Interfaith News Roundup - May 2017

Interfaith News Roundup

May 15, 2017

News You May Not Have Heard

Antonia Blumberg’s “American Religion Has Never Looked Quite Like It Does Today” identifies 18 significant religious trends in the United States, including “We Entered an Era of Interfaith Engagement.” Each trend is introduced with a graphic and a paragraph or two of explanation. The Huffington Post article may be the fastest way to bring yourself up-to-speed on the ever-morphing nature of religion in the U.S. It could serve as a curriculum outline for a course on the subject!

But don’t trust every story you read. An Italian journalist writing for Al Arabiya titled an article “Top-10 Inter-religious Cities in the World,” and nary a North American city was named in her list: Berlin, Jerusalem, Sarajevo, Singapore, Istanbul, Beirut, Cordoba, Palermo, Mumbai, and Panama. Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto have each claimed the ‘most’ diversity, and each deserves a place in the top ten. Despite the folly of assuming you can fairly create such a list, the article is an interesting look at cities you may never have associated with interfaith but which have developed a vital interfaith life.

On the dark side, Saudi Arabia has condemned a man to death, by beheading, for blasphemy, specifically for uploading video onto social media which denounces Prophet Mohammed. Saudi Arabia has among the most stringent blasphemy laws in the world and a long history of harsh punishments for anyone critical of the official, conservative version of Sunni Islam. In terms of religious freedom, Saudi Arabia consistently ranks near the bottom of the family of nations and is described as religiously apartheid.

Worship at Qal’bu Maryam (“Heart of Mary”) Women’s Mosque in Berkeley – Photo: LinkedIn,  Starr King School of Ministry

Worship at Qal’bu Maryam (“Heart of Mary”) Women’s Mosque in Berkeley – Photo: LinkedIn, Starr King School of Ministry

A much happier Muslim story comes next, news that a second U.S.-based mosque led entirely by women was launched last month in Berkeley, California. The Qal’bu Maryam (“Heart of Mary”) Women’s Mosque, unlike the women’s mosque in Los Angeles, welcomes men as well as women. It will not have an imam, and leadership responsibilities will be shared. Its founder, Rabi’a Keeble, is a graduate of the Starr King School of Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist seminary that is part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Starr King is donating the space for the Qal’bu Maryam’s worship.  

Sikhs from across the U.S. are sponsoring “We Are Sikhs,” a million-dollar awareness campaign to let people know who they are and how closely aligned their values are to American values, including “tolerance, religious freedom, and gender equality.” Their beards and turbans have led people to confuse them with other traditions, and there have been 300 hate crimes against them since 2001. “Our hope was that as the memory of 9/11 goes down, things would get better. But they have not," said Rajwant Singh, a volunteer on the campaign to turn that around.

By 2060, four in ten Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa, sharing that region with 27 percent of the world’s Muslims. This time Pew Research has really dived deep into the numbers, showing the expected shifts in religious populations. Differences in age, fertility, and migration are the main drivers in understanding which traditions will grow and which will decline in the coming decades.

A separate Pew study indicates that the continued decline in the freedom to worship, which is already highly restricted in a quarter of the world’s countries.

Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan – Photo:  Wikimedia, Askar 9992, Cc.4.0

Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan – Photo: Wikimedia, Askar 9992, Cc.4.0

Can you name it? The sixth largest country in the world, a secular nation with a Muslim majority, where religious freedom, interfaith, and multicultural values are held high. And where the government sponsors national and international interfaith dialogue. The country is Kazakhstan, which broke off from the Soviet Union in 1990. Islam and Orthodox Christianity are the dominant religious traditions, but the country is proud of its 130 ethnic traditions and 46 different religions. Though the country’s human rights, economic corruption, and electoral issues have caused international concern, for the past 15 years interfaith peace and multicultural values have been high on the country’s agenda.

