Interfaith News Roundup - April 2014

Each month TIO shares a few of the more interesting interfaith stories from recent news.

Cosmic War Narrative Inspires Fighters in Syria

Apocalyptic Prophecies Drive Both Sides to Syrian Battle for End of Time

Mariam Karouny, Reuters, April 2, 2014

A war-torn street in Aleppo, Syria, 2012 – Photo: Wikipedia

A war-torn street in Aleppo, Syria, 2012 – Photo: Wikipedia

Conflict in Syria kills hundreds of thousands of people and spreads unrest across the Middle East. Iranian forces battle anti-Shi’ite fighters in Damascus, and the region braces for an ultimate showdown.

If the scenario sounds familiar to an anxious world watching Syria’s devastating civil war, it resonates even more with Sunni and Shi’ite fighters on the frontlines – who believe it was all foretold in 7th Century prophecies.

From the first outbreak of the crisis in the southern city of Deraa to apocalyptic forecasts of a Middle East soaked in blood, many combatants on both sides of the conflict say its path was set 1,400 years ago in the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad and his followers …

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Children Accused of Sorcery

The Hunt for Child Sorcerers in Congo

Deni Béchard, Chicago Tribune, March 27, 2014

See UNICEF’s short video on false accusations of witchcraft in the Congo.

KINSHASA, Congo — Inside a small concrete church, lit by a few tungsten bulbs hanging from exposed wires, hundreds of people stood packed together in stifling heat, repeating the words their pastor bellowed into a microphone.

“On va tuer les demons” – “We will kill the demons.”

It was after midnight in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the service was just getting under way. The pastor, Pierre Pinda Buana, wore a simple, blue button-down shirt. Its acrylic shimmered as he moved around the center of the room – smooth, practiced, confident. For almost an hour, Pinda led his congregation through songs and chants, the fervor in the church mounting. Then he preached about the main event they had all come to witness: exorcism…

Pinda began describing a demon that was living in the body of a woman who stood before him, almost entirely blocked from my sight by the crowd: “It's attacking the heart. It's attacking the stomach. It strikes faster than an arrow.” He called out to the demon, asking why it wanted to kill the woman…

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Christians Protecting Muslims and Central African Republic

In Central African Republic, Churches are Refuge for Muslims Trapped by Violence

Fredrick Nzwili, Huffington Post (RNS), February 20, 2014

Displaced civilians find shelter in a Catholic camp in CAR. – Photo: Catholic Herald UK

Displaced civilians find shelter in a Catholic camp in CAR. – Photo: Catholic Herald UK

Churches in Central African Republic are caring for thousands of Muslims who have been trapped in a cycle of revenge attacks, perpetrated by a pro-Christian militia.

Since December, Anti-Balaka militias have been emptying Muslim quarters and avenging earlier attacks by the Seleka, an Islamist militia. The Seleka rampaged through the country in early 2013, terrorizing Christians and ransacking churches, hospitals and shops.

Now that the Muslim president Michel Djotodia has stepped down, Seleka is being forced to withdraw from its strongholds, as the center of power shifts, amid a mass exodus and displacement of Muslims.

In Baoro, a town in the northwest, a Roman Catholic parish is caring for more than 2,000 Muslims who can’t flee. A group of Catholic sisters in the town of Bossemptele is sheltering more than 500 Muslims, providing food, water and medicine.

“Now is the time for [people] of good will to stand up and prove the strength and quality of their faith,” the Rev. Xavier Fagba, a priest in Baoro, told the BBC …

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Rohingya Muslims Suffering in Myanmar

UN ‘Deeply Concerned’ as Myanmar’s Rohingya are being Excluded from Long-awaited Census

Khin Maung Win, U.S. News and World Report (AP), April 2, 2014

Homes being burned in the 2012 rioting between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in western Myanmar. – Photo: Wikipedia

Homes being burned in the 2012 rioting between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in western Myanmar. – Photo: Wikipedia

SITTWE, Myanmar — The first thing Khalid was asked when census workers entered his home in Myanmar’s troubled state of Rakhine was his ethnicity. In a clear, confident voice, the father of eight responded “Rohingya.” The workers, most of them school teachers, said thank you, turned around and left.

Accompanied by police, the women continued going from home to home in the tiny, dusty Muslim village, carrying their large box of mostly blank questionnaires.

And with every same answer they moved on.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule. Though it is carrying out its first census in 30 years, hundreds of thousands of members of the long-persecuted Muslim minority are likely to go uncounted.

