July 2014

Those Who Need Us Most
Faith Communities on the Front Line of Refugee Aid
Dale Hanson Bourke, Religion News Service, June 19, 2014 

Many millions of people around the world are currently displaced from their homes because of war, conflict and persecution. – Photo: salvationarmy.ca.orgDominating the news on World Refugee Day, the annual commemoration of displaced peoples, observed this Friday (June 20), are photos and videos of people fleeing Syria and Iraq.

With so many countries in turmoil it’s easy to understand how the U.N. refugee agency counts more than 45 million refugees and displaced persons in the world. What’s not always clear is where they will go and who will help them.

On the front line of aid for many of these people are religious groups who help refugees not only out of sympathy for their plight, but also because of commandments in sacred texts …

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Full-Blown Religious War
ISIS Invades Iraq: This is a War of Religion
Damian Thompson, The Telegraph, June 15, 2014

An ISIS photo purporting to show the execution of Iraqi Shias. – Photo: The TelegraphThe relationship between the murderous zealots of ISIS and the rest of the Muslim world is too complicated to sum up concisely. It goes without saying that hatred between Sunnis and Shias lies at its heart. They adhere to profoundly different versions of Islam: where radical Sunnis are disgusted by cultic practices or religious art that distract from the teachings of Mohammed, Shias embrace a messianic cult of martyrdom and ritual self-mortification – and claim a line of descent from the Prophet that Sunnis regard as heresy.

This fault line dates back to the early years of Islam and is familiar to anyone who knows the first thing about the religion. But to make sense of the new Iraqi civil war it’s also necessary to untangle the relationship between the fanatics of ISIS and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, notionally an ally of the West ...

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Religious Oppression in the U.S.
When Global Warming Kills Your God
Adam Weymouth, Atlantic, June 3, 2014

A salmon leaping over a beaver dam. – Photo: WikipediaTwenty-three Alaskan tribesmen broke the law when they overfished king salmon, but they claim their faith gave them no other choice.

“So there is a black fish swimming up the river, looking for a fish trap to swim into. Cycle of life, right?”

Grant Kashatok was telling me stories the traditional Yup’ik way — his fingers entwined with string, like a child playing cat’s cradle. As he spoke, he looped the string into different shapes: it became a hunter, a mountain, a boat, an oar. “And he came to a fish trap that was broken,” he said, “and some of the fish in it were dead. The black fish poked his head out of the river to see who it was that owned the trap, and he saw that the village was dirty, and that the dogs were not tied up, and the woman came out to throw out the scraps of a fish dinner and he watched the dogs fight over the bones. The fish did not want his bones fought over. So he carried on swimming up river.”

Kashatok is the principal of the only school in Newtok, Alaska — a town of 354 perched at the mouth of the Ninglick River, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. In 2009, it was one of 26 indigenous villages listed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as “priority action communities”: The ground beneath it is slipping into the sea at such a rate that the village may only have two more years before the first houses fall away…

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Religious Oppression in Russia
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims Face up to Six Years’ Imprisonment

Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service, June 19, 2014

Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi – Photo: WikipediaThe long-running criminal trial continues in Taganrog in southern European Russia of 16 members of the local Jehovah’s Witness community which was declared “extremist.” The trial has reached its 61st hearing in 14 months. A new criminal case has reached court in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk against two Muslim women allegedly involved in the prohibited “extremist” organization “Nurdzhular,” Forum 18 News Service has learned. Four of the Taganrog defendants and both the Krasnoyarsk defendants face up to six years’ imprisonment each if convicted.

Meanwhile, four Muslims in Naberezhnyye Chelny express their determination to appeal to the highest level against their “extremism” convictions for studying the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, despite persistent harassment by law enforcement agents and the imposition of further warnings …

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Religious Oppression in China
Arbitrator of Evil
Liang Chen Source, Global Times, June 15, 2014

Citizens mourn for the woman killed by cult members in Zhaoyuan, Shandong Province. – Photo: CFPCrackdown highlights legal flaws of handling cults

Like most Chinese citizens, Zhang Kai, a Beijing lawyer, was furious at the slaughter of an innocent woman, beaten to death by six suspected cult members on May 28 at a McDonald’s in Zhaoyuan, East China’s Shandong Province.

But he said he feels the response has also been alarming.

Zhang has been raising the alarm about a blanket crackdown by the authorities on the cult members. A number of cities and provinces have been launching campaigns to suppress the cult, known as Quannengshen or Almighty God, and hundreds of its followers have been arrested and jailed, with some sentenced to years of imprisonment.

“The violence was shocking. But I am also concerned that some of the ordinary believers who might have done nothing to jeopardize the society might also be implicated. What they did was just studying the doctrine at home, but for this, they might have been sentenced to years of imprisonment,” said Zhang, who is currently in the U.S. for further study.

According to Chinese criminal law, anyone who organizes or uses the cult to violate law would be sentenced to three to seven years of imprisonment. In severe cases they can be sentenced to over seven years’ imprisonment...