This month 20 foreign and five Kazakh participants representing leaders of world and traditional religions and international organizations dealing with issues in the field will get together in the Kazakh capital for the next session of the Secretariat of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Aidar Abuov, head of the country’s International Centre of Cultures and Religions, notes, “Promoting the dialogue of civilisations and religions is not an abstract mission, but an urgent need to improve the international situation that has entered a period of instability.” 

Two new United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles make Myanmar the 100th country where you can find URI affiliates. The Building Better Society CC and the Myittar Resource Foundation CC are both located in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon. (Going to press, a circle from Costa Rica joined, taking the country count to 101.)

These groups, like the other 859 circles globally, are self-governing, self-funding, with their own agendas, and not required to pay membership dues. Being networked locally and globally is the huge value of membership. (Becoming part of the URI network of circles entails your group having at least 7 members; representing at least 3 faiths; and committed to promoting, enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, ending religiously motivated violence, and creating cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings. No membership fees. For details, go here.) 

Resisting the Trump Administration

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law last month published an extended article titled “The Islamophobic Administration,” by Rachel Levinson-Waldman and Faiza Patel. In great detail and with extensive documentation, they make the case that the Trump administration is Islamophobic. In a day when accusations are thrown about so casually, this carefully argued report is critical to see what is happening at the top level of government in the U.S. 

The day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to replace Obamacare with policies benefiting the richest and harming the country’s sick and elderly, an interfaith coalition sprang up in New Jersey to help lead the resistance to the Republican healthcare action. Calling up a scene in a novel about Italian fascism, Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin said, “What keeps despots, dictators awake at night, what topples evil empires is the little person who goes into the square in the middle of town in the dark of the night and scrawls on the wall, ‘No.’ And I want to say to you, we are the ‘No’ that God scrawls on the wall.” 

You’ve probably been reading about thousands of scientists and scientific organizations organizing resistance to the Trump administration’s attitude towards science in general and global warming in particular. Much less reported is a new partnership between faith groups and scientists. Religious leaders from Faith in Place, Interfaith Power & Light,  Catholic Climate Covenant,  GreenFaith, and Clergy Letter Project were all active in the People’s Climate March last month. 

Considerable ink has been spilled about whether a ‘religious left’ will emerge out of the opposition to the current U.S. administration, with many doubting the possibility. In response, Julie Zauzmere’s Washington Post article suggests that all sorts of liberal, progressive religious organizing (or networking?) has been going on quietly and seems to be growing and going public now. Under unexpected consequences: Aymann Ismail writes that “he’s never been so proud to be an American” as during Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. Ismail, who grew up in New Jersey, said he’s always suffered from being a Muslim in the U.S., with no one standing up for his community. Trump has changed that, motivating now millions to stand up for Muslims in this country.

Pope Francis, Continued

Pope Francis greeting members of the Vatican cricket team – Photo:  Vatican Facebook page

Pope Francis greeting members of the Vatican cricket team – Photo: Vatican Facebook page

Pope Francis continues to demonstrate a pastoral attitude to the high and low, the near and far. Like a good parish priest, he has been active in developing youth athletics at the Vatican, most recently an international tournament for their cricket team. The team is made up of young priests and seminarians. They will be travelling across Europe playing, among others, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim teams. The idea is to build friendships among athletes from different religions.

In a surprise appearance, Francis showed up digitally at the annual TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver, Canada last month. TED lectures (limited to 17 minutes) are a special joy for those who love to hear remarkable people telling remarkable stories focused on ‘big ideas.’ Pope Francis’ presentation, titled “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone,” is a plea for us to support a “revolution of tenderness” and reestablish our personal relationships with all, including the strangers in our lives. It drew a standing ovation.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis made a two-day visit to Egypt in spite of recent bombings of Coptic Christian churches in the country. His message was clear: “Let us say once more a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.” He continues to demonstrate why he is the world’s leading interfaith activist.


Header:  Interfaith Power and Light state officers and staff, meeting in Washington, D.C. – Photo: Interfaith Power and Light