IRENICA Previous Version (archived)

Since June 2010, IRENICA has gone “live”.  Instead of a monthly digest, news items are added as soon as they come to my notice.  The latest news appears on the homepage irenica.org.uk and in Latest IRENICA.  Email alerts will only be sent out infrequently.  I know how annoying it is to keep getting emails every day – please keep checking this website.

IRENICA Issue 6: May 2010

Windows for Peace (UK) www.windowsforpeaceuk.org works with Windows – Channels for Communication (Windows CfC) www.win-peace.org in Israel and Palestine to promote dialogue and understanding amongst Jewish, Muslin and Christian young people.

The young people (aged 13-15) work together with media and art to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation between the two communities.

They run a media programme for young people; publish WINDOWS,

a magazine in Arabic and Hebrew, written by and for young 12-14 year olds; and mount art exhibitions which present the visions of Israeli and Palestinian children on war and peace and dreams for the future.

There will be 16 young people from Jenin, Tel Aviv and Nazareth coming to EDINBURGH in July (5th – 19th).  If you know any 13-15 year olds who might be interested in meeting them (around 13th – 16th July) and learning more about how they try to build bridges of

reconciliation through communication – please get in touch with Nancy Adams (nancy [at] newbigging [dot] org)

To download a copy of “Windows” in English go to: www.windowsforpeaceuk.org/Magazine.htm

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All parties must stand up to Islamophobia

The intolerance towards Muslims must not be tolerated, but the main political parties have not pledged to take sufficient action to combat anti-Muslim prejudice. Legitimate criticism of Muslims who spew extremist rhetoric and commit criminal acts is acceptable. However, the ugly trend of bigotry against law-abiding Muslims sweeping Europe should not be ignored by whoever comes into power as it is influencing debate here in the UK.

Shaista Gohir writing in The Guardian: Comment is free, May 4, www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/may/04/parties-fight-islamophobia

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Brown says,“Labour has common bond with Muslims

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is seeking to reach out to voters, including Muslims in key marginal constituencies, to support Labour as the party to aid economic recovery.

“We have a common bond with all those in the Muslim community who are trying to make sure we have fairness and justice throughout the world. I think people know that we are the party that has done more to tackle poverty in the poorest countries of the world and done more to support organization like Muslim Aid that are trying to help the poorest countries,” he said in a Muslim News exclusive.

Muslim News, May 4, www.muslimnews.co.uk/index/press.php?pr=272

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A Muslim woman in Italy has been fined 500 euros (£430) for wearing a burka

The Tunisian immigrant, Amel Marmouri, 26, was fined by police in the city of Novara, in the north-eastern Piedmont region.  The town council is controlled by the right-wing Northern League, which has pushed for much tougher immigration controls and at a national level forms part of Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition government.

Mrs Marmouri was in a post office when police officers stopped her and issued her with the fine. “As far as I know this is a first in Italy,” said police officer Mauro Franzinelli.

Her husband, Ben Salah Braim, 36, said the family would struggle to pay the penalty.  He said his wife would continue to wear the full-length item of clothing because he did not want her to be seen by other men, but in future she would be forced to stay at home most of the time.

Nick Squires writing in the Daily Telegraph, May 4, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/7676367/Muslim-woman-fined-430-for-wearing-burka-in-Italy.html

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The burka, not bare flesh, demeans girls

Driving through Dublin city centre one day last week I saw a woman pushing a little baby girl in a pram. At least, I think she was a woman. Her hands looked young and slim and there was a glimpse of a heel under the ankle-length black burka that obliterated any other hint of humanity, let alone femininity. She was nothing more than a moving black silhouette, peering through a tiny lace grid, though no eyes were actually visible.

By contrast, her baby girl was a vision in pink dress and hat, her face uncovered. She was a bright little thing, following the faces of strangers walking past. Babies constantly seek eye contact, especially with their mothers. Their healthy emotional development requires that they see their feelings — smiles, tears, surprise — validated by being reflected in a friendly adult face. It’s the reason we make faces at babies without even realising it.

Brenda Power writing in the Sunday Times, May 2, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/article7114135.ece

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French lawmakers focus on husbands of Muslim women who wear veil

Any man who forces his wife to wear a full Muslim veil will be given a sentence of up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of €15,000 (£13,000), under French legislation expected to come into force in the summer.

The Bill also envisages a €150 fine for women who choose to wear the face veil in public. “No one may wear in public places clothes that are aimed at hiding the face,” says the text leaked to Le Figaro, the French daily. The report added that legislators had included the possibility for women to avoid a fine by attending a citizenship course.

Adam Sage writing in The Times, May 1, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article7113490.ece

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FIFA Reverses Hijab Ban after Iranian Protest

They had earlier banned Iran’s female football squad from wearing the hijab at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, in August in Singapore.

Iranian Football Federation officials told FIFA, “The entire world should respect Muslims’ rights and consider Islamic rules and values as a crucial factor when dealing with the Muslim countries’ women football teams.”  FIFA ruled that if the hijab covers the hair without violating the rules of the game, the female footballers can use it and the Iranian players could participate in this summer’s Olympic Games in Singapore.

Hana Levi Julian writing in the Voice of the Copts, May 4, voiceofthecopts.org/en/news/fifa_reverses_hijab_ban_after_iranian_protest.html

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Buses of Christian Students Bombed in Iraq

Four people were killed and 171 were wounded Sunday when a bus convoy carrying Christian students to the University of Mosul was attacked.

There was first an explosive device and then a car bomb that reached three of the buses. After the explosions, dozens of the young people were taken to hospitals in Erbil. Seventeen continued in graved condition.

“We are seeing another, the umpteenth, attack against Christians,” Chaldean Patriarch, Archbishop Nona said. “The violence continues without relief.”  A spokesman lamented today that no one in the administration had spoken out to express solidarity with the Christian community,

“Truly, we do not know what to do with this violence.”

Another local priest lamented that the attack was particularly shocking because it was not against soldiers or the military, “but just students, who had their books, their pens and their dreams to grow up and serve their country.”

Zenit, May 3, www.zenit.org/article-29129?l=english

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“A New Vision for God’s Holy Mountain”

Some three and a half millennia ago, Jews, Christians and Muslims believe, Abraham cast off the idols his father prayed to and devoted himself to the worship of God alone.  Abraham stood fast by his devotion even when God asked him to sacrifice his son, and although God ultimately rejected the very idea of human sacrifice, Abraham’s devotion would be held up as an exemplar for all who would walk in his path.

According to Jewish tradition, the first and second Temples were built on the spot where Abraham performed his ultimate act of submission to God.  According to Muslim tradition, it is where Mohammad ascended to heaven, after praying with Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and today it is the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is of course also not far from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Chapel of the Ascension and many other Christian holy sites.

Ironically, instead of reflecting the three religions’ shared belief in the supreme moral reign of the One God, the Temple Mount (Al Haram Al Sharif in Arabic) has become the ultimate symbol of strife and contention among believers.

Ohr Margalit writing in Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, Apr.29, irdialogue.org/articles/a-new-vision-for-gods-holy-mountain-by-ohr-margalit/

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Is God One?

All religions are the same. All religions lead to the same God. All religions are good and true. The 18th century Age of Enlightenment popularized religious tolerance. In the 1960’s, the idea that all religions are beautiful and equally true became fashionable across the United States and Europe. Today, the interfaith movement is widespread across the world. But are all religions the same? Do all religions lead to the same God? If you ask Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University and author of five books, not only are these statements completely false, but also disrespectful and dangerous.

Stephen Prothero’s latest book “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World And Why Their Differences Matter” goes up against interfaith champions Karen Armstrong, the Dalai Lama, and Mahatma Ghandi and challenges the wishy-washy sentiment that all religions are the same and can get along.

“Of course, those who claim that the world’s religions are different paths up the same mountain do not deny the undeniable fact that they differ in some particulars,” says Prothero.

Delaine writing in Interfaithing News, Apr.27,  www.interfaithing.com/god-one-286/

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WCC president Anastasios of Tirana decorated for inter-religious efforts

The WCC (World Council of Churches) is proud that one of its presidents, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, has been awarded the highest distinction of the Republic of Albania in recognition of his merits in the field of inter-religious dialogue.

The head of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania was awarded the “Skanderbeg” medal, named after a 15th century Albanian national hero, earlier this month, together with the three spiritual leaders of the Muslim, Roman Catholic and Bektashi communities in the country.

WCC News, Apr.22, www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/wcc-president-anastasios.html

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Indian Christians Attacked in Prayer Meetings

Christians in Bhopal are protesting recent attacks their prayer meetings by Hindu extremists, including Saturday (Apr.17)’s violence that killed one and injured others.  A group of Protestants was attacked during a prayer meeting by 30 men, who had their faces covered with saffron-coloured cloths.  The attackers interrupted a prayer meeting being held in the town of Saliya and beat the more than 400 faithful participants.

The Christians were singing a hymn with their eyes closed when the assailants entered and began beating them, accusing them of causing forced conversions, the news agency reported.  Before disappearing, the attackers destroyed the liturgical material, Bibles and vehicles of the Christians.

Zenit, Apr.22, www.zenit.org/article-29005?l=english

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Sarkozy launches new law to ban the burka

The French government will defy official advice and put forward a draft law next month to ban the burka, or full-body veil, from all public places.  Despite warnings that such a law would be open to constitutional challenge, President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted yesterday that a ban on the burka, and its Arab equivalent the niqab, was needed to protect the “dignity of women”.

Although the full-length veil is worn by only 2,000 women in France, its gradually increasing presence is seen by politicians on both the right and left as an affront to the official republican values of liberty and equality. Other politicians, on both right and left, say that a law is unnecessary, probably unconstitutional and likely to embitter race relations.

John Lichfield writing in The Independent, Apr.22, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/sarkozy-launches-new-law-to-ban-the-burka-1950713.html

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As tensions simmer, interfaith efforts ramp up dialogue

The smell of fresh paint and the sounds of kids having a good time are a frequent occurrence at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, where hundreds of local Jewish and Arab children take part each year in the Image of Abraham co-existence project.

During a recent meeting of fourth-graders from the Hayovel School in predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem, and the Aum Toba School in mostly Arab East Jerusalem, the children worked together.

One mixed group of Jewish and Arab kids – indistinguishable but for the languages they spoke – placed mosaic-covered pyramids on piles of glued sand; in Canaan, the Promised Land, the children erected both a mosque and synagogue that stand side-by-side in perfect harmony.  It’s the kind of peaceful coexistence envisioned by grownups, especially during times of heightened political tension or violence.  While Jewish and Arab adults tend to turn away from each other during difficult times, people engaged in co-existence projects say they make a conscious effort to fight that urge -especially when it comes to children.

Michelle Chabin writing in the Religion News Service, Apr.21, pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=19998

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Interfaith Leadership in a Time of Religious Conflict

In 2009, Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) founder and executive director Eboo Patel spoke at the 2009 Roger W. Heyns Lecture at Stanford University. Titled “Acts of Faith: Interfaith Leadership in a Time of Religious Crisis”, Patel discusses the need for interfaith work as a foundation for creating a healthy, respectful, and diverse domestic and international community. Patel also talks about the importance of action on the individual level to work towards unification and universal love.

An hour and a half long video of Patel’s lecture can be watched at www.interfaithing.com/interfaith-leadership-religious-conflict-284/

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“Does interfaith dialogue require us to be open to transformation?”

An interesting debate can be followed on the Inter Religious Dialogue website.  Academic Muslim woman, Dr Sarah Sayeed, introduces the topic in a six minute video clip, and several correspondents respond to her opening question.

Comments include:

  • Meaningful dialogue is born out of willingness to be vulnerable and share that which many of us hold to be most sacred—our relationship to our faith. Jen Bailey.

  • I think that the state of being open to transformation on the one hand, and the act of changing one’s religious commitment on the other, are quite different things, and the latter need not logically follow the former. Stephanie Lin.

  • Inter-religious dialogue does not require us to be open to transformation. It does however require us to be respectful and reverent of the process. I say that not to be cliché, but because I truly believe that for inter-religious dialogue to be effective, you must have everyone at the table. C. Nicole Saulsberry.

InterReligious Dialogue, Apr.15, irdialogue.org/articles/panel-discussion-interview-with-dr-sarah-sayeed/

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Interfaith Dialogue: Still a Controversial Topic

On October 22, 2009 Professor of Theological Ethics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Gregory Baum spoke at a meeting about interfaith dialogue from both a historical and a theological perspective. Titled “Interreligious Dialogue: Still a Controversial Topic in the Catholic Church”, Professor Baum discusses the evolution of religion and interreligious dialogue, and the resistance still being felt towards interfaith dialogue within the Catholic Church.