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Egypt Latest to Invoke Blasphemy Laws
Egyptian Christian Jailed for Contempt of Religion

Haggag Salama, Associated Press, June 24, 2014

Luxor is better known for its ancient temples than for religious extremism. – Photo: WikipediaLUXOR, Egypt — A court convicted an Egyptian Christian to six years imprisonment for blasphemy and contempt of religion on Tuesday.

The Luxor court issued its verdict against Kerolos Ghattas, 30, after his arrest earlier this month for posting pictures deemed insulting to Islam on his Facebook page.

Ghattas’ arrest sparked fears of sectarian conflict in his village, where unidentified assailants have hurled molotov cocktails at shops owned by Christians. Local authorities beefed up security in the village on Tuesday.

The verdict can be appealed … 

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Middle East Christians Put to Flight
In Iraq, Christians Flee Homes Amid Brutal Conflict
Diaa Hadid, Associated Press, June 16, 2014

A Christian church in Baghdad – Photo: WikipediaALQOSH, Iraq — Over the past decade, Iraqi Christians have fled repeatedly to this ancient mountainside village, seeking refuge from violence, then returning home when the danger eased. Now they are doing it again as Islamic militants rampage across northern Iraq, but this time few say they ever want to go back to their homes.

The flight is a new blow to Iraq’s dwindling Christian community, which is almost as old as the religion itself but which has already been devastated since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. During the past 11 years, at least half of the country’s Christian population has fled the country, according to some estimates, to escape frequent attacks by Sunni Muslim militants targeting them and their churches.

Now many of those who held out and remained may be giving up completely after fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant swept over the city of Mosul and a broad swath of the country the past week ...

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Linguistic Conflict Divides Malaysia’s Religions
Malaysia Allah Dispute: Top Court Rejects Challenge
BBC, June 23, 2014 

Medallion showing “Allah” in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. – Photo: WikipediaMalaysia’s highest court has rejected a challenge to the ban on Christians using the word “Allah” to refer to God, in a highly divisive legal case in the Muslim-majority nation.

The case was brought by the Catholic Church, which sought to overturn a ban first put in place in 2007.

But the Federal Court said an earlier ruling backing the ban was correct.

The case began over the use of “Allah” to refer to the Christian God in the Catholic Church’s Malay-language paper.

People of all faiths use the word Allah in Malay to refer to their deities.

Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights.

Malaysian authorities say its use by Christians could confuse Muslims and lead some to convert to Christianity.

Malay Muslims make up almost two-thirds of the country’s population, but there are large Hindu and Christian communities …

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Where Teaching Creationism Will Compromise Your School’s Funding
The British Just Banned Something Taught to Millions of American Students
Tom McKay, World.Mic, June 18, 2014

Teaching students that creationism is an evidence-based theory is now banned in all public schools across the United Kingdom, according to new documents from the British government. Here are the new standards, which institute a:

...requirement for every academy and free school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum in any case prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory in any academy or free school.

According to io9, this means any “academy or free school” in the U.K. which teaches creationism to students would be breaking its funding agreement with the government. Academies are roughly equivalent to charter schools in the U.S., while “free schools” are nonprofit independent schools funded by taxpayer dollars, which can be organized by parents, teachers, charities and businesses. The new language updates a 2012 rule which required all future free schools that teach the theory of natural selection alone to include academies and all existing free schools.

This means that the U.K. is on track to more or less completely end the practice of teaching creationism in publicly funded schools ...

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Demanding Equal Religious Rights Leads to Excommunication
Kate Kelly, ‘Ordain Women’ Founder, Excommunicated by Mormon Church
Michelle Price and Brady McCombs, Associated Press, June 23, 2014

Kate Kelly – Photo: ordainwomen.orgSALT LAKE CITY – The Mormon church excommunicated the prominent founder of a Mormon women’s group, Ordain Women announced Monday afternoon.

Kate Kelly’s former church leaders in Virginia notified her of the decision after weighing the high-profile decision overnight.

She did not attend the disciplinary hearing Sunday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, instead holding a vigil in Salt Lake City with about 200 supporters.

As the leader of Ordain Women, Kelly is accused of apostasy, which is repeated and public advocacy of positions that oppose church teachings.

Mormon officials aren’t discussing Kelly’s case, but say that disciplinary hearings are held when members’ actions contradict church doctrine and lead others astray.

Kelly is one of two well-known Mormons facing excommunication. John Dehlin, an outspoken advocate for gays and the creator of a website that provides a forum for church members questioning their faith, has a meeting with his stake president in Logan on June 29 to discuss his case …

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The Secret Sauce in Any Relationship
Tunisia’s Islamists Learn to Embrace Political Culture of Compromise
Isabelle Mandraud, Guardian Weekly, July 1, 2014

Rachid Ghannouchi – Photo: WikipediaFor an Islamist leader, Rachid Ghannouchi seems to take a surprisingly moderate view of Tunisia’s political landscape. “A political transition is no time to govern with a relative majority of 51%; it’s a time for consensus,” says Ghannouchi, in his office in Tunis. “If Mehdi Jomaa [Tunisia’s caretaker prime minister] can succeed, we won’t veto his action, or that of any other minister, so they can carry on. Never change a winning team.”

