June 2013

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


Imams from Around the World Visit Holocaust Sites
Muslim Leaders Pray at Auschwitz in Interfaith Move
Mary Sibierski, Arab News (AFP), May 22, 2013

Muslim religious leaders from across the globe pray in front of so-called death wall at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of an anti-genocide program on May 22, 2013. Muslim religious leaders from across the globe met with Holocaust survivors in an emotional encounter at Warsaw’s synagogue, as part of an anti-genocide program that includes a visit to Auschwitz. Photo: Janek Skarzynski, AFPOswiecim, Poland — Muslim leaders from across the globe knelt in prayer for the Holocaust dead at the Auschwitz’s notorious Wall of Death on Wednesday, in an emotional visit to the Nazi German death camp in southern Poland.

Imams from Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States offered traditional Muslim “salat” prayers facing south toward their holy city of Makkah, shoes removed, during a Holocaust awareness visit to the site.

Thousands of Auschwitz prisoners perished at the wall, which is grey and still riddled with bullet holes. It is a stone’s throw from the infamous wrought iron “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free) gate at the camp’s entrance.

“What can you say? You’re speechless. What you have seen is beyond human imagination,” a visibly moved Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), told AFP after prayers and viewing the camp’s infamous gas chamber and crematoria.

“Whether in Europe today or in the Muslim world, my call to humanity: End racism, for God’s sake, end anti-Semitism, for God’s sake, end Islamophobia for God’s sake, end sexism for God’s sake... Enough is enough,” he said…

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Finding Higher Religious Ground in Pakistan
Religion, the Problem or Solution in U.S.-Pakistan Relations?
Robert Chase, Common Ground News Service, June 4, 2013

Photo: VimeoNew York City – Last month I travelled with a multi-faith delegation of U.S. religious leaders, the U.S.-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium (UPIC), to meet with Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad and Lahore. While in Pakistan, I found that a shift to human security — beyond military security and improving quality of life in terms of education, healthcare and good governance — might prove more effective in achieving better U.S.-Pakistani relations.

During meetings, one challenge was raised time and again: what difference can religious leaders actually make in a country that is beset with deep and abiding problems like poverty, unemployment, a dysfunctional educational system, extremist violence – where religion is so often considered the cause – and profound distrust of the government’s ability to right the ship? 

These are Pakistani issues and, as our Pakistani counterparts told us, are often best left for Pakistanis to address. But by focusing on human security, long the purview of religious communities, we found common ground and gained traction with our Pakistani hosts. We were told human security was a refreshing topic to discuss with Americans… 

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120 Years After Vivekananda in Chicago, Congress Welcomes Hindu Monk
First Hindu Monk to Deliver Opening Prayer on House Floor
Jay Kansara, Religious News Service, June 3, 2013

Photo: WikipediaSatguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, head of Kauai’s Hindu Monastery and publisher of Hinduism Today, will be guest chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives and will offer the opening prayer as the House begins its session on June 4, 2013, just after noon.

The invitation has come through Representative Ed Royce of California’s 39th District, inspired by the work of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and timed to be part of HAF’s 10th Annual Advocacy Day.

While Satguru Bodhinatha will be the third Hindu guest chaplain to offer a prayer before Congress, he is the first Hindu monk and major religious leader partaking in this honor…

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Harleen Dhillon attends a vigil at Cathedral Square Park in Milwaukee on Sunday night Aug. 5, 2013 after shooter Wade Michael Page killed 6 people at a local Sikh temple that morning. Photo: Lacy Landre, RNS

FBI Finally Agrees to Recognize Religious Distinctions
Religious Leaders Welcome FBI Hate Crimes Reporting
Corrie Mitchell, Religious News Service, June 6, 2013

For Raed Jarrar, the FBI’s decision Wednesday (June 5) to begin tracking hate crimes against Arabs is a battle won in a larger war.

“This is just one part of fixing the system, because unfortunately many hate crimes against Arab Americans have not been noticed,” said Jarrar, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

In addition to its decision on tracking anti-Arab hate crimes, the FBI has agreed to track crimes against a number of religious groups it has never before tracked. The new categories include reporting crimes committed against Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox Christians…

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Catholic Social Justice on the Road Again
“Nuns on the Bus” Making a Stop Near You…
David Gibson, Religion News Service, May 20, 2013

We reported earlier this month that the “Nuns on the Bus,” who made national news for their social justice tour during the 2012 election, are going back on the road on behalf of immigration reform — and they just released their tour schedule:

A total of 6500 miles and 53 events in 40 cities across 15 states, over the course of three weeks, starting May 29 at Ellis Island in New York and ending on June 18 on Angel Island in San Francisco. Woody Guthrie ought to be the soundtrack.

The official title: “NETWORK Nuns on the Bus: A Drive for Faith, Family, and Citizenship.” …

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Chelsea Clinton speaks during the National Day of Service, Inaugural Weekend 2013. Photo courtesy of Avelino Maestas via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/dMMPYe).