No one knows exactly how many people live in the country. Estimates range between 45 million and 60 million, and getting a more accurate figure is crucial for national planning and development.

But the inclusion of questions about race and ethnicity are seen as inflammatory — especially in Rakhine, which is home to an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims …

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High Level Global Anti-Slavery, Anti-Trafficking Campaign Launched

Global Freedom Network, Interfaith Anti-Slavery Campaign, Launches at the Vatican

Nicole Winfield, Huffington Post (AP), March 17, 2014

Catholics, Anglicans, and Muslims launch anti-trafficking Global Freedom Network at the Vatican. – Photo: Radio Vatican

Catholics, Anglicans, and Muslims launch anti-trafficking Global Freedom Network at the Vatican. – Photo: Radio Vatican

Christians and Muslims have joined to try to help free millions of men, women and children held in modern-day slavery, forced to work as maids, prostitutes, child soldiers and manual laborers.

The Global Freedom Network launched Monday at the Vatican aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor.

The initiative is the brainchild of billionaire Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, who founded the Walk Free Foundation in 2012 to mobilize a grass-roots movement to end slavery.

Forrest, ranked 270th on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, used personal contacts to bring the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church, 85-million strong Anglican Communion and al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world’s foremost seat of Sunni learning, on board with the initiative.

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Morocco Championing a Moderate Islam in Africa

After Mali, Tunisia, Libya, and Guinea Request Religious Training and Cooperation from Morocco

said Temsamani, Euroasia Review, February 13, 2014

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the largest in Morocco – Photo: Wikipedia

The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the largest in Morocco – Photo: Wikipedia

The Moroccan Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs issued a statement Wednesday stating that King Mohammed VI has assented to requests from Tunisia, Guinea, and Libya for cooperation on religious matters, including providing training in Morocco for imams (preachers) from the three African nations.

Morocco has excelled with regard to the field of organizing religious edicts, legislation, religious preaching, guidance and religious bodies where both men and women scholars sit. In fact, it has become an interesting model for many Muslim countries who are facing immeasurable escalation of intolerance and extremism. These early efforts kicked into high gear in 1999, when King Mohammed VI ascended to the Moroccan throne following the death of his father.

Since then King Mohammed has launched a sweeping series of social and religious reforms that are equal parts idealistic and pragmatic. The objective was and still is singular and unequivocal: “To promote Moroccan Islam. A Tolerant Islam.” …

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Justice for All Living Creatures 

We Must Fight Injustice to Animals as We Do Injustice to Blacks, Women and Gays, Says Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Huffington Post, December 27, 2013

Archbishop Desmond Tutu – Photo: Huffington Post

Archbishop Desmond Tutu – Photo: Huffington Post

Archbishop Desmond Tutu seeks social justice for everyone – including animals.

Tutu is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, and was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-apartheid work. He previously made headlines for his strong statements in support of LGBT rights, when he said that he would prefer going to hell over a homophobic heaven.

In his first major statement on animal welfare, Tutu said:

“I have spent my life fighting discrimination and injustice, whether the victims are blacks, women, or gays and lesbians. No human being should be the target of prejudice or the object of vilification or be denied his or her basic rights.

“But there are other issues of justice – not only for human beings but also for the world’s other sentient creatures. The matter of the abuse and cruelty we inflict on other animals has to fight for our attention in what sometimes seems an already overfull moral agenda. It is vital, however, that these instances of injustice not be overlooked.” …

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Is Religious Belief Necessary for Moral Behavior?

World Poll Finds Striking Connection between Wealth and Belief in God

Stephen Calabria, Huffington Post, March 13, 2014

A new Pew Research survey of global attitudes on religion finds that a great number of people around the world think a belief in God is vital to leading a moral life.

The survey of people in 40 countries found that majorities in 22 countries believed that having God in one’s life was essential to being a moral person. Majorities in all five African countries surveyed, as well as every Middle Eastern country except Israel, believed God is vital to a person’s morality.

The reaction was mixed in other parts of the world. While majorities in most countries in Latin America and in the Asia/Pacific region believed God necessary for a moral life, no European country surveyed had a majority saying the same. The United States registered a slight majority believing God was necessary to be a moral person, while Canada registered a strong majority in the opposite direction.

Opinions broke down along largely economic lines. The higher a country’s GDP, the less likely its citizens were to believe God necessary for a moral life. The exceptions were the United States and China …

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Religious Diversity Going Global

The Countries with the Highest Religious Diversity are Mostly in the Asian-Pacific

Huffington Post, April 6, 2014

It won’t come as any surprise that Vatican City is the least religiously diverse ‘country’ in the world. More than 99% of inhabitants are Christian.