A video clip of Prof.. Baum’s talk can be viewed at www.interfaithing.com/gregory-baum-interfaith-dialogue-291/

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A beacon of faiths – in Africa religious war is neither inevitable nor impossible

In almost any discussion of religion and Africa, stereotypes recur. Depending on where they have been, outsiders portray the continent either as an arena of looming conflict between rival faiths—or else as a happy-go-lucky world where different beliefs can easily co-exist, sometimes in the same person’s head.

Neither notion is completely true nor completely false, according to a survey of religion in sub-Saharan Africa by the Pew Research Centre, a polling outfit based in Washington, DC. After interviewing 25,000 people in 19 countries, the pollsters found that in certain ways Africa’s Christians and Muslims view one another with respect. Most Muslims saw Christians as tolerant, honest, and decent to women; in most countries, a majority of Christians returned the compliment. But many Christians (among the countries surveyed, the median level was 43%) saw in Islam a potential for violence; fewer Muslims (the median was 20%) saw Christianity in a similar light. In almost all countries where Muslims are at least 10% of the population they seem more concerned about extremism among their co-religionists than among Christians. In a few mainly Christian countries, including South Africa, people were worried by Christian extremism.

One bit of conventional wisdom does hold water. Whatever their affiliation, Africans have a deep sense of the spiritual. The share of people who described religion as “very important” in their lives ranged from 98% in Senegal to 69% in Botswana. That compares with 57% of Americans, 25% of Germans and 8% of Swedes. In countries with a substantial Christian presence, at least half the Christians thought Jesus Christ would return in their lifetime. The share of Muslims hoping to see the caliphate—a global Islamic realm—restored in their lifetime was almost as high.

But for all the fervour that these answers suggest, belief in a world religion does not exclude nostalgia for older ways. Many people in both main monotheistic camps felt they could combine their faith with elements of traditional African religions. In Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania more than half the respondents believed that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits could ward off harm. Meanwhile, switching between Islam and Christianity seems rare—bar in Uganda, where a third of respondents who were raised Muslim are now Christian.

The Economist, Apr.15, www.economist.com/world/middle-east/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15913018

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Africa goes to church, the mosque and the witch doctor

In his cramped hut at the end of an alleyway in the coastal Tanzanian town of Bagamoyo, traditional healer Dr Msilo treats patients with a variety of mental and physical problems.  To locals, he is known as a witch doctor, and his treatments involve casting out evil spirits, as well as administering traditional potions.  People are keen to seek out his services, regardless of their religious affiliation.

“God provides medicine for all people – Muslims, Christians and pagans,” he says.  “They all know that the trees were given by God, and He gave some people the power to heal.”

The continuing devotion of many Africans to elements of traditional belief is well known.  But Dr Msilo is just one example of a key trend identified in a major new study of African faith.  Alongside regular visits to church or mosque, many people will also visit traditional healers like Dr Msilo, who offer a connection with the ancient beliefs that pre-date Christianity and Islam in Africa.

Christopher Landau writing in BBC News, Apr.15, news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8621916.stm

You can download the full report, Tolerance and Tension:

Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa, from the Pew Forum as a 6Mb pdf from pewforum.org/newassets/images/reports/sub-saharan-africa/sub-saharan-africa-full-report.pdf

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Israel to play Euro 2012 games on Shabbat

Israel will play some Euro 2012 qualifiers at Ramat Gan on Friday nights, angering the country’s religious community.  Israel FA spokesman Gil Lebanony said: “We have no choice. Uefa has dictated the games must be played on Fridays and our opponents have not agreed to switch them to Saturday nights.”

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said: “This violates the status quo. The national team belongs to the nation.” New National Religious Party MK Uri Orbach said he plans formulating legislation which will stop Israel from playing home matches on Shabbat. But Lebanony said: “If there is legislation then there is nothing we can do. We must decide if we want to be part of the international football family.”

Simon Griver writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Apr.15, www.thejc.com/sport/sport-news/30446/israel-play-euro-2012-games-shabbat

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Listening as an act of faith

Knowledge is a divine gift not confined to the religious sphere of any one religion, and that the pursuit of knowledge in every great faith is inextricably linked with the great virtues of justice, hope and love. Religious faith itself when directed to God can be emptied of dogma and doctrine but it will always hold good deeds as noble values in themselves, good deeds are what God himself desires. As the Qur’an says, “If God had wanted, He could have made you one community. So compete with one another in doing good deeds, so that He may test you by what he has given you.” (5:48)

Muslims historically have had differing attitudes to other religions, especially Jewish and Christian communities. The issue is not that Jews and Christians are not recognized for these were established faiths and communities by the 6th century and moreover Muslims must acknowledge past prophets as part of their devotional creed. The tensions lay in how they are to be perceived theologically as well as in socio-legal relations with Muslims.

One may well ask whether academics and other faith representatives really hope to have an impact on world politics or conflicts. Why should scriptural reflection remain a central imperative of interreligious activity? Among those of us who have been involved in interreligious work either as an intellectual exercise or through an ethical imperative, I am sure I am not alone in thinking that where there is outright conflict amongst people, religious dialogue on its own can not lead to peace and reconciliation. What function does dialogue hold when people are being blown up, their families and homes destroyed? Unless dialogue is backed by the political will to effect change, it remains a noble exercise with little more than a limited reconciliatory impact.

Furthermore, many in the West are aware that despite media frenzy at times, dialogue is not a necessity; it is an option, even a privilege. Interreligious work can be a symbol of unity across civilisations and it can also reverberate amongst the followers of the faith. But for me, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are about fulfilling a revealed message. We have all got it wrong at times and we will continue to get it wrong if we do not think and act with compassion.

Engaging in dialogue is an extension of ihsan for me, `To Act knowing that even if you cannot see Him (God), He can see you.’

Mona Siddiqui writing in The Washington Post, Apr.13, newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/04/listening_as_an_act_of_faith.html

On April 20, Professor Siddiqui was honorary Lecturer at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (“Angelicum”) in Rome, where she addressed Catholic, Jewish and Muslim students and dignitaries at the 3rd Annual Pope John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Dialogue, co-sponsored by the Russell Berrie Foundation of Teaneck, NJ.

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Update on third trial session of Iranian Baha’i leaders

Details are emerging from yesterday’s court appearance in Tehran of seven imprisoned Iranian Baha’i leaders.  The Baha’i International Community has learned that when the prisoners arrived at the court, their families were not allowed to enter, signaling a closed hearing.

Inside the courtroom, however, the prisoners saw numerous officials and interrogators from the Ministry of Intelligence – along with a film crew which had already set up its cameras.  Concerned over the presence of non-judicial personnel in a supposedly closed hearing, the Baha’is – with the agreement of their attorneys – declined to be party to the proceedings.  The judge adjourned the session and did not announce a date for continuing the trial.

Baha’i World News Service, Apr.13, news.bahai.org/story/767

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Cleric’s support for men and women mingling in public sparks furore in Saudi Arabia

When a venerable Saudi cleric in the holy city of Mecca challenges a central pillar of Saudi society, it is big news.  That was the case when Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi recently declared that nothing in Islam bans men and women from mixing in public places like schools and offices.

Supporters of the status quo responded harshly. Anyone who permits men and women to work or study together is an apostate and should be put to death unless he repents, said Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak.  Does Sheikh Barrak mean that King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz should be executed? Because it is the monarch who launched the country’s first coeducational university.

Barrak has not answered that question. His website is now blocked by government censors.  Saudi religious scholars for the first time in decades are openly debating a previously untouchable hallmark of Saudi society: its strictly enforced gender segregation.  The debate reflects the more open atmosphere that has emerged under King Abdullah. Open-minded clerics and lay people have felt emboldened to challenge hard-liners.

The scholarly disputes over mixing also underscore a message King Abdullah has been implicitly sending his subjects: that some outdated social strictures – especially when it comes to women – will need revising if the kingdom is to develop into a modern, diversified economy less dependent on oil.

Carlyle Murphy writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Apr.13, www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2010/0413/Cleric-s-support-for-men-and-women-mingling-in-public-sparks-furor-in-Saudi-Arabia

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Saudi liberals see hope as clerics argue over gender segregation

Divisions among senior Saudi clerics over the legality of gender segregation could mark a new drive by reformers allied to King Abdullah to push social reforms in the puritanical Islamic state.

“The state has been gaining influence while that of the religious establishment has been declining, simply because it has gradually been given a lesser say over decisions taken by the state.”

Reuters’ Faithworld Blog, May 4, blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/05/04/saudi-liberals-see-hope-as-clerics-argue-over-gender-segregation/

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The peaceful road to reform

US relations with the Muslim world could be given a huge boost if trade, rather than politics, were the focus.

Later this month will see President Obama fulfil a commitment he made in his Cairo address last June to host a summit on the ways in which business and entrepreneurship can deepen ties and build partnerships between the United States and Muslim communities around the world. Some 150 participants (including myself) have been invited from Muslim majority and minority countries across the globe to the presidential summit in Washington.  The summit forms part of Obama’s “new beginning between the US and Muslims”.

Asim Siddiqui writing in The Guardian: Comment is free, Apr.12, www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/apr/12/obama-us-muslim-world

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The Saudi housewife who spoke out

Hissa Hilal, a niqab-wearing Saudi housewife, made it to the finals of a TV poetry competition against the odds.

Good news. A niqab story with a happy ending. Over the past few weeks, Hissa Hilal, a Saudi housewife, has captured attention by surging ahead to the finals of the televised Arabic poetry competition, “Million’s Poet” described by Jack Shenker as “an insanely popular reality TV show that commands 70m viewers from across the Arab World, yet is based around an obscure form of Gulf Arabian poetry”. Not only had the niqab-wearing Hissa managed to get to the final round of the competition, she did so after incurring the wrath of conservative elements by composing and reciting poetry which criticised the religious establishment.  Even though Hissa came third, she stole the show.

Nesrine Malik writing in The Guardian: Comment is free, Apr.12, www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/apr/12/saudi-housewife-hissa-hilal-poetry

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Religious tolerance has put a fatwa on our moral nerve

Religious freedom has turned out to be a mixed blessing. The idea was once an article of faith with me, irreligious though I am. But my faith is beginning to weaken. Religion has turned out to be different from what tolerant people of my monocultural childhood understood by it — a system of private belief and devotion that did not intrude into the public space except through charity and uncontroversial good works.

The case of the self-styled “crucified” nurse is a perfect example of the problem. Shirley Chaplin, an experienced ward sister and devout Christian, discovered at an employment tribunal that — despite the support of seven bishops and a mention in the Easter sermon of the Archbishop of Canterbury — she had lost her battle to be allowed to wear a crucifix at work.

One can, however, sympathise with something else she feels. Commenting that Muslim hospital staff have been allowed to continue wearing head coverings, she said that “Muslims do not seem to face the same rigorous application of NHS rules”. There’s certainly some truth in that.

Minette Marrin writing in The Sunday Times, Apr.11, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/minette_marrin/article7094227.ece

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Rutherglen church to be transformed into Hindu temple

The former Wardlawhill Church building is being transformed into a new Hindu Temple.  The centre will be called the Sri Sundara Ganapathi Temple and will be housed in the former church on Hamilton Road in Rutherglen after the premises was mortgaged by the South Indian Cultural centre Of Scotland.  Renovation work is currently being carried out in the aim of getting the centre ready for the end of April.  Roughly £10,000 has been spent transforming the venue which the group acquired six months ago through the Church of Scotland.

The temple will be open to all Hindus throughout Scotland; there are approximately 400 families on the organisation’s register. There was a special inaugural celebration on April 25 to mark the centre’s official opening.

Scottish Christian News Monitor, Apr.7, scottishchristian.com/monitor/rutherglen-church-to-be-transformed-into-hindu-temple/

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Interfaith movement gains new strength – Breaking barriers, creating bonds with other religions

When FaithHouse Manhattan has its twice-monthly interfaith gatherings, the guest list is a carnival of religious belief and creed.  An Islamic Sufi dervish greets you at the door, but the program director, an Episcopalian, makes the announcements. A rabbi, a female Muslim and a Seventh-day Adventist share leadership of the meeting.

FaithHouse is probably the only multireligious church in the country, but its jumble of faiths and practices is becoming less unusual in today’s religious marketplace.  In a world in which sectarian divisions fuel some of the most violent and dangerous confrontations, the interfaith movement — once thought as irrelevant — has emerged as a force in American religion like never before.

