January 2012

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

Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Freedom on the Agenda

U.S. and Muslim Governments Address Religious Tolerance

by Bradley Klapper, Associated Press, December 16, 2011

WASHINGTON — Seeking to bolster relations with Muslim countries angry about Western characterizations of Islam, the Obama administration has gathered representatives from more than two dozen governments this week in an effort to address religious intolerance around the world.

To critics, the three-day conference in Washington smacks of appeasement toward hard line Islamist governments with often dismal anti-discrimination records of their own. U.S. officials say they're simply promoting education and understanding, while also rejecting any demands from Arab states and other countries that want restrictions on free speech.

"We know that some people distort various religious doctrines to justify intolerance, foment violence or create strife that serves their narrow political purposes," said Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. She said offensive speech ought to be denounced, but that "religion must never be used as an excuse to stifle freedom of expression." The dialogue comes after years of complaints from Muslim governments about perceived offenses against their faith. … [Read More..]

Pope Says Pluralism Doesn't Contradict Joint Search For Truth

Pope: “Interdependence Not a Threat, but an Opportunity”

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- In an address to 11 new ambassadors to the Holy See, Benedict XVI today said that the interdependence of the human family, brought about by modern technology, is not a threat, but an opportunity. … In our time the unity of the human family is an undeniable fact," he remarked. "Thanks to the communications media that bring all regions of the planet together, transport which facilitates human contacts, commercial ties which make economies interdependent, and problems of global importance such as environmental protection and mass migration, human beings have become more aware of their shared destiny. ... Mankind must see this interdependency not as a threat but as an opportunity. We are all responsible for one another, therefore it is important to maintain a positive vision of solidarity because it is the driving force of integral human development."… …"Shared responsibility" for the good of humankind is not opposed to cultural and religious diversity, the Holy Father went on. "The pluralism of cultures and religions does not contradict the joint search for truth, goodness and beauty. ... [Read More..]

First Hindu Chaplain In US Military Is 'Groundbreaking'

Launching the First Hindu Military Chaplaincy

by Ravi Chaudhary, Huffington Post, December 13, 2011

It is a great day for America and the democratic principles we've sworn to defend as service members. The Department of Defense has recently established the first Hindu Military Chaplain program in American history. Army Captain Pratima Dharm, who currently works as a Chaplain Clinician at Walter Reed Medical Center Hospital, took on her new role as the Army's first Hindu Chaplain as of May 16.

"It is an honor to take on this incredible role supporting military members and their families serving in our Nation's Armed forces," says Chaplain Dharm, who holds degrees in Psychology and Theology.

Chaplain Dharm earned her commission in the U.S. Army in 2006 and in 2008 was selected for the Army's Clinical Pastoral Education Program (CPE) while serving in Iraq. Her awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal and Global War On Terrorism Service Medal. No stranger to achieving "firsts," Chaplain Dharm is also the first female Chaplain of Indian descent in the United States Army.

[Read More…]

ALSO: BBC News video available

Singapore Group Seeks Sustained Religious Harmony

Singapore SECDC Explorations Into Faith Program

Administrator, RID – Education, September 23, 2011

Since 2007, the Singapore South East Community Development Council Explorations into Faiths (EiF) programme has helped participants to gain a better understanding of religions practiced in Singapore and to experience interfaith dialogue in a stimulating, supportive and respectful environment.

For religious harmony to be sustained and to thrive in Singapore, members of faith communities needed to learn about each other to understand, appreciate and foster deeper trust and social capital. At the Community Clubs, Inter-Religious talks started to be organized where religious leaders shared key tenets of their faiths to audiences of mixed ethnic and religious backgrounds. Through the IRCCs, religious, grassroots and community leaders built bonds of friendship and trust. Senior representatives from the ten faith traditions (i.e. Baha'i’, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism) were invited to share the basic tenets of their faiths during the programme. [Read More…]

18 Community Interfaith Events For 2012 Planned for Muskegon County

Year Of Interfaith Understanding To Kick Off In Muskegon Jan. 10

by Megan Hart, The Muskegon Chronicle January 04, 2012

Mayors of Muskegon County cities gathered at 1 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Culinary Institute of Michigan, 336 W. Clay, to issue a proclamation in support of the Year of Interfaith Understanding. Area religious leaders and musical groups from Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon high schools also participated. The program was free and open to the public.

The interfaith year grew out of dialogues between Christians and Jews that began in Muskegon about 20 years ago, Ostrom said. As interest grew, some of the programs were moved to Grand Valley State University so more people could attend. “Everything is about deepening people's spirits and spirituality,” she said. … Later in the month, a “Human Reproductive Rights” breakfast and dialogue will take place at Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 1296 Montgomery, to commemorate the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion. The breakfast will be 10:30 a.m. Jan. 21, followed by a rally for abortion rights at Hackley Park, Bjork said. “As a woman, it affects you regardless of your religious orientation,” Kryssis Bjork said. “This is quite an eclectic group.” Later events will include performances, discussions of spirituality in certain communities, tours of various houses of worship and other dialogues and celebrations throughout the year. “This is not about conversion. It's about conversation,” Bjork said. “The point is to understand and honor and respect each other.” Here is the schedule of upcoming events scheduled for the Year of Interfaith Understanding in Muskegon County:… (18 separate events are listed)             [Read more...]

