Facing Backlash, US Muslims Counter With New Advertising Campaign

81650951-6527945SACRAMENTO (TIP): In California’s capital city of Sacramento this month, stark black billboards loomed over highways and faded commercial strips, offering solace to the troubled: “Looking for the answers in life?” one asked. “Discover Muhammad.”

With messages that are part religious invitation to explore the Muslim faith and part public relations, the billboards anchor a national campaign to showcase Islam as a religion of love and tolerance, aimed at Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

But the campaign by the mainstream Islamic Circle of North America, which is sponsoring billboards in other cities to publicize the Muslim prophet’s message, could also spark a backlash amid a spike in anti-Islamic sentiment marked by protests, advertising campaigns and sometimes vandalism and violence.

“We thought a proper approach would be to actually educate the larger public about his personality, which exemplifies love and brotherhood,” said Waqas Syed, ICNA Deputy Secretary General.

The billboard campaign is not the first high-profile bid by a Muslim group to bolster Islam’s image in America, tarnished by militant attacks. But it is the largest such effort by ICNA, the group most closely identified with billboard campaigns in recent years, and it includes some billboards that are clearly evangelical.

“Under the circumstances, it’s a pretty bold move,” said Todd Green, a professor who studies Islamophobia, or fear of Islam, at Luther College in Iowa. “When you’re a minority religion, you face a lot of pressure from the majority population not to proselytize.”

By asking Americans to discover Mohammad, the campaign is similar in some ways to efforts by evangelical Christians whose roadside billboards, especially in the US heartland, have sought to draw Americans into their fold with messages promoting Jesus as the Messiah, he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE INDIAN PANORAMA 

Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Could Reopen To Jews, Christians And Other Non-Muslim Visitors

temple-mount-jerusalemThe religious sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City could be reopened to Jewish and Christian visitors more than 15 years after they were shut out. For months, Israel and Jordan have been secretly discussing the possibility of readmitting non-Muslim visitors to the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic Museum on the mount, according to Haaretz.

Details of the secret negotiations were revealed in a report by the International Crisis Group in Brussels, which concluded that reopening the sites to non-Muslims could help keep peace on the Temple Mount. But an agreement could be harder to reach with Israel’s new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party.

Some Israeli leaders have said opening the site to paying visits would give the Jordanian-influenced Waqf, an Islamic trust that oversees the daily religious affairs in and around the mosque, an incentive to maintain peace on the contested holy site. However, an official in Netanyahu’s office said, “There are no negotiations and no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount,” Haaretz reported.

Jewish and Christian visitors were allowed to purchase a ticket and enter the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic Museum on the mount until 2000, when the second Palestinian uprising against Israel erupted after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site in September. The Israeli government, which manages the mount’s security and admission, subsequently banned Jews and tourists altogether from the Temple Mount. In 2003, the sites were reopened to Jews and tourists despite opposition from the Jordanian government and the Muslim Waqf.

Today, the Temple Mount is the site of frequent and sometimes violent clashes between Muslim visitors and Jews who wish to pray there. Defense officials said the violence has partly caused an upsurge in terror attacks in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, where some terrorists have openly dedicated their attacks in defense of the Temple Mount.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES 

ISIS and the Lonely Young American

10-recruitement-f-ss-slide-GKL6-master1050Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.

For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online — the most attentive she had ever had — who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.

One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.

But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

The only Muslims she knew were those she had met online, and he encouraged her to keep it that way, arguing that Muslims are persecuted in the United States. She could be labeled a terrorist, he warned, and for now it was best for her to keep her conversion secret, even from her family.

So on his guidance, Alex began leading a double life. She kept teaching at her church, but her truck’s radio was no longer tuned to the Christian hits on K-LOVE. Instead, she hummed along with the ISIS anthems blasting out of her turquoise iPhone, and began daydreaming about what life with the militants might be like.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

American Muslims Supporting Gay Marriage Speak Up

1435401910373.cachedOften thought of as unremittingly hostile to homosexuality, some American Muslims celebrated Friday’s Supreme Court decision and chided their co-religionists who said judgment day was nigh.
Mu’min Marcos Arquero Castenada is an openly gay Muslim fasting in this Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He ululated when he heard the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide on Friday, then he went to his Oakland mosque to do his Friday prayers in celebration.The Sufi sheikh at Masjid Al Iman mosque welcomed Castenada with open arms, he said. The Filipino-American says he sees no contradiction between his faith and homosexuality, although homosexuality is illegal on religious principles in several Muslim countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“My experience of Allah (God) is so deep and meaningful,” said Castenada, a family and marriage therapist. “There are many things we are still discovering in Islam.”

But many Muslims on social media lashed out, bashing Friday’s Supreme Court decision and saying qiyamah, the day of judgment, was near while the story of Lot condemning homosexuality in holy scriptures, including the Quran, is being ignored. Commentators and atheists Bill Maher and Sam Harris have criticized Muslims for failing to accept homosexuality as a human right.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY BEAST

How Can Interfaith Work Be Planned to Be Useful?