It involves unlikely alliances, such as when one of the most conservative Christian pro-life groups staged a news conference on Capitol Hill in September applauding a Muslim prayer service on the Mall.

It involves unlikely allies, such as leading Christian “emergent” leader Brian McLaren, who was roundly criticized during Ramadan last year when he fasted the entire month out of solidarity with Muslims.

It involves unlikely support, such as that offered by the Obama White House, which has identified interfaith work as a public policy goal. President Obama’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has an “interreligious dialogue and cooperation” task force that includes a female Hindu priest, an Orthodox Jewish layman, a female Muslim pollster, a nondenominational evangelical Christian pastor, a pastor and black civil rights leader, and a Muslim youth worker.

It benefits from some unlikely backing. Some of the biggest movers and shakers in the interfaith movement are governments in Muslim states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.

One interfaith service brought together a group of Muslims and Jews. They agreed to meet on a Sunday afternoon for a combined worship service in a mosque.  Several dozen men sporting yarmulkes and kufis (the round cap that male Muslims wear) sat on the floor. A Rabbi sat with his arm flung around one of the Islamic worship leaders.  About 75 people turned out for the gathering, which had all the women clustered in the back. The Jewish women grouped themselves awkwardly against a wall and pulled on head scarves while the Muslim women gave them sympathetic smiles.

A speech by Rabbi Serotta suggested that Islamic and Jewish conceptions of God were basically equal.  “We don’t understand why God has chosen more than one path for humanity,” he told the group. “God created different paths so you’d compete in goodness.”

After Saif Qargha, a teacher from Afghanistan, gave a short instruction on the five pillars (basic tenets) of Islam, everyone lined up to pray. At the chant of the muezzin, Muslim and Jew alike dropped to their knees, then touched their heads to the floor in a form of prayer in mosques.

Washington Times, Apr.5, www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/apr/05/interfaith-movement-gains-new-strength/

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Nonviolence within, Peace for All

The International Sufi School is organising an exhibition/conference on the theme “Nonviolence within; Peace for All” at the Barceló Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh from 21 to 23 May 2010 with the collaboration of individuals and organisations working for peace, social cohesion and inter-faith dialogue.

This event is the culmination of many years of research based on the lives of eminent peacemakers who, within their profound historical, national, cultural and religious differences, have shown that the path of nonviolence is accessible to and within the potential of every human being acting with consciousness.

The exhibition is an opportunity to discover how nonviolence is a journey that can be taken by every peace seeking individual in order to establish peace for all in society.  The three-day event will also include a Peace Concert on 22 May and a Peace Conference on 23 May.

Full details can be found at www.nonviolence-edinburgh.com/

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Issue 5: April 2010

Editorial

This month I would like to share this article which I found recently.  It strikes me as a prime example of what I believe is something that we all gain from interfaith dialogue – a better understanding of ourselves and of our own faith by being able to look at ourselves from the perspective of another.

The Power of Namaste

The more I learn about Eastern religions and philosophies, the more I see that the Abrahamic faiths can learn a thing or two from the Dharmic traditions (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism). For reasons that I cannot understand, there is a constant fight between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. There is no denying that Abrahamic and Dharmic traditions differ individually, and rightfully so. However, there is a mutual respect, understanding, and interfaith aspect to the Dharmic traditions that is truly enlightening and inspirational.

Suhag Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation, delivered a speech yesterday entitled “The Power of Namaste” at St. Paul Interfaith Network’s Interfaith Seder. In her speech, Shukla illustrates how one word has the power to unite the religiously diverse nations of India and Nepal.

The literal translation of “namaste” is, “The Divine within me bows to the same Divine within you” and is a commonly used salutation among the diverse faiths of India and Nepal. While this one little word describes the core teachings of Hinduism, it has a universal power that according to Shukla, “transcends Hinduism and Hindus.”

Hinduism, like the rest of the Dharmic traditions, “is a richly diverse family of philosophies, traditions and practices strung together by certain core, essential beliefs,” says Shukla. Hindus believe that the soul is eternal. Governed by the laws of karma (every act and thought affects how the soul will be reborn), “each of our souls continues in a cycle of birth and death until it achieves moksha or spiritual perfection and is united with the Super Soul or Divine.” For the soul to reach spiritual perfection, one must live their life according to dharma. This is where things get interesting, and personally I love this. Although dharma is commonly translated as “law”, it is anything but law. Shukla describes dharma as “a guide driven by higher knowledge, truth, self-restraint, self-less service and most importantly, compassion.” Like the rest of the dharmic traditions, Hinduism is about a personal spiritual journey.

Another core value of Hinduism is pluralism. Shukla explains, “regardless of this name one calls God by – be it Krishna, Christ, Yahweh or Allah; regardless of gender, race, religion, caste, nationality, sexual orientation, age, we are part of Vasudhaiva kutumbakam – that is we are members of a world family which shares the quality of Divine oneness. And so we share unity not only in Diversity, but unity in Divinity.”

How many times a day do we say “Hello” and greet someone? And while shaking someone’s hand is a sign of mutual respect, how many of us are actually conscious of it? As much admiration I had for the Dharmic traditions before reading Shukla’s speech, I now have a deeper understanding and respect. The power of thee simple syllables, one simple word, has helped millions of people feel compassion, break down the barriers that divide, and see the divine in each and every human being.

Thank you Suhag Shukla for enlightening myself, and the world.

Namaste.

Delaine writing in interfaithing, Mar.23, www.interfaithing.com/power-namaste-250/

As we emerge from a hard winter and see the start of spring, our common prayer should be that spiritual growth should come to all of God’s people, and that together we can witness to the wonderful presence of God as our lives touch others.  A beautiful video clip showing this can be found with the article above on  the interfaithing link above.  I commend it to you.

Namaste!

Andrew

Following the hyperlinks at the foot of each article should take you to the original sources.

IRENIC is an independent interfaith consultancy service, managed by the former Inter Faith Education Officer of CAIRS (the Churches’ Agency for Inter Faith Relations in Scotland), Andrew Sarle, who can be contacted at 07743 726013 or interfaith [at] irenic [dot] org [dot] uk

IRENICA gratefully acknowledges the original authors and publications from whose articles these snippets are taken.  Following any of the links will take you to third-party websites for which IRENIC accepts no responsibility for accuracy, content or viruses.

Your comments and correspondence is welcomed.  Please get in touch with IRENIC.  If you do not wish to receive further emails or future issues from IRENIC, please send a reply email headed “Unsubscribe”.   I would also be delighted if you forwarded it to anyone you felt might be interested.

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Muslims arrested for trying to pray in Córdoba’s former Great Mosque

Two Muslim tourists were arrested when they tried to pray inside Córdoba’s famous former mosque, breaking a ban imposed by the Roman Catholic Church.  Half a dozen Austrian Muslims knelt to pray at the same time in the vast marble building, which was converted to a cathedral in the 13th century after Muslims were driven from Spain.  Security guards stepped in and “invited them to continue with their tour or leave the building”, according to cathedral authorities.

When two refused a scuffle broke out and police were called. Two security guards were seriously injured. Spanish media, citing police sources, said that one of the Muslims arrested had been carrying a knife.

Graham Keeley writing in The Times, Apr.3, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article7085695.ece

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Christians, Jews and Muslims Converge on Jerusalem

Jerusalem experienced a flux of pilgrims today (Apr.2) as Christians, Jews and Muslims were present in the Israeli capital for religious observances.

Many Christians observed the Good Friday liturgy of the Lord’s passion at the Holy Sepulchre in the morning, and later participated in a Via Crucis procession on the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering).  In this year that Catholics and Orthodox celebrate Easter on the same date, various groups of Christians crowed the Via Dolorosa to make their way in procession along the Way of the Cross.

Also present in the walled Old City of Jerusalem were Jews who are celebrating Passover, and Muslims gathering for weekly Friday prayers.

Zenit, Apr.2, www.zenit.org/article-28846?l=english

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From South Africa to Palestine, a message of peace and hope

In an Easter message, more than 60 South African church leaders and Christian, Jewish and Muslim lay theologians have conveyed their solidarity with Palestinian Christians in their Kairos call.

Recognizing Palestinian Christian “history of keeping the faith in the Holy Land”, despite the circumstances, they urged Palestinians to be steadfast and resist being “forced out of your own land”.

Responding to the Kairos Palestine document, they recall the words of Nelson Mandela who said: “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. Conveying South African solidarity “with your cause”, they express conviction that “justice will come to the Holy Land, as it came to us here in the southernmost part of Africa”.

WCC News, Apr.1, www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/from-south-africa-to-pale.html

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The Accidental Theist – a monthly column by Beth Katz

Each month, Beth Katz, an interfaith junkie and self-proclaimed spiritual dork, will explore issues connected to faith, religion, culture, interfaith relations, and everything in between.  Beth is the founder and Executive Director of Project Interfaith, a non-profit interfaith organization based in Omaha, Nebraska that runs a variety of programs, workshops, and trainings that promote understanding, respect, and friendship between people of all faiths and beliefs.  If the March article, Introducing Interfaith, is anything to go by, this should be an interesting series of articles.

Check this out at omaha.net/local-writing/accidental-theist

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Belgium Moves to Ban Burqas Worn in Public

In a reflection of growing anxiety in Europe over the use of Islamic symbols, a committee of Belgian lawmakers voted Wednesday to ban the wearing of burqas in public, paving the way for the first clampdown of its kind on the Continent.

The proposal, which will be put to the full Parliament after the Easter break, highlights the political sensitivity of Islamic dress for European politicians grappling with the challenges of integrating its expanding Muslim population.

New York Times, Mar.31, www.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/world/europe/01iht-brussels.html

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Video Link 1: We could both be wrong about God

Muslim Mehdi Hasan and Christian Ida Glaser discuss Islam and Christianity in a thought provoking series of video clips.

The Guardian, Comment is free, Mar.30 www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/video/2010/mar/30/christianity-islam

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Video Link 2: The Interfaith Amigos – Truths and Untruths

Sheikh Jamal Rahman, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Rabbi Ted Falcon, also know as the Interfaith Amigos talk about the core teachings of love and compassion, the blessings, and the truths and “unthruths” in each of their faiths. The video was recorded in February 2010 at The Center for Spiritual Living in Seattle.

www.interfaithing.com/interfaith-amigos-truths-untruths-264/

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Senior bishops call for end to persecution of Christians in Britain

Six prominent bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, describe the “discrimination” against churchgoers as “unacceptable in a civilised society”.  In a thinly-veiled attack on Labour, they claim that traditional beliefs on issues such as marriage are no longer being upheld and call on the major parties to address the issue in the run-up to the general election.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, the human rights group, said: “Whether personal faith motivates the wearing of a cross, turban, head scarf or Star of David, it is fundamentally illiberal to require people to check such an important part of themselves at the workplace door for no justifiable reason.  Freedom of thought, conscience and religion should protect people of all faiths and none. We look forward to the Supreme Court demonstrating this by overturning the Court of Appeal in Nadia Eweida’s case against BA.”

Sunday Telegraph, Mar.28, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/7531293/Senior-bishops-call-for-end-to-persecution-of-Christians-in-Britain.html

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British Christians aren’t persecuted, but they are held in contempt

In 2006, Nadia Eweida, a British Airways employee, was told that she couldn’t wear a cross necklace, so she claimed religious discrimination and was suspended. Christian groups took up her cause, but she lost her court claims for compensation, as it became apparent that BA’s rules were about uniform, not religious policy (although BA did review its dress rules subsequently).

And please don’t tell me that wearing a cross is like people of other faiths being allowed to wear head-scarves or turbans. In some jobs, say baggage-handling or those to do with medical equipment, jewellery can be dangerous. Nor is there a cultural requirement, even from Lord Carey, for Christians to wear crosses. Proper equivalence and grounds for complaint would exist if, as a hospital chaplain, I was told to remove my dog collar because it might cause offence.

However, I’m not saying that there isn’t a problem for Christianity in Britain. Yesterday, Palm Sunday, I picked up the York Courses Lent booklet in church and learnt from it within seconds that, since 2008, Salisbury Council has asked staff to refrain from using the phrase “singing from the same hymn-sheet” because it might offend non-believers; that during the filming of a traditional wedding for Coronation Street, producers obscured a cross for fear it might offend non-Christian viewers; and that David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has sent out statements to mark Ramadan and the Jewish New Year, but neglected to send Christmas or Easter messages. And all that was in a devotional guide, for heaven’s sake.

George Pitcher writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mar.29, www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/georgepitcher/7533710/British-Christians-arent-persecuted-but-they-are-held-in-contempt.html

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If faith schools are so bad, why do parents love them?