What might be more surprising is that of the 12 most religiously diverse countries in the world, six of them are in the Asia-Pacific region, five are in sub-Saharan Africa and one is in Latin America.

Pew Research analyzed data on religious affiliation within 232 countries and territories, organized into six major regions: Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Eight religious categories were taken into account, including Buddhism, Christianity, folk or traditional religions, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, other religions considered as a group, and the religiously unaffiliated …

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Ohio Interfaith Group Welcomes Nonbelievers

Interfaith Social-action Group BREAD Makes Change to Include Nonbelievers

JoAnne Viviano, The Columbus Dispatch, February 21, 2014

A BREAD gathering in Columbus – Photo: BREAD

A BREAD gathering in Columbus – Photo: BREAD

An interfaith group that has worked on social issues during the past 18 years has tweaked the wording in some of its materials to be more inclusive of people who do not believe in God.

Building Responsibility, Equality And Dignity, referred to as BREAD, made the change after members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus requested it, said the Rev. Tim Ahrens, an immediate past co-president and senior minister at First Congregational Church United Church of Christ.

The move, Ahrens said, will help add volunteers to pursue social justice with the group’s 54 congregations. He stressed that “God” remains part of the statement because “God does matter, and God language does matter to a vast majority of our congregations.” …

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Getting Dressed for Diversity

Norway Goes the Turban Way in Annual Sikh Celebration

Nikita Puri, Daily Mail India, April 7, 2014

Norwegians of all ages donned Sikh turbans in Oslo, Norway, on April 14. – Photo: Daily Mail UK

Norwegians of all ages donned Sikh turbans in Oslo, Norway, on April 14. – Photo: Daily Mail UK

As celebrations redolent of makki-di-roti and sarson-da-saag announce the arrival of Vaisakhi, on the main streets of Oslo, hundreds of Norwegians will celebrate the occasion in cream, saffron, blue and red turbans.

With blessings from the Norwegian government, the annual Turban Day celebrated on April 14 is turning three this year.

Born and raised in Oslo, 28-year-old Sumeet Singh Patpatia, a finance professional who is one of the organisers of the event, explains how the idea took root.

“The aim of the Norwegian Turban Day is to re-launch the turban as a symbol of solidarity, equality and religious freedom,” Patpatia said. “The past years have been characterised by prejudices in public debate, and there is a growing tendency towards polarisation in all societies. We wanted to give Norwegians a chance to understand our community better.”

Apart from encouraging the local community to clear the doubts that they may have about the community, measures such as these, Patpatia added, also help in “making it easier for a bearded young Sikh to be accepted in a different society with his turban.” …

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Mormons Celebrate Divali

Holi Festival a Hit Not Only Among Hindus

Katherine David, Religion News Service, March 17, 2014

The color-drenched Hindu festival of Holi being celebrated at the Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Utah. – Photo: Wikipedia

The color-drenched Hindu festival of Holi being celebrated at the Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Utah. – Photo: Wikipedia

India burst with color Monday (March 17), as Hindus observed the playful festival of Holi by dashing each other with brightly colored powder.

Americans partake of the spring festival, too. But at the largest Holi festival in the United States, the majority of participants won’t be Hindus — they’ll be Mormons.

“In Utah, if you go anywhere and mention the Festival of Colors to anybody, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about and their face will light up,” said Caru Das, priest at Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah, and the main organizer of the town’s Holi celebration, known as the Festival of Colors, which will be celebrated this year on March 29 and 30. 

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Unexpected Images of Peace

10 Images of Jewish-Muslim Unity that Go Beyond the Headlines

PopChassid, February 17, 2014

Israeli and Palestinian medics work together to save a life. – Photo: PopChassid

Israeli and Palestinian medics work together to save a life. – Photo: PopChassid

We’re constantly bombarded by implicit and explicit images of the relationship that Jews and Muslims supposedly have in today’s world.  We are bombarded with the cliched reminder that we “used to get along” but recently have become enemies.

We’ve almost become used to it, accepted it as some sort of reality.

And, ironically, all these “interfaith” events can often cause us to feel even more disconnected.  They just don’t seem as genuine as a true connection.  It would seem the only people you would need to show such “unity” with is people you don’t get along with.

Which is why we need to look deeper.  We need to look wider.  We need to see that “unity” doesn’t mean press.  It doesn’t mean “shows of support.”  It means genuine connection and giving.

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