Interfaith News Roundup

Bulldozing History, Boggeling Partnerships, and the Mind of the Beast

More good interfaith stories than bad this month. Let’s cover the hard stuff first. Claiming they were idols, IS earned more global contempt by “bulldozing” ancient treasures from Nimrud, the ancient capital of Assyria, founded 3400 years ago, and is doing the same at numerous other historic sites. A mind-numbing story came from CNN which detailed “Religion’s Week from Hell,” reviewing the week of February 9-15, day by day, noting the religiously related violence circling the globe.

Religious freedom continues to take a beating. A young man in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam and tearing up a Quran on the internet. Saudi executions typically are by public beheading. It’s boggling to consider that Saudi Arabia is a Western ally in the struggle against the much more brutal IS.

A good way to get a handle on this horror is Graeme Wood’s lengthy essay in the Atlantic this month, titled “What ISIS Really Wants.” It is an illuminating political, theological analysis of what the world is up against with this avowedly genocidal ‘caliphate.’ Should be ‘must read’ material for the powerful and policy makers of the world, and anyone who wants to start to understand the ISIS nightmare. In the same vein, TIO contributor Mark Jurgensmeyer has a fascinating interview with Ashin Wirathu, the Buddhist monk in Miramar that Time magazine called “the face of Buddhist terror.”

Good News from India, England, Algeria, Elizabethtown and More

The New York Times reports that Muslim leaders are mobilizing their forces to counter the ISIS social media outreach to young Muslims in America. (Please share this with anyone who wonders why Muslims are not more proactive in opposing religious extremism and violence. )

All Souls Center, Bolton, England – Photo: Wikipedia

India’s Prime Minister Nahendra Modi has broken his silence on the increase in Hindu aggression towards other faiths in recent months. His words surely bring comfort to the millions of non-Hindus in India: “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.” No surprise, though – his statements have generated a national debate.

Ten years ago All Souls Church in Bolton, England was an abandoned building. The local council of mosques suggested transforming the church into a community center for all. With $8 million dollars raised and spent in restoration, All Souls community center is a thriving interfaith center serving the neighborhood and beyond.

Good news for women in Algeria and India. Hundreds of Muslim women in Algeria, known as spiritual guides or mourshidates, have formed a movement opposing Muslim extremism and are intent on reclaiming Islam as a religion of peace. Turning to Asia, widows in India are generally shunned by society and traditionally forbidden to celebrate festivals. This year widows were encouraged to participate in the tumultuous Holi celebration.

Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania

Congratulations to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania! The school will be offering an interfaith major, the first in the nation. A campus visit by Eboo Patel helped influence the Elizabethtown faculty in taking this step.

“Breakin’ with Buddha, W{holy} Queer, Demystifying American Indian Spirituality, and Student Responses to Acts of Intolerance” were just a few titles of the sessions held at “Coming Together,” an interfaith conference held at Yale last month, the Yale Daily News reported. 115 collegians from across North America spent three days sharing stories from some of the most innovative interfaith centers anywhere, college and university chaplancies.

Mistrust of faith-based international aid is due to fears of proselytizing and suspicions that material aid comes tied with religious expectations. Keynote speakers at “Proselytism and Development in Pluralistic Societies,” sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, at Georgetown University, agreed that both practices were totally inappropriate and that legitimate programs don’t allow them.

Last month’s World Interfaith Harmony Week garnered hundreds of positive outcomes and stories, not the least of which was publication of an essay titled “Solving Wicked Problems with the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest,” delivering some powerful suggestions about the journey to world peace.