It may not be the faith in faith schools that makes them different, so much as the communities that build, support and sustain them.

But if they are true, there is an obvious question. Why do so many parents want to send their children to such schools? Do they passionately want their children to be narrow and insular? Is their deepest ambition to raise offspring who will have no truck with tolerance? Do they secretly long for the next generation to lead society boldly back to the Middle Ages? Maybe there are such people, but I haven’t met one yet.

Here is the paradox. We are living in what is possibly the most secular age since Homo sapiens first set foot on Earth, and Europe is its most secular continent. Yet faith schools are the growth industry of our time. More and more people want them, and are prepared to go to great lengths to get their children admitted. This applies to parents who are not themselves religious. What is going on?

The simple answer is that faith schools tend to have academic success above the average: so, at any rate, the league tables suggest. But why should this be so, if faith inhibits critical thought and discourages independence of mind? This is a question worth serious reflection.

Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks writing in The Times, Credo column, Mar.26, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article7077802.ece

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Putting faith at work to halt the spread of HIV

With a new sense of urgency in view of a pandemic that grows exponentially, high level figures from many of the world’s faiths have committed to exercise “stronger, more visible and practical leadership” in response to HIV, with an emphasis on eradicating the stigma and discrimination towards those affected.

“I am convinced that my faith must be more visible and active to halt the spread of HIV and reverse this pandemic”, reads a “personal commitment to action” signed by some 40 Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh participants at a global Summit of High Level Religious Leaders that took place in the Netherlands from 22-23 March.

The signatories promised to work “tirelessly to end all stigmatizing attitudes and actions until people living with HIV are fully included in our religious communities and societies”. They also committed to engage in a meaningful way with people living with HIV, protect human rights, influence decision makers and collaborate with leaders from different faiths.

WCC News, Mar.24, www.oikoumene.org/gr/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/putting-faith-at-work-to.html

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God is found in the wilderness for Passover, Holy Week

A reverend, a rabbi and a scholar hike up a mountain ridge … It sounds like the opening line of an unholy bar joke, not a spiritual warm-up for the beginning of Passover for Jews and Holy Week for Christians, leading toward Easter.  But these three believers say skiing off in winter cold, hiking in desert heat, even taking a senses-awake walk in the park can open you up, body and soul, to better appreciate these holy days of salvation and freedom.

Think how many millennia it has taken, the rabbi adds, for believers to return outside and remember that long before God was caged in a synagogue, church, mosque or book, God spoke to humankind from mountains, sands, seas and forests.

“Wilderness is built into the Passover story,” which Jews retell during the Seder, the ritual meal of prayers and symbolic foods, she says. Baby Moses cast into the river. Moses pausing to notice the burning bush. Israelites roaming the desert for 40 years. The law engraved on tablets carried down Mt. Sinai.

“Jesus did all his ministry outside,” says Foster, 49. Ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church, United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, she left behind the congregation she started in Berkeley, Calif., to teach and lead retreats in the mountains where, she says, “I’ve always known my soul lives.  Outside”, she says, “there are no boundaries, no privileged believers who are closer to God than you are.”

Cathy Lynn Grossman writing in USA Today, Mar.24, www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-03-24-SpiritualAdventures24_CV_N.htm

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In Germany, Xenophobia Diverted by Open Doors

A Muslim congregation applied in November to build a minaret and three golden cupolas on the roof of the old movie theatre it had converted into a mosque in the town of Völklingen, Saarland. The far-right party emboldened by last year’s ban on minarets in Switzerland, seized on the issue, calling the proposed 28-foot minaret “the bayonet of Islam.”

But after a quick turn in the media spotlight, the pending furore fizzled out. A neighbourhood group recently issued a statement with mosque leaders calling for “peaceful and constructive” cooperation, while the mosque’s leadership agreed to temporarily shelve the plan for the minaret.

They will spend the rest of the year reaching out to the non-Muslim community, opening their doors to promote understanding before moving ahead. “Whether it comes to building the minaret or not, we’ve started the dialogue and we’re going to continue it,” said Atnen Atakli, the mosque’s chairman.

New York Times, Mar.23, www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/world/europe/24germany.html

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Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, Top Cleric, Dies at 81

Sheik Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, Egypt’s chief religious official and leader of Al Azhar University, the oldest and most prestigious centre of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, died Wednesday during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Egyptian state media reported. He was 81.

To the West, he often appeared a moderate. He condemned the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and criticized the practice of female genital cutting, which is common in Egypt. At home he was accused of not being aggressive enough in defence of Muslims around the world, as when he refused to criticize a French decision to bar women from wearing head scarves in school. ”

I wish he had a louder voice about all the problems of the Muslims around the world, especially the poor,” said Soad Saleh, professor of comparative Islamic law in Azhar University.

Michael Slackman writing in the New York Times, Mar.10, www.nytimes.com/2010/03/11/world/middleeast/11tantawi.html

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Sheikh Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar mosque and head of the al-Azhar University “will be remembered with great respect and appreciation for his remarkable contribution to Islamic scholarship, for his prominent role and genuine commitment to intercultural and inter-religious dialogue”, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit wrote in a condolence letter to the Ulama’ of al-Azhar al-Sharif on 11 March.

WCC News, Mar.12, www.oikoumene.org/gr/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/wcc-condolences-over-deat.html

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In December 2008, there was uproar in Egypt when Tantawi was pictured shaking hands with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres. Some critics advised the sheikh to decontaminate his hands. Barely six months later in July 2009, Tantawi participated as the most senior Muslim representative in a Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, hosted by the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. At the Astana conference table, only the Kazakh president separated Tantawi and the guest of honour, Israel’s Shimon Peres.

“All religions turn to the same God,” Tantawi told the 77 delegations from the world’s main faith communities, who were attending the event.  When the Iranian delegation walked out while Peres was addressing the congress, the Israeli president pointedly turned to Tantawi and thanked him for his reconciliatory remarks.

After the announcement of Tantawi’s death, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who was also present at the 2009 inter-faith gathering, and is president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told Vatican Radio, “He was a man of peace, of dialogue.”

Ecumenical News International quoted in Ekklesia, Mar.16, www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11523

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Religious leaders call for election pledges to end child detention

Leaders from eighteen religious and civil society organisations in the UK joined with refugees and former child detainees in Westminster this morning to call on the Home Secretary to make an election commitment to supporting policies that will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

Lorin Sulaiman, who was detained as a child, said: “I came to the UK as a child with my family to seek sanctuary from the regime in Syria which persecuted us because we are Kurds. We were detained by the Home Office for 10 days. Not once, was I asked if I was ok – it felt like no one cared. At 14 I should have been playing with my school friends. Instead I was locked up and prevented from going outside. We were released, and have been granted permission to stay in the UK. I know that politicians don’t really want to lock up innocent children – and that is why we are asking them to support the Sanctuary Pledge.”

Ekklesia, Mar.25, www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11607

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Nigeria rejects Gaddafi call for Christian-Muslim split

Nigerian religious and political leaders have criticised a call by the Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi, for the partitioning of Africa’s most populous nation into two countries – one for Christians and one for Muslims.

“The entire population of Muslims and Christians in this country has not shown any sign to say that they cannot peacefully coexist,” said Methodist Church Nigeria Prelate, the Rev. Sunday Ola Makinde.  He said it is cynical for anyone to suggest that partition would resolve an ethno-religious crisis when there has been a series of attacks launched on Islamic faithful “by fellow Muslims [extremists]“. “Why are Muslims and Christians in the South not in crisis? I wish to put on record once again, that any attempt to Islamise Nigeria will fail. What should be done at this moment is for justice to be done because life is sacrosanct and no one has the right to take another [hu]man’s life,” said Makinde.

The Rev John Hayab, spokesperson for the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in northern Nigeria, said Gaddafi’s suggestion should be ignored. He claimed that the former president of the African Union sponsors State terrorism around the world.

Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in Nigeria described Gaddafi’s statement as uncalled for. The Islamic group said Nigeria needs true federalism.  The head of Ahmadiyya in Nigeria, Moshood Adenrele Fashola, told the annual Convention of the Jama’at, “We should not be divided into two. This is because we are brothers and sisters. What we have in Jos is more ethnic than religious because no religion tolerates killing one another for no just cause.”

Ecumenical News International quoted in Ekklesia, Mar.24, www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11593

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Helping young people champion religious tolerance

Eboo Patel begins a speech to high-schoolers by recalling his own diverse group of high school friends, which included a south Indian Hindu, a Cuban Jew, a Nigerian Evangelical, a Mormon, a Lutheran, a Roman Catholic, and Mr. Patel himself, a Muslim.

But rather than being a story about the power of diversity, the anecdote is one about missed opportunities: Patel and his friends never broached the subject of their different faiths with one another, and when his Jewish friend became the target of school bullies, Patel remained silent. “I aided and abetted by my silence,” he tells several hundred students at Chicago’s prestigious Francis Parker School.

His message is clear: It’s not enough to be tolerant and accepting. Religious pluralism – which Patel sees as the key diversity issue of the 21st century, the equivalent of the racial questions that shaped the 20th century – demands that people push back against intolerance and stand up as leaders.

Amanda Paulson writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Mar.22, www.csmonitor.com/layout/set/print/content/view/print/287920

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Islamic peace prize to be awarded to Lord Avebury

A Muslim community is literally driving home a message of peace across the country as part of its national campaign, which will see an Islamic Peace Prize awarded to Lord Avebury for his lifetime contribution to the cause of Human Rights

Hundreds of buses emblazoned with banners proclaiming the central ethos of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community ‘Love for All Hatred for None’ have been running in the capital and beyond, including Cambridge, Luton, Stevenage and Watford.

“A true Muslim can never raise his voice in hatred against his fellow citizens, nor for that matter against the ruling authority or government of the time. It is not sufficient simply to proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace. It is beholden on every Muslim to be the living embodiment of this golden Islamic principle – and to demonstrate it in their daily life,” said Rafiq Hayat, President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK. “We stand opposed to extremism in all its ugly forms and our efforts to champion the cause of peace reflect the true Islamic teachings and values.”

The campaign will also involve the personal delivery of leaflets to 2.7 million households with a message of peace.

Ekklesia Mar.17, www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11537

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One Voice Of Faith

From April 20th-21st, 2010 religious and interfaith leaders and activists will gather at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, California for One Voice Of Faith: A National Interfaith Conference On Global Poverty.The conference presents an opportunity for participants to network, learn, and advocate towards the fulfillment of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end global poverty. In addition, the conference seeks to showcase international voices, emphasize women as the solution to poverty in the developing world, highlight the dynamism of young leadership,utilize technology for efficient communication and networking, and provide opportunities for learning and sharing models of education, action, and advocacy.

Delaine writing in interfaithing, Mar.15, www.interfaithing.com/one-voice-faith-233/

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Concern over moves to re-impose a state religion on Nepal

Human rights, faith and minority groups are expressing concern that some Hindu activists are pressuring the Nepalese government to reimpose Hinduism as the state religion.

The marquees near Nepal’s Pashupatinath temple in the Himalayan country’s capital resembled a carnival with people trooping in from morning to night.  But for some members of minority religions, including people among about 700,000 Christians who were given religious freedom in 2006, the Hindu gathering has been a cause for concern.

The group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has warned that Nepal’s new constitution, which will go into effect in May 2010, may not allow people to convert from one religion to another.

Kalidas Dahal, a Hindu who claims to have supernatural powers, on 1 March began a nine-day prayer meeting, aiming to show the coalition government the public support Hinduism still enjoys in Nepal. Besides ministers and lawmakers, the deposed king, Gyanendra Shah, also attended on 8 March.

Ecumenical News International quoted in Ekklesia, Mar.14, www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11510

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Tesco faces legal action over ‘West Bank’ produce

Human rights campaigners are seeking the prosecution of Tesco for their trade in produce from Israeli settlements in Palestine.

Tesco has sold dates labelled as produce of the “West Bank”, which critics say implies that they are produced by Palestinian growers. But Tesco has admitted that the dates are in reality produced by Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are recognised as illegal by the United Nations.  The campaigners said that “some who buy them unwittingly collude in the settlement land-theft”.

Ekklesia, Mar.11, www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11492

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A tale of two mosques

Seeing the report in the Times about church leaders in Camberley who have joined together to protest against plans for a mosque near the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, I was reminded of a similar situation which was handled rather differently by a group of Christians in a rather more tense situation in Northern Ireland.

Churches in Craigavon – Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Catholics included – got together, developed dialogue with the Muslims, and in many respects became their advocates in the face of local opposition and tension.  It was quite a different approach to the one which seems to have been taken by churches in Camberley, where one minister has reportedly described the Mosque plans as a “supremacist statement” for Islam.