Australian Abrahamics Address Domestic Violence

Melbourne: Religious Leaders Addressed Faith Responses To Family Violence And Violence Against Women

by Administrator, Interfaith New – Highlights, November 26, 2011

The Interfaith forum was held at the Islamic Centre of Victoria, for observance of the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women. It was organised to coincide with White Ribbon Day, an Australian initiative generating community responses and participation in the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women. Maryum Chaudhry of the Islamic Centre of Victoria introduced the guests and opened the forum outlining the need for collaboration and interfaith responses to family violence and violence against women. …

Representatives from Judaism, Christianity and Islam addressed the problem from their own perspectives. Members of the White Ribbon Foundation made a presentation. As well the overall topic of Abuse against Women was addressed, including the topic of women refugees. [Read More…]

Creating Common Community & An Interfaith Campus Of Three Worship Centres

Omaha, Nebraska Will See 'Multi-Faith Neighborhood'

ENInews, December 14, 2011

Omaha, Nebraska may not be the place that some imagine as fertile ground for the prospect of the three Abrahamic faiths finding common ground but, the vision of such peaceful co-existence has taken a major step towards becoming reality. The Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha announced on 13 December that it has completed the purchase of four adjacent parcels of land, amounting to about 35 acres, on a former golf course in the heart of Omaha, Episcopal News Service reports. The course is being turned into Sterling Ridge, a development that will also include single-family homes, an assisted-living facility, office and retail space and a hotel. [Read Complete Details…]

Edmonton Abrahamic Faiths Follow Their Roots

Christians, Jews, Muslims Unite For Common Prayer

by Chris Miller The B.C. Catholic, December 15, 2011

EDMONTON (CCN)--Representatives of the three faiths that trace their roots to Abraham came together at City Hall Dec. 11 as part of their local effort to foster interfaith harmony and cooperation.

Masood Peracha, co-chair of the Phoenix Multi-Faith Society for Harmony, said the organization was established five years ago to build a greater understanding among all faiths.

They wanted to ensure that the same hatred and religious indifference seen in the rest of the world would not prevail in Edmonton too, Peracha said.

“It’s important for us to gather together, to learn together, understand each other, and respect each other because by learning we can dispel fear,” said Rabbi David Kunin, president of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre. “Once we learn that we have a lot more in common, we have many more reasons to celebrate together than to hate each other." [Read More…]

Haifa’s Multi-Faith Holiday Celebrations Share and Honour Differences

Haifa's Holiday Of Holidays Festival Embraces Differences

ENI News Highlights, December 22, 2011

Haifa, Israel (ENI News)--Both Christmas lights and Hanukkah dreidels (spinning tops) are appearing as decorations as the northern Israeli port city of Haifa throws a multi-faith party on December weekends. Now in its 18th year, the Holiday of Holidays -- which also includes the recently-celebrated Muslim Eid al-Adha -- is meant "to share the differences and honor them," said Assaf Ron, director of the Beit Hageffen Jewish-Arab Center which organizes the festival along with the Haifa municipality. "We want to show Jews, Christians, and Muslims that we can celebrate our holidays together, we can be together in a big open venue, mix together, and not feel strange or fearful," Ron said. [Read More…]

Pakistani Town Celebrates Christ­mas, Eid and Diwali In a Single Event

Muslim, Hindu And Christian Students Join Forces To Spread The Season’s Cheer

by Sarfaraz Memon, The Express Tribune, December 21, 2011

SUKKUR: The annual Christmas event at the St Mary’s school came with a pleasant twist this year – not only did the Christian students put on a great show on Tuesday, but their Hindu and Muslim peers also got into the mix and simultaneously celebrated Diwali and Eid.

The idea to have a single event for the three religious occasions was the brainchild of the principal of the school, Sister Rosy. “We, as the elders, are hypocrites because we express solidarity for the sake of photo sessions only. But these children are innocent and we have to teach them to respect all religions,” she said.

The event kicked off with the National anthem. Clad in an eclectic variety of dresses, students from class I to class X participated in tableaus, skits and songs. Muslim students were in white with caps bearing the moon and star, the Hindu students were clad in colourful kurtas and dhotis and the Christian students were wearing coats, ties and Santa Claus caps. At one point during the event, they danced to the tune of the popular Sindhi folk song ‘Ho Jamalo’. The food stalls, which were offering different snacks including, biscuits, chocolates, toffees and cotton candy were particularly popular.

The students and the audience were equally pleased at the fact that the interfaith event had been organised. “I feel really happy to be participating in such an event. Today it seems as if there are no Muslims, Hindus or Christians – just human beings. All these religions have one thing in common – they all preach humanity,” said a student of class IX, Khizar Tariq. [Read More…]