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by Kemal Argon

Many people of religion have grave doubts about the worth and utility of interfaith dialogue, dismissing it entirely. Interfaith work can appear to be leading nowhere and accomplishing nothing relevant or useful. While there are those who support interfaith work, there are others who could not be bothered, seeing it as a waste of time. These people are missing something: they are often losing a strategic opportunity to train their own scholars and activists, stimulate the revivification of their own religious tradition, or even to work on peace building.

Interfaith work can be very useful for religionists who know how to plan and use dialogue, who are prepared beforehand and ISLAM_-_CRISTIANESIMOare approaching it with the right understanding. For dialogue to be made useful, what I firstly want to suggest seeing is that there can be three parts to dialogue: preparation beforehand, the actual dialogue, and the follow-up phase. In brief, the preparation beforehand involves adequate study of our own religion as well as that of the dialogue partner, the actual dialogue will be comparatively short but will provide useful material, especially useful being material from people whom we definitely disagree with. The final followup, “post-encounter,” phase in our own community with our own scholars can be the most important one as that is where the real examination and inquiry into matters is taking place. This post-encounter reflection and inquiry can happen over a long period of time, meaning the benefits of deeper inquiry in response to disagreement need not be limited to any particular time frame, especially if we have been paying careful attention and taking notes. This also means that, if we participate sincerely, we can be learning something that may become known to us later.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

Christianity, Islam and yoga: How far can you stretch?

20150627_blp510YOGA has been in the news a lot recently. As colleagues have written, the establishment of International Yoga Day, celebrated for the first time last Sunday was a significant milestone for India’s “soft power” and on balance, a personal success for Narendra Modi, the prime minister who led 37,000 people in a display of the spiritual exercise.

Yoga also generates headlines in countries far from India, both because of its widespread appeal and the mixed feelings (to put it mildly) that it engenders among followers of the world’s monotheistic faiths.

Malaysia and Iran stand out as Muslim countries where yoga is both quite popular and controversial. In 2008, when Malaysia’s supreme Islamic authority told Muslims to eschew the practice, this was widely greeted with dismay as a symptom of a hardening theological line in a country where many faiths have to rub along. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the (devoutly Muslim) prime minister at the time, later specified that it was permissible to do the exercises as long as people held off from Hindu chanting.

n Western nations which are historically Christian but increasingly diverse in their approach to things spiritual, the very ambivalence of yoga (call it flexibility if you like) is one of its selling points. Depending on which school of yoga you follow and how far you go, it can be a way of limbering up the body and easing tensions, or it can involve the pursuit of extra-ordinary spiritual experiences, culminating in samadhi, variously described as union with, or absorption into, ultimate reality. It is agreed that yoga has its roots in the Hindu tradition, and that it constitutes one of the main schools of Hinduism; but it can of course be practised as a physical and even mental discipline by people who are ignorant of, or even mildly resistant to the teachings of Hinduism. That point is made defensively by many Western yoga teachers, and with dismay by purist advocates of the Hindu path.

Traditional Christian clerics still see dangers in the practice. In the Northern Irish city of Derry-Londonderry, a Catholic priest caused a local furore in February by telling his parishioners that yoga, and even Indian head massage, could open people to demonic influences. Around the same time, a Church of England priest in Bristol told a yoga teacher who had been instructing hundreds of people on church premises to find other quarters. The teacher, Naomi Hayama, complained bitterly, on grounds that her kind of yoga, at least, was certainly not an alternative faith. “They are trying to say that is a spiritual practice but my classes are not. I respect people who are religious but I am not,” she said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ECONOMIST 

Judge Upholds MTA Ban on Political Ads Including Pamela Geller’s Islamophobic Posters

A MAY 7, 2015 FILE PHOTOMARK LENNIHAN/AP

Pamela Geller, pictured in May, lost her fight in Manhattan Federal Court to be allowed to post Islamophobic ads on New York buses.

Conservative firebrand Pamela Geller’s Islamophobic posters will not appear on Nwe York City buses any time soon.

A Manhattan Federal Court judge has ruled that the MTA’s recently revised policy banning all political advertising in subways and on city buses renders moot his previous ruling that Geller’s ads were protected speech.

U.S. District Judge John Koeltl had said in April that the posters — showing a menacing man with his face masked in a Middle Eastern-style scarf next to the quote “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah” — should be allowed to be displayed like other political ads in the MTA system.

Before the bills went up, the MTA board then voted to change its policy and banned controversial political ads altogether — a move Geller’s team argued was done in bad faith.

An example of Geller's posters.PAMELAGELLER VIA INSTAGRAM

An example of Geller’s posters.

Koetl disagreed.

“No law requires public transit agencies to accept political advertisements as a matter of course, and it is not for this Court to impose its own views on what type of forum the MTA should create,” Koetl wrote.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS