March 2014

The One Country with a Tradition of Women Imams? (China!)
China’s Female Imams Carrying on Ancient Islamic Tradition
Huey Fern Tay, Radio Australia, March 6, 2014

Imam Ge Caixia leads a group of women In China’s Henan province. – Photo: ABCChina isn’t the heartland of Islam, but it is the only country in the world to have a long history of female imams. A small group of women in central China’s Henan province have been imams in their community for centuries. This part of China is home to less than four percent of China’s roughly 23 million Muslims. The believers are from an ethnic minority known as the Hui. 

A group of Muslim grandmothers wander into a mosque behind an ancient city wall shortly before noon prayers on a Friday. A crowd of 50 soon fill the prayer room. Ge Caixia is their religious leader, a female imam in the mosque that’s dedicated only to women…

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Christian Cathedral Planned for Bahrain
Catholicism Growing in Heart of Muslim World
John L. Allen Jr., The Boston Globe, March 8, 2014

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah of Bahrain has recently agreed to donate land for the construction of a Catholic church. – Photo: EPAFrom the “not what you might expect” files, here’s a fact about Catholicism in the early 21st century that flies in the face of conventional wisdom: It’s growing by leaps and bounds in the heart of the Muslim world.

Many Americans have heard or read reports about an exodus of Christians out of the Middle East, and in terms of the indigenous Arab Christian population that’s all too real. Christians now make up only five percent of the region’s population, down from 20 percent a century ago. In places like Iraq, whole Christian communities are on the brink of extinction.

Yet the Arabian Peninsula today is also, improbably, seeing one of the most dramatic Catholic growth rates anywhere in the world. The expansion is being driven not by Arab converts, but by foreign ex-pats whom the region increasingly relies on for manual labor and domestic service. Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Koreans, and members of other nationalities are becoming the new working poor in some of the world’s wealthiest societies. The result is a Catholic population on the peninsula estimated at around 2.5 million... 

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Believers and Nonbelievers Join Hands
Interfaith Social Action Group BREAD Makes Change to Include Nonbelievers
JoAnne Viviano, The Columbus Dispatch, February 21, 2014

3,200 attend a BREAD event in Columbus last year. – Photo: BREAD FacebookAn 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.”

Gleb Tsipursky said he and some other First Unitarian Universalist Church members do not believe in a god or gods. A humanist, he believes not in a higher power but in reason and humanity.

He was among those who asked for the change…

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Nottingham Council House – Photo: WikipediaReligious-Civic Partnership to Fund Interfaith Development
Multi-Faith Fund to Unite Communities
Nottingham Post (UK), March 4, 2014

NOTTINGHAM is in line for a share of £3 million to bring together multi-faith communities.

Near Neighbours is a partnership between the Church Urban Fund and the Archbishop’s Council and is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The latest Government money will mean its expansion to include Nottingham.

Community and social projects that involve faith groups working together are eligible to apply to the fund for grants of up to £5,000…

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Sanskrit Revival at Southern California University
Hindu-Americans Aren’t Writing off Sanskrit Just Yet
Melissah Yang, USC Annenberg Knight Program on Media and Religion, February 28, 2014

Arshya Gurbani – Photo: Melissa YangArshya Gurbani, president of USC’s Hindu Student Organization, hopes one day to learn Sanskrit to better connect with her faith.

On a Wednesday night, Arshya Gurbani reaches into a white cabinet and wakes a couple Hindu gods from their slumber. She carefully lays out statues of Ganesh and Shiva on a table in preparation for aarti, a worship ritual that reminds Hindus to stay humble and give thanks for good fortune.

But Gurbani, 21, and the other members of the Hindu Student Organization at USC put their own modern spin on this ancient practice during their weekly meetings. They play the devotional song “Om Jai Jagdish Hare” on YouTube as they sing off computer printouts. And coupled with the Hindi songs are verses in Sanskrit, spelled out phonetically so anyone can follow along.

“Growing up, you don’t necessarily know what you’re saying, but you keep saying certain Sanskrit phrases anyways,” Gurbani says. “Now that I’m older, I want to know what it means, and that causes me to look at it more critically than I would have if it were in English or even in Hindi.” …

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Unexpected Atheist Support of Baptist Pastor
Atheists Support L.A. Pastor Who Faces “Tribunal” for LGBT Advocacy
Sikivu Hutchinson, Religion Dispatches, March 3, 2014

Zion Hill Baptist Church, L.A. – Photo: zhill.orgOn Sunday morning I went to a church service for the first time in decades. 

I was there as a community member to support Pastor Seth Pickens of Zion Hill Baptist church in South Los Angeles. A few days before, I’d received an urgent plea from Teka-Lark Fleming, publisher of the local Morningside Park Chronicle newspaper, encouraging progressive black folk to show up at Zion Hill in support of Seth’s pro-LGBTQ stance.

After publishing a column entitled “The 10 Reasons I Love LGBTQ folk” in Fleming’s paper, Pickens came under fire from church officials. The controversy erupted on the heels of internal criticism he’d received for performing a marriage ceremony for a lesbian couple last year.

Zion Hill is a vibrant mini-community within a predominantly African American and Latino community that has been ravaged by the economic depression. Each week, the church houses health and fitness classes, an AIDS ministry, financial literacy workshops, block clubs, support services for the disabled and a credit union. 

Over the past three years, Pickens has even been a supporter of “interfaith” dialogue with my Black Skeptics Los Angeles organization, opening the church’s doors to our community forums on atheism, black secular humanist traditions and civil rights resistance… I’d first met Pickens when I was exploring the grounds of the church with my then toddler daughter. After greeting me and introducing himself, he’d asked if I belonged to any of the local congregations. When I told him I was an atheist, the first words out of his mouth were not, “Why?” but “I respect that.” …

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Danish Legislate Restrictions on Kosher and Halal Meat Slaughter
Ban on Religious Slaughter of Animals Begins in Denmark
Al Jazeera, February 17, 2014

A ban on kosher and halal slaughter in Denmark began Monday. Announcing the ban last week, Danish Agriculture and Food Minister Dan Jorgensen said, “Animal rights come before religion.”

In order to be considered kosher under Jewish law or halal under Islamic law, animals must be conscious when killed. The new rule, which follows similar regulations in other European countries, requires animals be stunned before slaughter.

Danish Halal, a non-profit halal monitoring group, launched a petition condemning the ban…

[Photo: Wikipedia]

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Human Trafficking: a Continuing Tragedy
Ending the Modern-Day Slave Trade
Nancy K. Kaufman, Religion News Service, February 5, 2014

The idea that slavery and human trafficking have come to an end in the U.S. is sadly mistaken.NEW YORK – At the beginning of the 21st century, Americans are used to thinking of slavery as a horror, yes, but one that was banished from these shores nearly 150 years ago. If only that were so.

The trafficking of men, women and children for labor or sexual exploitation — or both — fuels an underground economy of misery in our midst in many major metropolitan areas and even in rural America. Immigrants without legal status, children in foster care — all those with tenuous community roots — are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the U.S. and that the average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim here is 13 to 14 years old. According to the DOJ, a pimp can make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year, and the average pimp controls four to six girls. The United Nations estimates that traffickers generate more than $9 billion within the U.S. for both labor and sex trafficking.

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