.

The Montgomerys, who accepted their son and his news, were ostracized by church members, some of whom refused to accept Communion distributed by the young man in church. Like many conservative Christian denominations, the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bans homosexual activity and considers it grounds for exclusion from Mormon rites, rituals and even the afterlife.

#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft Show the Many Faces of Abuse

A woman walking on sand. Image courtesy Nikolay Bassov/

A woman walking on sand. Image courtesy Nikolay Bassov/

This week, the Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of star runningback Ray Rice after video of Rice beating his then-fiancée Janay emerged online. Rice had previously been suspended for two games for the assault. With the release of the video, media scrutiny swiftly turned to his now-wife, speculating over why she would marry her abuser.

Beverly Gooden, a human resources manager and blogger, had a different response. Herself a survivor of domestic abuse, Gooden began tweeting of her own experiences, each one a vulnerable explanation: #WhyIStayed.

Gooden wrote, “I can't speak for Janay Rice, but I can speak for Beverly Gooden. Why did I stay? … Leaving was a process, not an event. And sometimes it takes awhile to navigate through the process. ...I hope those tweeting using #WhyIStayed find a voice, find love, find compassion, and find hope.” 

We would all do well to listen. Some of the most powerful tweets below.