The two situations have their differences – in Craigavon the original request seemed to be for a mosque, but in the end it was for an Islamic centre – but in many respects in the situation in Northern Ireland the stakes were far higher. But above all it highlights how there are two responses which church can make in these kinds of situations. They can either be peacemakers and reconcilers or they can be agitators.

Jonathan Bartley writing in Ekklesia, Mar.10, www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11474

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Moderate Muslims? We’re everywhere.

Those who want to hijack Islam mustn’t be allowed to set the agenda and turn Americans – and the rest of the world – against us.

I, like most Muslims I know, believe in my bones that terrorism is antithetical to Islam, as it is to any religion, or any feeling that can be described as even remotely human. And I, like most Muslims I know, take every chance I get to denounce terrorism, to decouple it from my religion, to define Islam the way classical Muslim scholars did: as a faith, above all, of mercy and monotheism.

We write our blogs and our books, give our speeches and teach our classes, shape faith formation in Muslim spaces and build civic organizations that seek to accentuate the positive values Islam shares with other traditions. We stew when pundits say Muslim leaders aren’t doing enough, as if we could somehow stop the extremists if we just tried harder.

Here’s the sad truth: Mainstream Muslims have zero influence over extremists. In fact, if one of those guys had a single bullet in his gun and you and I were up against the wall, he would shoot me first. He hates me more because not only do I not follow his perverse vision of Islam, I also represent an alternative interpretation. He insists Islam requires domination; I suggest Islam inspires cooperation.

Extremists have a strategy. They want their terrorist acts to be front-page news, to stain a 1,400-year-old religion, to smear a community of 1.3 billion people.They want Americans to be suspicious of their Muslim neighbors. If we want to defeat extremists, we have to reject their world view and drown out their message. Indignantly asking, “Where are the moderate Muslims?”, as if there aren’t any, is allowing the extremists to set the terms, effectively aiding and abetting their agenda.

The truth is, mainstream Muslims are right in front of you, speaking all the time, advancing a Muslim vision of mercy and cooperation. It’s time people added their voices to ours, instead of amplifying the message of the extremists.

Ebbo Patel writing in USA Today, Jan.4, blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2010/01/column-moderate-muslims-were-everywhere-.html

Issue 4: March 2010

Editorial

An IRENICA reader sent me the poem contained in this extract from Ralph Waldo Trine’s book ‘In Tune with the Infinite’, published towards the end of the 19th century, and consequently not written with a PC inclusivist mindset!  However, the sentiments contained in the book resonate with my quest to encourage people of faith to learn from each other, and I commend it to you.

When the steam engine was still being experimented with, and before it was perfected sufficiently to come into practical use, a well-known Englishman -well known then in scientific circles – wrote an extended pamphlet proving that it would be impossible for it ever to be used in ocean navigation, that is, in a trip involving the crossing of the ocean, because it would be utterly impossible for any vessel to carry with it sufficient coal for the use of its furnace.  And the interesting feature of the whole matter was that the very first steam vessel that made the trip from England to America had among its cargo a part of the first edition of this carefully prepared pamphlet.  There was only the one edition.  Many editions might be sold now.

This seems indeed an amusing fact; but far more amusing is the man (sic) who voluntarily closes himself to truth because, forsooth, it does not come through conventional, or orthodox, or heretofore accepted channels; or because it may not be in full accord with, or possibly may be opposed to, established usages or beliefs.  On the contrary –

“Let there be many windows in your soul,

That all the glory of the universe

May beautify it.  Not the narrow pane

Of one poor creed can catch the radiant rays

That shine from countless sources.  Tear away

The blinds of superstition: let the light

Pour through fair windows, broad as truth itself

And high as heaven. . . .  Tune your ear

To all the worldless music of the stars

And to the voice of nature, and your heart

Shall turn to truth and goodness as the plant

Turns to the sun.  A thousand unseen hands

Reach down to help you to their peace-crowned heights,

And all the forces of the firmament

Shall fortify your strength.  Be not afraid

To thrust aside half-truths and grasp the whole.”

Who has ever appointed any man (sic), whoever he may be, as the keeper, the custodian, the dispenser of God’s illimitable truth?  Many indeed are moved and so are called to be teachers of truth; but the true teacher will never stand as the interpreter of truth for another.

from Chapter 6 of Ralph Waldo Trine, ‘In Tune with the Infinite.’ The whole book is available as an e-book at www.gutenberg.org/files/23559/23559-8.txt

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Islamic scholar Tahir ul-Qadri to issue terrorism fatwa

An influential Muslim scholar has issued a global ruling against terrorism and suicide bombing.  Dr Tahir ul-Qadri, from Pakistan, says his 600-page judgement, known as a fatwa, completely dismantles al-Qaeda’s violent ideology.

The scholar describes al-Qaeda as an “old evil with a new name” which has not been sufficiently challenged. In his religious ruling, Dr Qadri says that Islam forbids the massacre of innocent citizens and suicide bombings. The fatwa also challenges the religious motivations of would-be suicide bombers who are inspired by promises of an afterlife.
BBC News, Mar.2, news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8544531.stm
The Times, Jan.17, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6991483.ece

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Dispatches Programme Cooks up an ‘Islamic Republic of Britain’ to Serve our Already Shrill Anti-Muslim Discourse

In a statement following the broadcast of a Channel 4 documentary on 1 March, media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Tufael Ahmed said:

“Last night’s Dispatches fronted by Andrew Gilligan has once again resurrected stereotypes. Using out of context quotations, he echoes the rhetoric of far-right extremists, that British Muslims are somehow foreign, alien, extremist and imposing their way of life on the others.”

“The core of the programme accuses the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) and the East London Mosque, of fostering ‘Islamist’ extremism and that the IFE has an undue and pernicious influence over the politics of our country.”

“Both claims are a gross and highly insulting misrepresentation of bodies that have done much to serve the common good. Both have a long and proud record of openly and actively spoken in favour of seeking common cause with all Britons, and have initiated projects that have served all people, regardless of faith.”
Muslim Council of Britain News Release, Mar.2, www.mcb.org.uk/media/presstext.php?ann_id=390

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Christians and Muslims in Wales act together on division and racism

Christians and Muslims in Wales have come together for a two-day consultation aimed at strengthening relations and enabling practical cooperation in tackling religious extremism and discrimination.

The meeting, held over the weekend of 6-7 January 2010, was the eighth to be held as part of the Finding A Common Voice initiative launched in 2007 by the Church in Wales and the Muslim Council of Wales.

The latest consultation focused on improving community cohesion and preventing the spread of intolerance, isolation and marginalisation by racist parties like the BNP and extreme groups such as the Welsh Defence League.

Speakers included the Anglican Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Rev Gregory Cameron, Islamic scholar Dr Abdalla Yassin Mohammed, and Joanne Glenn, chair of the Welsh Assembly Government Community Cohesion Unit.
Ekklesia, Feb. 8. www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11205

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A disappointing verdict for Eweida

It’s unfair that Nadia Eweida’s right to wear a cross won’t be protected, given concessions made to others on matters of belief.

The decision in the case of Nadia Eweida, who has lost her appeal today, does not sit well with the general principle that protection from discrimination should be interpreted broadly. Regrettably this judgment might have the effect of providing nationalist figures with further ammunition to preach their own culturally and racially divisive beliefs that the law gives precedence to religions other than Christianity in our multicultural society.

For Eweida, a policy which on the one hand made exceptions for her Sikh, Muslim and Jewish colleagues to express their faith through the turban, hijab and skullcap would understandably seem unfair. It is true that it was Eweida’s personal decision to wear a visible cross (and was not one which was required by scripture or as an article of her faith).
Edward Wanambwa and Anna Birtwistle writing in The Guardian –  Comment is free, Feb.12 www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/feb/12/nadia-eweida-cross-belief
See also www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/12/christian-british-airways-worker-cross

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Upholding a Tradition of Tolerance

The Hindu teacher and mystic Vivekananda once said that pluralism was the “backbone of our national existence,” and that India stood for the “grand idea of universal toleration.” He was echoing a widely held view of India as a country particularly receptive to difference, capable of absorbing a multitude of faiths and cultures into its own society.

Indian tolerance has deep roots. The Vedas, a body of texts believed to be around 3,000 years old, proclaim that “truth is one; the wise call it by many names.” The Rig Veda, considered the oldest, similarly teaches that “good thoughts come to us from all sides.”  Indian tolerance has also manifested in the country’s society and polity. The Edicts of Emperor Asoka, who ruled much of north and central India in the third century B.C., are notable for their accommodation of other faiths – proclaiming, for instance, that “all religions should reside everywhere” and that “there should be growth in the essentials of all religions.”

India is also one of the few countries without a history of anti-Semitism, despite the presence of a Jewish community that dates back almost 2,000 years.

Indian tolerance is evident in more recent moral and political thought, too. Mahatma Gandhi, himself a committed Hindu, expressed admiration for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and was a strong proponent of Hindu-Muslim comity.  Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the religious scholar who was India’s first vice president, once wrote that “toleration is the homage which the finite mind pays to the inexhaustibility of the Infinite.”

Indian political life is based on the concept of equidistance among faiths, of state indifference rather than hostility to religion, is more benign (and tolerant) than European-style secularism, which positions itself aggressively against religion.
Akash Kapur writing in the New York Times, Feb.11 www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/world/asia/12iht-letter.html

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Indonesia – US Interfaith Cooperation

As reported by the Jakarta Globe, today concluded the Indonesia-US Interfaith Cooperation Forum; a three-day meeting between fifty interfaith, religious and civil society leaders from the United States and Indonesia in Jakarta, Indonesia. The forum was themed Shared Concerns and Commitments and aimed to unite religious and civil society leaders for the common goal of “educating” the communities they serve about issues of shared concern. The issues that were addressed at the forum included ending poverty, protecting the environment, promoting education on religious diversity and the common good, and advancing good governance.

“We commit ourselves to a joint process to frame an agenda for future actions,” said Jane Duff, Executive Director of the Centre for Interfaith Action, at the conclusion of forum. While the forum resulted in a written document outlining the agreed upon commitments, the manner in which the communities educate their members has been left open. “Each community has its own way [of educating its members], and we use the word ‘educate’ here in a broader context,” said Indonesian delegate, Zinal Abidin Bagir. He added, “This is mostly about people-to-people agreements between religious and civil society leaders.”
Delaine writing in Interfaithing, Jan. 28 www.interfaithing.com/indonesia-us-interfaith-cooperation-forum-207/

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Nigeria’s Christians are on a knife-edge

One thing should be clear: when violent conflict breaks out in northern Nigeria between Christians and Muslims, it is never Christians who provoke it.

Regrettably, however, our Muslim brothers have so far proved quicker off the mark to tell their version of events. Thus on January 26, in the wake of another Jos crisis, BBC World television carried the news that 150 bodies of Muslims had been discovered at the village of Kuru Korama south of Jos. The source of the story? The Jama’atu Nasirul Islam, a powerful organisation that seeks to promote Islam in Nigeria. It also seems that for news about northern Nigeria the BBC relies heavily on its Hausa Service, and I want to take this opportunity to plead with the British public to investigate this body and see that its pro-Muslim bias is corrected.

Will the powerful people inside or outside Plateau State who undoubtedly instigated the crisis be identified and punished? Past experience suggests it is unlikely. Meanwhile, for the long term, community leaders in Plateau State, notably our Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama for the Christians and the Emir of Wase for the Muslims, continue on the path of dialogue, while the federal government has established a powerful 15-man committee to try to bring about permanent peace. The rest of us must hope and pray – and be vigilant: for international terrorist organisations have their eyes on this country, and Farouk Mutallab, the would-be Christmas suicide bomber, may not be the last young northern Nigerian Muslim to be recruited by them.

Alex Longs writing in the Catholic Herald, Feb.12 www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/f0000527.shtml

As IRENICA was going to press, news was emerging of further violence in the Jos region. See BBC News, Mar.8,  news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8555018.stm

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Museum Creates New Jerusalem Divide

In a dispute that reflects the religious and political divides in this contested city, representatives of long-established Palestinian families petitioned the United Nations on Wednesday for help in trying to stop Israel and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre from constructing a museum on part of a centuries-old Muslim cemetery.

It was the latest challenge to the Centre for Human Dignity – Museum of Tolerance being built here by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights organization. The project has been plagued by stinging criticism and other problems since 2004, when the sponsors began digging up a 50-year-old parking lot built over part of the cemetery.
Isabel Kerschner writing in the New York Times, Feb.10 www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/world/middleeast/11jerusalem.html

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Archbishop Nichols: religious freedom is for all, not just for Catholics

Delivering his first homily at Westminster Cathedral since his return from Rome, where on 1st February he met with Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, has supported The Holy Father’s call for Catholics to be brave in professing their faith.