Clinton Becomes an Interfaith Activist
Chelsea Clinton to Promote Interfaith Work at NYU
Catalina Camia, USA Today, May 22, 2013 

WASHINGTON (RNS) – Chelsea Clinton is wearing a new professional hat, one that will take her into a religious direction.

The former first daughter is now the co-founder and co-chairwoman of New York University’s Of Many Institute, a program for “multifaith” education. Its website says the institute “supports a new generation of religious and civic leaders who, deeply rooted in their own religious and spiritual traditions, reach across faith boundaries to solve social problems together.” …

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Stanford Offering Interfaith Financial Support
University Fellowships Seek to Promote Interfaith Dialogue
Jana Persky, Stanford Daily, May 12, 2013

Photo: WikipediaThe Office for Religious Life (ORL) will again offer two fellowships next year in an ongoing effort to build connections between various religious and spiritual groups on campus.

According to Dean of Religious Life Reverend Scotty McLennan, teaching students how to understand others’ beliefs is critical in training students for positions of global leadership. 

“We need to graduate people from Stanford – ideally it would be every Stanford student – who understand the power and role of religion in the world and are able to help people talk across differences,” McLennan emphasized.

The two fellowships aim to contribute to interfaith dialogue in different ways. The Interfaith Fellowship, which offers a $4,000 stipend, selects two students to support interfaith programming in conjunction with the ORL, while the Rathbun Fellowship for Religious Encounter (FRE), which grants a $500 stipend and creates a weekly discussion space for up to 16 students.

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On the Evolution of Religious Communities
How Religions Change Their Mind
William Kremer, BBC News Magazine, May 20, 2013

Woodruff in 1889 – he had seven wives across his life, and 33 children.Once upon a time, animal sacrifice was an important part of Hindu life, Catholic priests weren’t celibate and visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad were part of Islamic art. And soon some churches in the UK may be marrying gay couples. How do religions manage to change their mind?

In 1889, Wilford Woodruff became the fourth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – more commonly known as the Mormon Church.

As president, he was seen as a living prophet, someone who could receive wisdom and advice from Jesus Christ. And he was certainly in need of advice – his church was in crisis.

For 40 years, Mormons had been at loggerheads with the U.S. Congress over the issue of polygamy, which was encouraged among male believers. The government said it was illegal and held that religious conviction was no defense.

Woodruff and others lived a precarious life, moving around in an attempt to dodge marshals with arrest warrants for bigamy. In 1890, the government brought things to a head by moving to confiscate all of the church’s assets.

It was then, Woodruff said, that Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision and showed him the future…

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Dismantling Stereotypes about Our Values
Evidence Does Not Support Fears of Islam in the West
Jocelyne Cesari, Common Ground News, May 21, 2013

Washington, DC – While scholarly work has debunked the idea of incompatibility of Islam with Western values, it has not really changed this dominant perception pervading political discourse and policy making. This notion of incompatibility between Islam and the West has actually intensified in the last 15 years, as the perception of Islam as the external enemy has combined with the fear of Islam within liberal Western democracies. The consequence is that Muslims are now seen by many as an internal and external enemy both in Europe and in the United States. 

The persistence of the Islam versus West dichotomy has nothing to do with the quality of academic work, but rather the fact that this work is seldom utilized by political and cultural actors, not to mention media.

Yet hope may lie in better understanding the social and cultural reality of Muslims that starkly contradicts the perceived divide – namely that Muslims in the West are supportive of Western values and civic integration. In this regard, efforts could be made to familiarize citizens with this reality through different educational and cultural means.

My book Why the West Fears Islam: Exploration of Islam in Western Liberal Democracies (June 2013 by Palgrave McMillan) indicates a persistent predisposition in the West to link Islam to un-civic behavior and to see assertive Muslims as internal enemies threatening national values and identities as well as external enemies at war with Western civilization.

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Exploring Muslim Roots of Peace
New Study on Forgiveness in the Arab World
Ilham Nasser and Mohammad Abu-Nimer, Common Ground News Service, May 28, 2013

Ilham Nasser and Mohammed Abu-Nimer Photo: Kathy AquilinaWashington, DC – In these days of political unrest and constant change in the Arab world, there are many instances of violence and a pervading lack of trust among people. More than ever, people wonder what mechanisms need to be in place to heal and repair relationships between people and public institutions.

The two of us, Dr. Ilham Nasser and Dr. Mohammad Abu-Nimer, who specialize in early childhood education and conflict resolution respectively, embarked on a comprehensive three-year study in 2010 on the topic of teaching forgiveness in four Arab countries – Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. This pioneering study concluded its initial phase earlier this year and contributed to the understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation in the region both conceptually and how it can be applied practically to stop violence and build trust…

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