Ghannouchi visited France last month to meet members of the Tunisian community. He is perfecting his strategy. In future, Ennahda will not govern on its own, even if that means leaving the current prime minister, appointed in January, at the helm …

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Connected at the Level of the Heart
Study: Interfaith Civic Groups Bridge Diversity with Participatory Prayers
Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service, June 25, 2014 

A Prayer Meeting – Photo: UCONN.EDUJust because interfaith, interracial and varied ethnic groups share a common cause doesn’t mean a diverse coalition can hang together.

It often takes prayer. And not just a “Bless this group, Amen,” invocation.

A new study by three sociologists finds that three out of four interfaith civic coalitions turn to what the sociologists have dubbed “bridging prayer“ — interactive, participatory and often innovative prayers and rituals that highlight their shared identity as people of faith …

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Joining Hands to Prevent Human Trafficking
Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury Battle Trafficking
Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, June 16, 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis meeting for the first time. – Photo: archbishopofcanterbury.orgVATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and the archbishop of Canterbury denounced human trafficking as a crime against human dignity Monday and pledged to combat it jointly — finding common ground on a social issue amid deep theological divisions over the Anglicans’ ordination of women bishops.

Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the 80 million-strong Anglican Communion, met in private and then prayed together in a Vatican chapel, their second such meeting since both were elected within days of one another last year.

Francis has made the fight against modern-day slavery a priority of his pontificate: The Vatican has hosted two conferences, Francis has met with women who were trafficked and the Vatican has teamed up with the Anglican church and Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world’s foremost seat of Sunni learning, to launch a global initiative to fight human slavery.

“Let us persevere in our commitment to combat new forms of enslavement, in the hope that we can help provide relief to victims and oppose this deplorable trade,” Francis told Welby.

Welby said cooperation was key. “It is a crime that we all need to overcome as a matter of urgency, as a matter of human dignity, freedom and wholeness of life,” he said ...

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Asian Youth Pursuing Interfaith Benefits
Young Asian Christians: “Justice, Peace Possible through Interfaith Dialogue”
World Council of Churches, June 18, 2014

Simi Thambi (l.), Manda Andrian, and Yohan Krishnakumar, participants in YATRA training, in Siem Reap. – Photo: WCCThe serene air of the Metta Karuna Reflection Centre in Siem Reap is being stirred up. It is buzzing with the voices of young Christian leaders from Asia who believe that by engaging in interfaith dialogue, they can help bring justice and peace to Asia, a region where religious plurality can be both a blessing and a challenge.

Their journey will not be easy.

Representing fifteen different Asian countries, these Christians are grappling with knotty questions related to interfaith encounter and dialogue. Some of these concern the use of religion for political control, abuse of power, religious violence and communal conflicts, as well as the self-understanding of faith communities vis-à-vis the “other” in Asia’s pluralistic societies.

Indeed the issues they face are manifold …

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The Quest to End Religious Violence
From Religious Conflict to an Interfaith Community

Kanya D’Almeida, Inter Press Service, June 16, 2014

Rohingya refugees flee violent mobs in Myanmar. – Photo: Anurup Titu/IPSUNITED NATIONS – Holy men and their holy books have etched a trail of tears and blood in the annals of human history. From the depths of peaceful temples, mobs have been dispatched with flaming torches; from steeples and minarets messages of hatred have floated down upon pious heads bent in prayer. For too long religion has incited violence and fueled conflict.

But a new alliance is seeking to turn that tide by bringing adherents of different faiths together, to overcome – through dialogue – the chasm between ‘Your God’ and ‘My God’ in the hopes of achieving a truly interreligious international community.

“There is no such thing as a religious conflict,” Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar, secretary-general of the intergovernmental organisation calling itself KAICIID, said at a media briefing in New York last Wednesday.

“Religion rejects conflict. Violence in the name of religion is violence against religion.”

Based in Vienna, KAICIID (the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue) is comprised of a Council of Parties made up of the governments of Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia, with the Holy See as a founding observer.

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Dalai Lama Speaks Out Against Buddhist Violence
Dalai Lama to Myanmar, Sri Lanka Buddhists: Stop Violence against Muslims
Tim Hume, CNN, July 7, 2014

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama teaches the Buddhist faithful near Leh, India, on his 79th birthday. – Photo: CNNTibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has made a renewed call for Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to cease violence towards the countries’ Muslim minorities, in an address delivered on his 79th birthday.

Speaking before tens of thousands of Buddhists, including Hollywood actor Richard Gere, the exiled Buddhist leader implored the faithful in the majority-Buddhist countries to refrain from such attacks.

“I urge the Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of Buddha before they commit such a crime,” he said in the Indian town of Leh.

“Buddha preaches love and compassion. If the Buddha is there, he will protect the Muslims whom the Buddhists are attacking.”

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