Speaking to more than  300 religious sisters at the annual Mass for Religious, celebrated at Westminster Cathedral today, he also said that maintaining religious freedom was important for everyone, not just for Catholics, because the quest for God is an essential part of human nature.

“The Holy Father asked us to be brave in professing our faith, to be wholehearted in our devotion to the Lord and generous in our serving of our society, even in our service of the truth of our humanity. He stressed the importance of religious freedom. He did so not just for Catholics.”

“The importance of religious freedom is for all because the quest for God is an essential part of our human nature. We are spiritual beings and find our fulfilment only in relation to the transcendent dimension which the gift of faith enables us to know as our loving Father. Without the space, the freedom, to follow this quest, to express faith in action, and not just in private action but in the public sphere of life too, we deprive ourselves of an open window, living instead in a more confined and constricting atmosphere.”
Independent Catholic News, Feb.11 www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=15631

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Yes, faith schools are a good thing

One of the main criticisms levied at faith schools is that they undermine community cohesion and encourage the indoctrination of a particular faith.

Their opponents argue that Britain is becoming a more culturally diverse society; ‘How can faith schools, which are aimed at one community, contribute to diversity?’ they ask.

Accord Coalition – which campaigns for inclusive schooling – argues that faith school admissions criteria undermine community cohesion.

Having had a number of years experience working in faith schools, I profoundly disagree with the idea that faith schools are a threat to multiculturalism and pluralism.

In fact, I think that faith schools are particularly focused on how faith and belief can be explored and expressed in ways that bring communities together, rather than being divisive.

Respect, tolerance and community cohesion are high on the agenda of all faith schools: they realise the importance of learning about and appreciating other faiths and cultures.

The Muslim faith school where I teach remains one of the highest achieving schools in England; its intake is not based on social class or academic ability. It has a strong moral and spiritual ethos.

Other faiths are taught across the school curricula and it has strong links with non faith schools.

The argument that faith schools are mono-cultural or mono-ethnic is untrue. For example, Christian schools reflect a very broad intake of ethnic, religious and cultural intake. Other faith schools, although small in number in comparison to Christian schools, also reflect a broad intake from various cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
Sajda Khan blogging in The Times Online, Jan.20 timesonline.typepad.com/faith/2010/01/yes-faith-schools-are-a-good-thing.html

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Medal of the Order of Australia for Inter Faith activist

For the past thirty years, Berwick resident Pamela Mamouney has been helping build bridges of understanding between the faiths through her work with various interfaith organizations, and other charities. The 74-year-old is now being honoured, ”for service to the community, particularly through the Casey Multi-Faith Network and to the Greater Dandenong area” as the 2010 recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

Although her resume of interfaith work is impressive enough to make Mamouney an obvious choice for the OAM, she said that the recognition came as a complete surprise. ”When I found out about it I was recovering from a knee operation so I was feeling pretty fragile and burst into tears. I certainly wasn’t expecting it”, said Mamouney. She remained modest upon learning she was receiving the honour saying, “I’ll be accepting it on behalf of the people who supported and helped me.”

For the past nine years, Mamouney has also been a member of the Interfaith Network of the City of Greater Dandenong, an interfaith organization that brings together the more than 150 diverse faiths and churches in the area. The Interfaith Network of the City of Greater Dandenong recently celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and according to Mamouney, it paved the way for all of the other interfaith initiatives in Australia. “It promotes peace, harmony and understanding,” Mamouney said.
Delaine writing in Interfaithing, Jan.31 www.interfaithing.com/medal-order-australia-2010-209/

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The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue™

is a forum for academic, social, and timely issues affecting religious communities around the world. It is designed to increase the quality and frequency of interchanges between religious groups and their leaders. The Journal seeks to build an inter-religious community of scholars, in which people of different traditions learn from one another and work together for the common good.
I recommend you to have a look at irdialogue.org/ for a wide range of interesting articles.

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The 2010 Middle East Festival, MESP 2010

Between now and the end of March a variety of cultural, musical and educational events will be going on in and around Edinburgh as part of this well-established festival.  Full details of all the events can be found at the Middle East Festival website: www.mesp.org.uk or by contacting Neill Walker, mesp2010 [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk or 0131 331 4469.

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Issue 3: February 2010

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Far too many words written about interfaith relations focuses on the negative and the differences between different religions.  IRENICA will look for good news where initiatives to break down barriers between God’s people are motivated by peace and justice.

In this third issue of what I hope will be a monthly digest of news items that I come across, I bring to your attention several interesting stories that you may have missed. Interfaith relations are fraught with difficulties when we try to water down our own faith so as not to offend our partners.  We should all be proud of the positive, peace-loving, facets of our own traditions, and eager to learn from our partners.  Doing this requires deeper understanding of ourselves, and openness to others.

Inter Faith Prayer Services

I stumbled on a really interesting YouTube clip about monthly Inter Faith Prayer Services held in Eugene, Oregon since September 2001.  Take a look at the 10 minute clip at interfaithprayer.org/. I’m sure you will be as uplifted and impressed as I was.

Baha’i on Trial in Iran Worries Brother in US

For as long as Baha’ism has existed, the forebears of Rezvan Tavakkoli have abided by it. And over the generations, since the faith’s origin 166 years ago, Mr. Tavakkoli’s people have paid the price of their devotion.

They have endured beatings, insults, arrest, vandalism, dismissal from jobs, denial of education and other forms of religious bigotry inflicted by the Iranian Muslims who consider Baha’ism an intolerable blasphemy for its belief in a 19th-century prophet and his new revelation emerging from Shiite Islam.

Nothing in this pageant of hatred, however, had quite prepared Mr. Tavakkoli for the present moment. He sat in a home a dozen miles outside Washington as his younger brother Behrouz awaited the verdict of a secret court in Iran, one of seven Baha’i leaders facing a potential death sentence for charges of espionage, propaganda and the all-purpose calumny of “spreading corruption on earth.”

“I’m hoping for the light of justice to shine on the men in power,” Mr. Tavakkoli said, “because they say they are people of religion.” And, if not, then Baha’i theology has provided an answer. “It’s the mystery of self-sacrifice,” he said, “for the world to have a better future.”
Samuel G Freedman writing in the New York Times, Jan.26. Full story www.nytimes.com/2010/01/23/us/23religion.html

Pope at Synagogue Proposes 3 Areas for Teamwork

– Calls Jews, Christians to Unite in Defending God, Life, Family

Pope Benedict urged Jews and Christians to “come together to strengthen the bonds which unite us and to continue to travel together along the path of reconciliation and fraternity”.

He recalled the pioneering visit to the synagogue in 1986 by John Paul II, his predecessor, who had “wanted to make a decisive contribution to strengthening the good relations between our two communities, so as to overcome every misconception and prejudice”. He said: “My visit forms a part of the journey already begun, to confirm and deepen it.”
Richard Owen writing in The Times, Jan 18. Full story www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6991776.ece

Egypt: Ancient Monastery Called a Sign of Coexistence

An eight-year, $14.5 million restoration of St. Anthony’s Monastery, said to be the world’s oldest Christian monastery, was officially unveiled by Egypt on February 4. Officials said the 1,600-year-old monastery, in the Red Sea Mountains, was evidence of Christian-Muslim coexistence. The unveiling came a month after Egypt’s worst sectarian violence in over a decade, in which gunman killed seven people outside a church on Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve. “The announcement we are making today shows to the world how we are keen to restore the monuments of our past, whether Coptic, Jewish or Muslim,” said Zahi Hawass, general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.
New York Times, Feb.4. www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/world/middleeast/05briefs-Monastery.html

Multifaith Worship in Dallas-Fort Worth

It was an unusual Sunday morning worship at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas. Christians, Muslims and Jews sat together in the church to hear an evangelical pastor preach about Jesus.

The three faith groups had already visited the Islamic Centre of Irving the previous day and the Temple Shalom of North Dallas on Friday before congregating inside the Christian house of worship. And they don’t plan to make this a one-time event.

As Northwood Senior Pastor Bob Roberts said Sunday, the three groups are making an attempt to get to know one another, understand the different teachings and worldviews, and become friends.

Roberts has been criticized by other pastors for attending multifaith events at different places of worship. He quickly puts the controversy to rest with a simple question, “Why do you go to restaurants where people get drunk? Why do you go to movies where people undress and do things on the screen that break the heart of God … Why do you want to get in a car built by an automobile industry driven by greed? But I don’t want to have a relationship with someone who’s trying to seek God? That makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Lilian Kwon writing in The Christian Post, Jan.25. Full story www.christianpost.com/article/20100125/muslims-jews-christians-worship-in-evangelical-church/index.html

France: Catholic Church Rejects Ban on Full-Face Veils

The Catholic Church warned the government on Monday against banning full-face Muslim veils, saying France must respect the rights of its Muslims if it wanted Muslim countries to do the same for their Christian minorities. A parliamentary commission has urged the National Assembly to pass a resolution condemning full veils and then ban them. “If we want Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries to enjoy all their rights, we should in our country respect the rights of all believers to practice their faith,” said Bishop Michel Santier, the top French Catholic official for interreligious dialogue.
New York Times, Feb.1. www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/world/europe/02briefs-France.html

Amid a slew of negative coverage, we must all work at challenging how Muslims are seen

A bombardment of negative coverage has reinforced the siege mentality of Muslim communities but has also brought home the importance of interfaith dialogue, and this doesn’t have to be just at the level of imams and bishops.

It is the responsibility of all of us, Muslims and those of other beliefs, to lead by example in working to challenge negative perceptions. I recall the tea I made for a pensioner couple in Coalville in Inter Faith Week 2009, during which my colleagues and I had taken part in an indoor bowling exchange with local people. Coalville is a former mining town in north-west Leicestershire which last year elected a BNP councillor. Another example: while working for the NHS in rural East Staffordshire it was clear that my colleagues would never have learned about the life of a Muslim and all that it entails, were it not for their interest in my love of Liverpool Football Club. The catalyst for building relationships and breaking down religious stereotypes was dialogue over a non-religious subject.
Riaz Ravat writing in Comment is free: Face to Faith, The Guardian, Jan.16.  Full story www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/jan/16/negative-coverage-muslims-interfaith-dialogue

Survey finds British ‘cool’ to Muslims

A national antipathy towards Muslims is suggested in the British Social Attitudes survey published last month. One third of those asked said that they felt cool towards Muslims, more than double the number of the next least-popular religious group, Buddhists (15 per cent).

One half of the sample were (sic) asked how they would react to plans to build a large mosque in their community. Fifty-five per cent said that they would be bothered about it. The other half were asked about the building of a large church. Only 15 were bothered by the idea.
Church Times, Jan.15. Full story www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=87575

Attitudes to Muslims

Good Humour and entertainment are much neglected elements in the furtherance of religion. They might not make converts, but they help a great deal with the PR. It is dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the British Social Attitudes survey, but the coolness towards Muslims (34 per cent of the sample) recorded in the survey suggests that the burgeoning Muslim stand-up scene has not yet penetrated the general population. By contrast, only 13 per cent registered coolness towards Jews. This relative warmth is probably not all attributable to Lionel Blue, but his popularity certainly helped the cause. The clue to this is the unpopularity of those defined merely as “deeply religious”, who were regarded only marginally more warmly than Muslims. “Deep religion” was not defined, but in the public’s mind assumes such characteristics as earnestness, unreasonableness, and humourlessness, none of which endears a group to its neighbours.

One thing is clear. The intentions of the Churches to forge closer relations with Muslims after 9/11 have not yet borne fruit, certainly in the eyes of the general public. The reasons are many, chief among them being diversity among Muslim groups and, it must be said, Christians. There are notable exceptions, but no national programme has been attempted, even at the level of cordiality. It might help if the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were now extended to include neighbours who follow other faiths.
Church Times, Leader, Jan.15. Full story www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=87484

The wave of anti-Christian violence

A recent wave of violent attacks on Christian worshippers and churches in countries across the Muslim world is intensifying concern that continuing military conflict, cultural friction and economic imbalances embroiling Islam and the west are fuelling a parallel rise in religious intolerance at grassroots level.

The increase in tensions is seen as particularly disturbing in countries such as Egypt where Islam and Christianity have a centuries-old history of largely peaceful co-existence.  Attacks on Christian minorities over the Christmas period were also reported in Algeria, Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, and in mostly Sunni Muslim Pakistan. Disturbances have also shaken majority Muslim Malaysia in recent weeks, where attacks on churches and a Catholic school followed a row over whether Christians should be allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. In separate incidents, extremist thugs have also picked on Malaysia’s Hindu minority.  In Iraq, the problems facing Christians and other minorities are more deadly. An estimated 1,960 Christians have died there in targeted attacks since the 2003 invasion.

To have a chance of overcoming this widening gulf, the west may have to put its own house in order first. One proposed path is wider adoption of Karen Armstrong’s new Charter for Compassion, a “spiritual document for the world”, whose guiding idea is that while almost every religion has a history of intolerance, all have traditions of compassion that rise above hatred.

For faithful believers of all descriptions, the charter offers a golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Simon Tisdall writing in Comment is free, The Guardian, Jan.14.  Full story www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/jan/14/anti-christian-violence-muslim-world

Inter-faith involvement planned for Aldermaston Blockade

February 15, 2010

See the January issue for details.

The 2010 Middle East Festival, MESP 2010

Between now and the end of March a variety of cultural, musical and educational events will be going on in and around Edinburgh as part of this well-established festival.

Feb. 12 – 22:            MESP 2010 Middle Eastern Film Festival
Feb.23 – Mar.4:     MESP 2010 Pre Events
Feb.27 – Mar.3:    MESP 2010 Middle East Youth Festival
Mar.5 – 18:              MESP 2010 Main Events
Jan.11 – Mar.31:   MESP 2010 Exhibitions and Displays

Full details of all the events can be found at the Middle East Festival website: www.mesp.org.uk or by contacting Neill Walker, mesp2010 [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk, 0131 331 4469

Other events

There are events at Scottish Churches House conference centre in Dunblane that you might be interested in including:
Wed 24 March – ‘Interfaith Sacred Stories: Tales from our Faiths’ (6-8pm cost £5 Talk/tea & coffee).

For further details see www.scottishchurcheshouse.org

MTh/MLitt Inter Faith Studies

This innovative Masters is one of the first of its kind and is offered by Glasgow University’s unique Centre for Inter-Faith Studies.  This programme aims to develop skills in inter-faith understanding and to foster awareness of the challenges and potential of inter-faith encounter.  The Centre also welcomes applications for PhD study.  For further information, contact pgenquiries [at] divinity [dot] arts [dot] gla [dot] ac [dot] uk or visit www.gla.ac.uk/ departments/theology/research/centreforinter-faithstudies/courses/#d.en.50729

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Issue 2: January 2010

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Far too many words written about interfaith relations focuses on the negative and the differences between different religions.  IRENICA will look for good news where initiatives to break down barriers between God’s people are motivated by peace and justice.

In this second issue of what I hope will be a monthly digest of news items that I come across, I bring to your attention several interesting stories that you may have missed.

Interfaith relations are fraught with difficulties when we try to water down our own faith so as not to offend our partners.  We should all be proud of the positive, peace-loving, facets of our own traditions, and eager to learn from our partners.  Doing this requires deeper understanding of ourselves, and openness to others.

IRENICA gratefully acknowledges the original authors and publications from whose articles these snippets are taken.  Following any of the links will take you to third-party websites for which IRENIC accepts no responsibility for accuracy, content or viruses.

Your comments and correspondence is welcomed.   IRENIC wishes all readers a peaceful and fulfilling New Year.

Avoiding Meaningless Dialogue

The nightmare scenario in inter-religious dialogue rarely involves open hostilities anymore, at least in much of the United States and Europe. This is a mark of progress. People who participate in dialogue genuinely want to interact with practitioners of other traditions – or at least learn something new. These days, dialogue at its worst is limited to platitudes and generalities about religious traditions: “Christians and Muslims both love peace. Why can’t we all just get along?”

Joshua M Z Stanton writing in Three Faiths Forum newsletter. Dec.2009. Full story http://www.threefaithsforum.org.uk/Newsletter_Dec09_Avoiding.html

The Importance of Inter Faith Relations

– A View from HG Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church and Moderator of the Churches’ Inter-religious Network

The foundation of Christianity and Christian life and witness is love, and thus all that we do must be built on this premise which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself lived in every situation throughout His life-giving ministry. Christianity has no place for intolerance or enmity, and thus Christians must live their lives with a spirit of tolerance and a true love for all people. In this same spirit, the Bible is very clear in its instructions for our dealings with our neighbours, regardless of ethnicity, colour or faith.

In our ever-changing world, our paths now cross with many more people from various backgrounds cultures and faiths. As we have seen in recent years, whether through acts of aggression, humanitarian disasters or natural catastrophes, there is a greater interaction between races and peoples who may never have crossed each other’s paths before. Even at our own regional level, we find that it is essential to understand others and to break traditional stereotypes. We are beyond the point of generalising concerning a Christian West and an East that brings forth various faiths.

In the United Kingdom we now have a vast collage of faith and ethnicity depicting our broad community, and therefore we must find ways of understanding and accepting one another while at the same time not necessarily being the same as each other.

The basis of Christianity is the love and respect of others while at the same time being good stewards of our own Faith and beliefs, and for this reason we must sufficiently understand our own Faith while at the same time trying to understand and deal with others. We can never fully and properly engage in interfaith dialogue without having a strong understanding of our own doctrine and theology.

We pray that we may be a source of God’s light and peace in the world through our faithful witness, and that we may live our Lord’s two commandments: to love the Lord our God with our whole being, and loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Reprinted from CTBI, http://www.ctbi.org.uk/pdf_view.php?id=104

Cardinal Urges Christians to Give up Western Ways

Christians in the Middle East must build bridges with the cultures around them rather than emphasizing differences.

Cardinal John Foley stated this in a conference held in Oslo last month on “The Exodus of Christians from the Holy Land: A Challenge for a Sustainable Peace.”

The Cardinal pointed out that for Christians to thrive in the Middle East, they must integrate more into the culture.  “Christianity is trans-national, trans-ethnic and trans-cultural,” the cardinal stated. “It should not be tied to an ethnic group or any one culture. It is for the whole world.”

The full text of the Cardinal’s address can be read at http://www.zenit.org/article-27765?l=english

Zenit, Dec 7. 2009. Full story http://www.zenit.org/article-27767?l=english

Faiths meet to build ties across religious divides

The Parliament of the World’s Religions brought together representatives from 80 nationalities and more than 220 faith traditions for seven days of debate and dialogue in Melbourne, Australia. The organisers hope that chance meetings in lifts, along with attendance at the 600 different formal meetings, will lead to new partnerships between religious groups.  This was only the fifth such “parliament” to take place.

Christopher Landau writing in BBC News, Dec.8, 2009.  Full story http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8399758.stm

Holocaust survivor begins hunger strike for Gaza

An 85-year-old survivor of the Nazi holocaust has begun a hunger strike in response to the Israeli authorities’ denial of human rights in Gaza.

Hedy Epstein is part of a group who began hunger strikes in Cairo on December 28 after Egypt refused to allow them access to Gaza to join a peaceful solidarity march.

Around 1,300 protesters from 42 countries have travelled to Egypt in an attempt to enter Gaza, but the Egyptian government is refusing to allow any of them through the border. The nonviolent march had been planned to mark the first anniversary of Israel’s war in Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” said Epstein, admitting that, “I’ve never done this before. I don’t know how my body will react”.

Her stance was welcomed in Britain by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, who said that “it’s important Muslims acknowledge people like this”.

Ekklesia, Dec.30, 2009.  Full story http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10928

HMD 2010: The Legacy of Hope

January, 27,  2010

See IRENICA Issue 1 for more on Holocaust Memorial Day or visit the HMD website at http://www.hmd.org.uk

Bishops offer differing views on the Taliban

The Taliban is a destructive force of darkness, said the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, putting him at odds with the new Bishop to the Forces, Dr Stephen Venner, who appeared to defend the Taliban, including stating, “The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.”

Religious Intelligence, Dec.18, 2009.  Full story http://www.religiousintelligence.co.uk/news/?NewsID=5402

Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa wins global recognition.

Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa, an organisation formed in 2002 which brings together representatives from African Traditional Religions, Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews, has been named the recipient of the Paul Carus Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Interreligious Movement by the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

The award ceremony was held at the 2009 Parliament of Religions on International Night, 5 December 2009, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. The historic fifth Parliament event in Melbourne, Australia ran from 3-9 December.

IFAPA, the acronym by which the award-winning group is best known, “models in a creative way, the peace-making potential of the growing interreligious movement,” said Rev Dr William E. Lesher, Chair of the Council’s Board of Trustees.

Ekklesia, Dec.2, 2009.  Full story http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10717

Malaysian court rules non-Muslims may call God Allah

A court in Malaysia has ruled that Christians have a constitutional right to use the word Allah when referring to God.

The High Court said a government ban on non-Muslims using the word was unconstitutional.

The authorities had insisted that Allah was an Islamic word which could only be used by Muslims.

BBC News, Dec.31, 2009.  Full story http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8435975.stm

Mosques and Minarets

Just before the Swiss referendum Stefano Allievi, an Italian sociologist at the University of Padua, published a report on mosques, titled: “Conflicts Over Mosques in Europe: Policy Issues and Trends.”

In this report Allevi suggests that this matter is not limited to the establishment of places of worship, but also involves the question of their visibility in European cities, which has an evident symbolic value.

He concluded by saying that the mosques in themselves are not the problem, but rather there are the problems related to an increasing cultural and religious plurality that is now producing not only a quantitative but also a qualitative change in European states. How Europe deals with this situation will continue to be a topic of much interest in coming years.

Zenit, Dec.6, 2009. Full story http://www.zenit.org/article-27756?l=english

Vatican deplores Swiss ban on minarets

The Vatican has joined Muslim leaders around the world in condemning Switzerland’s referendum banning the building of minarets, calling it a blow to religious freedom. The Vatican’s condemnation was backed by Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, also a member of the Holy Land Coordination Group, who said: “I would definitely agree with the Vatican and I seriously agree with the concept of freedom of religion, and if that is the case then Muslims should be allowed their places to worship.” But the ban may be in breach of the European convention on human rights and the UN charter proscribing discrimination on religious grounds, and the case could end up in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Catholic Herald, Dec. 4, 2009. Full story http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/articles/a0000699.shtml

Inter-faith involvement planned for Aldermaston Blockade

February 15, 2010

Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is building an inter-faith presence at the Big Blockade of the Aldermaston Weapons Establishment on 15th February 2010 in protest against the illegal replacement of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system. Aldermaston is the site where uranium is enriched for the nuclear warheads for the Trident nuclear submarines and Christian CND are helping to coordinate inter-faith activities at the Tadley Gate, which has been designated to faith groups. We are hoping that many people of diverse faith backgrounds will join us in solidarity to witness for peace and justice at Aldermaston.

CCND believes that the earth was uniquely created by God; nuclear weapons offer the potential for the cataclysmic destruction of the divine handiwork and are a great evil that our faith calls us to oppose. Christian CND will be organising an overnight prayer vigil before the blockade, starting at 9pm on Sunday 14th February, followed by an inter-faith liturgy at some stage in the day of the event. During the blockade groups can peacefully support this non-violent action through singing hymns, reading prayers, holding banners and other expressions of faithful protest.

CCND are looking to hear from faith groups that may be interested in joining us to witness for peace at Aldermaston. It would be great to have a strong inter-faith presence to deliver a clear and united statement for disarmament. If anyone is interested in coming along or bringing a group then you can contact Christopher Wood on: 020 7700 2357 or at chris [at] cnduk [dot] org.

More details about the blockade can be found at the website of Trident Ploughshares, who are helping to organise the event: http://www.tridentploughshares.org/index.php3. Groups are encouraged to organise their own transport and accommodation, and buses from Scotland and accommodation the night before in Reading are being laid on.  Details of these can be obtained by contacting Frances Hume at the SIFC fhume [at] scottishinterfaithcouncil [dot] org

The 2010 Middle East Festival, MESP 2010

Between now and the end of March a variety of cultural, musical and educational events will be going on in and around Edinburgh as part of this well-established festival.

Feb. 6: MESP 2010 Middle East Festival One World Peace Concert

Feb. 12 – 22: MESP 2010 Middle Eastern Film Festival

Feb.23 – Mar.4: MESP 2010 Pre Events

Feb.27 – Mar.3: MESP 2010 Middle East Youth Festival

Mar.5 – 18: MESP 2010 Main Events

Jan.11 – Mar.31: MESP 2010 Exhibitions and Displays

Full details of all the events can be found at the Middle East Festival website: http://www.mesp.org.uk or by contacting Neill Walker, mesp2010 [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk, 0131 331 4469

Other Events

There are events at Scottish Churches House conference centre in Dunblane that you might be interested in such as:

Wed 3 Feb – ‘Grasping Nettles: Mission Impossible’ when Prof Mona Siddiqui is in conversation with Rt Rev Brian Smith. (6.15pm cost £5 talk/tea & coffee or £15 to inc meal at 5.30)

and

Wed 24 March – ‘Interfaith Sacred Stories: Tales from our Faiths’ (6-8pm cost £5 Talk/tea & coffee).  For further details see www.scottishchurcheshouse.org

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Issue 1: December 2009

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Far too many words written about interfaith relations focuses on the negative and the differences between different religions.  IRENICA will look for good news where initiatives to break down barriers between God’s people are motivated by peace and justice.

This journal seeks to bring to its readers’ attention some stories from the world’s press, both print and online that may have passed un-noticed.  Summaries of articles may whet their appetites to follow links to the full stories on the web.

IRENICA gratefully acknowledges the original authors and publications from whose articles these snippets are taken.  Following any of the links will take you to third-party websites for which IRENIC accepts no responsibility for accuracy, content or viruses.

In this, the journal is similar to its editor’s previous publication The Bridge.

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2010:

The Legacy of Hope

27th January 2010 is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is also the tenth anniversary of the commemoration of HMD in the UK. The theme for HMD 2010 and the title of this short film is The Legacy of Hope. You are invited to listen to and act upon the words of survivors.

The film focuses on survivors’ stories and is narrated by actor Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), a prominent supporter of HMD. Each of the Holocaust survivors featured – Ben Helfgott, Iby Knill and Lily Ebert – tell us about their experiences and share with us their Legacy of Hope.

The film introduces us to these three survivors who have made their home in the UK. Each contributor shares with us a personal story of loss, survival, recovery and strength and Daniel Radcliffe sets each story in its historical context. The film ends with the three survivors asking viewers to carry their messages of hope into the future and encourage us all to become part of The Legacy of Hope and work together to build a fairer and more inclusive world. The film works best when viewed as a whole because it is important to show that there are many different narratives within the issues raised by HMD.

This film is suitable for showing to all audiences including primary and secondary schools, faith groups and community groups. The Trust recommends that you view the film prior to public showing.

Educators using the film as part of their commemorations can also download questions for discussion to use with their students from the HMDT education website http://education.hmd.org.uk/resources/hmd-2010-short-film-educational-materials.

You can request a free DVD of this film by contacting the HMDT Team on 0845 838 1883 or by emailing your UK postal address to: enquiries [at] hmd [dot] org [dot] uk or view the film online at http://www.hmd.org.uk/resources/item/340/

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Three Clergymen, Three Faiths, One Friendship

It sounds like the start of a joke: a rabbi, a minister and a Muslim sheik walk into a restaurant. But there they were, Rabbi Ted Falcon, the Rev. Don Mackenzie and Sheik Jamal Rahman, walking into an Indian restaurant, and afterward a Presbyterian church. The sanctuary was full of 250 people who came to hear them talk about how they had wrestled with their religious differences and emerged as friends.

They call themselves the “interfaith amigos.” And while they do sometimes seem more like a stand-up comedy team than a trio of clergymen, they know they have a serious burden in making a case for interfaith understanding in a country reeling after a Muslim Army officer at Fort Hood, Tex., was charged with opening fire on his fellow soldiers, killing 13.

“It arouses once again fear, distrust and doubt,” Sheik Rahman said, “and I know that when that happens, even the best of people cannot think clearly.”

The three say they became close not by avoiding or glossing over their conflicts, but by running straight at them. They put everything on the table: the verses they found offensive in one another’s holy books, anti-Semitism, violence in the name of religion, claims by each faith to have the exclusive hold on truth, and, of course, Israel.

“One of the problems in the past with interfaith dialogue is we’ve been too unwilling to upset each other,” Rabbi Falcon told the crowd at the Second Presbyterian Church here. “We try to honour the truth. This is the truth for you, and this is the truth for me. It may not be reconcilable, but it is important to refuse to make the other the enemy.”

Laurie Goodstein writing in The New York Times, Nov 23, 2009.  Full story http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/us/24amigos.html?em

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Religious and secular groups unite to launch anti-discrimination coalition

The campaign for strong equality and anti-discrimination laws received a significant boost with the launch of the Cutting Edge consortium, a coalition of faith groups, human rights campaigns, trades unions and other organisations. They are opposing calls for “religious opt-outs” from the Equality Bill currently going through Parliament.

Religious groups supporting Cutting Edge are taking a different stance from those that have argued that they should be allowed to discriminate in employment, for example on grounds of sexuality.

Ekklesia, Nov 25, 2009.  Full story http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10676

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BBC can continue blocking atheists from popular broadcast

The BBC Trust has ruled that there is no discrimination in excluding non-religious figures from the Radio 4 Thought for the Day slot.

The National Secular Society and others had been lobbying for a change in the rules to allow atheists to join the rota of presenters.

Judy West, writing in Religious Intelligence, Nov 19, 2009. Full story http://www.religiousintelligence.co.uk/news/?NewsID=5303

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Swiss minaret ban would be discrimination against religion, says Amnesty

A ban on the construction of minarets would breach Switzerland’s obligations to uphold freedom of religion, Amnesty International said ahead of a referendum on Sunday 29 November 2009 on a constitutional amendment.

The proposal, which was initiated by members of two Swiss parties, will ask Swiss voters if they wish to add the sentence “The construction of minarets is forbidden” to Article 72 of the Constitution.

“Contrary to the claims of the initiators of the referendum, a general prohibition of the construction of minarets would violate the right of Muslims in Switzerland to manifest their religion,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

Ekklesia, Nov 25, 2009. Full story http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10673

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‘Muslim suffragettes’ fight for mosque vote

Muslim women have launched an audacious campaign to win the vote at Scotland’s biggest mosque. A group of students, many aged under 20, say they are being effectively barred from taking part in elections because applications from women to become voting members are being turned down.

Dubbed “Muslim suffragettes”, the group believes Glasgow Central Mosque, Scotland’s biggest place of worship, is in breach of its own constitution, charity rules and discrimination laws.

David Leask writing in Scotland on Sunday, Nov 22, 2009.  Full story http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/latestnews/39Muslim-suffragettes39–fight-for.5846743.jp

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Nigerian Christians welcome Muslim governor to preach in church

For the first time in northern Nigeria, a Muslim state governor has accepted an invitation to a church revival programme during which he called for unity and peaceful co-existence between the country’s Christians and Muslims.

Ibrahim Shekarau is the governor of Kano State, one which practices Islamic Sharia laws, and which earlier this year experienced clashes between Christian and Muslims in the predominantly Islamic-populated north of the country.

On 15 November 2009, a Sunday and the Christian Sabbath, Governor Shekarau attended a gathering in Kano organized by the Pentecostal fellowship of Nigeria.

“The governor’s presence at the revival and his disposition is a watershed in the struggle to restore peace and religious harmony in northern Nigeria,” said the general overseer of the Deeper Life Bible Church, Pastor Williams Kumuyi, who was a speaker at the meeting.

“Living strictly by the teachings of the holy books, there should be no need for rancour or intolerance. Christians and Muslims ought not to fight one another,” the governor stated.

Lekan Otufodunrin of Ecumenical News International writing in Ekklesia, Nov 24, 2009. Full story http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10660

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A look at Christianity, through a Buddhist Lens

Five decades ago, Paul F. Knitter, then a novice studying to become a Roman Catholic priest, would be in the seminary chapel at 5:30 every morning, trying to stay awake and spend time in meditation before Mass.

Last Wednesday, at the same hour, he was sitting on his Zen cushion meditating in the Claremont Avenue apartment he occupies as the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

A few hours later he was talking about his pointedly titled new book, “Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian” (Oneworld). The book is the outcome of decades of encounters with Buddhism — and of struggles with his own faith.

Peter Steinfels writing in The New York Times, Oct 9, 2009.  Full story http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/us/10beliefs.html?scp=2&sq=Steinfels&st=cse

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Muslims honour minister who stopped service to let them pray

One of this year’s Muslim News Awards was presented  to the minister at St Giles Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh, who was honoured tonight for his outreach to Scotland’s Muslims, and in particular for stopping a service after the Gulf War of 1991 to let Muslims pray in the cathedral.

The Muslim News citation for the Rev Gilleasbuig MacMillan says: ‘As the Minister of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Gilleasbuig MacMillan’s church is symbolically important because of the royal or official events and ceremonies held there. He is recognised for this award because of his determination to welcome Muslims to his Cathedral. In October 1991, St Giles held a Service of Repentance in memory of the victims of the first Gulf war, which was also attended by Muslims. Instead of simply allowing the Muslims to leave the service to carry out their prayers, Reverend MacMillan decided to stop the service twenty minutes after its start and let the Muslims perform their prayers in the Cathedral next to the altar. The Adhan, the Muslim call to the prayer, was made from the pulpit of the Cathedral and the prayers were performed in the midst of a Christian congregation of over 1,000.’

Scottish Christian News Monitor, Mar 30, 2009.  Full story http://scottishchristian.com/monitor/muslims-honour-minister-who-stopped-service-to-let-them-pray/

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Looking to Other Religions, and to Atheism, for Clarity in Faith

Born in 1965, Samir Selmanovic was raised in a secular Muslim home in Croatia. It had, he writes, its own religion, with two doctrines, “Thou shalt enjoy life” — which meant food, family and friendships — and “Thou shalt not be a jerk” — which meant generosity, honesty and hard work. The family feasted on spitfire-roasted lamb at the end of Ramadan, without ever having fasted. They had a Christmas tree and Easter dinner, without ever going to church. For young Samir, “life was complete,” he recalls in his book.

Mr. Selmanovic’s thesis in “It’s All About God” is that when religions turn into “God Management Systems” pretending to own God, they turn into idolatry. The quest to find God beyond the boundaries of one’s faith, he argues, has to be moved from occasional conferences resembling interfaith prom parties (“That was really nice. Let’s interfaith again next year.”) to something central.

“Other religions can challenge (or at least help us see) the idols we create because they expand the whole territory of knowing,” Mr. Selmanovic writes. “They pose difficult questions we don’t want to ask, make assumptions we don’t want to acknowledge or examine, create meaningful arguments against us we don’t want to consider, and expose harmful practices we don’t want to stop.”

Peter Steinfels writing in The New York Times, Nov 6, 2009.  Full story http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/07/us/07beliefs.html?fta=y

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Book Reviews:

Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian

A new book by Paul F. Knitter from OneWorld

Honest and unflinching, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian narrates how esteemed theologian, Paul F. Knitter overcame a crisis of faith by looking to Buddhism for inspiration. From prayer to how Christianity views life after death, Knitter argues that a Buddhist standpoint can encourage a more person-centred conception of Christianity, where individual religious experience comes first, and liturgy and tradition second. Moving and revolutionary, this book will inspire Christians everywhere.

Paul F. Knitter is Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, Union Theological Seminar, New York. A leading advocate of religious pluralism, he is author of over ten books on the subject.

“Radiates wisdom and warmth. Is it possible to become more fully Christian by taking most seriously the Buddhist path — becoming Buddhist in order to live more fully the Christian life? Agree or not with Paul’s answer, we can be most grateful to him for pressing the question and making so very clear the possibilities and risks along the way.” Francis X. Clooney, Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University

“A moving story of one man’s quest for truth, this is also a ground-breaking work of inter-religious dialogue, comparative theology and social ethics… the rarest combination of theological acumen, humility and humor. A must read for anyone who wants to renew their faith and rediscover their humanity in intimate dialogue with the faiths of others.” John Makransky, Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College and author of ‘Awakening Through Love: A Buddhist guide for Unveiling Deepest Goodness’

£12.99 from http://www.oneworld-publications.com

£9.99 from http://www.amazon.co.uk

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It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian

A new book by Samir Selmanovic from Jossey Bass

Millions of us look at religion and say, “No thanks, I’d rather be spiritual than religious.” For those of us who feel like this, religion has been losing its credibility and relevance. But our departure from religion is simultaneously a departure from its rich treasures of spiritual practice, community, organized action, and hard lessons learned, often leaving us isolated, incoherent, and ill-equipped for our spiritual journeys. It’s Really All About God is a very personal story and a thrilling exploration of a redeeming, dynamic, and radically different way to hold one’s religion. Readers will deepen their religious identities while discovering God, goodness, and grace beyond their own religious boundaries.

http://www.josseybass.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470433264.html

£14.44 from http://www.amazon.co.uk