Muslims in Bulgaria pull together to rebuild Christian church

church-of-st-michael-the-archangelMuslims in a small village in Bulgaria have raised the funds and contributed the labour to restore a century-old Eastern Orthodox church.

The Muslims managed to put together £800 for the restoration, to save the Church of the Archangel Michael for the village’s Christian community who make up about one tenth of the 600 residents.

Kozlets is in the southern Bulgarian province of Haskovo, near the borders of Greece and Turkey.

The restoration of the bell tower cost about £800.

“It was possible that it would fall and bring down the roof with it. This very much worried the Christians in the village. So we decided to raise money,” village mayor Kadir Beynur told Haskovo.


The Muslims along with local Christians found the money to repair the belfry, repair the fence around the church and refurbish the interior.

The bell will now peal out again as the church re-opens for Orthodox Easter, which this year is on 1 May.

The church sexton, Petar, said: “The tables, the floor mats, everything was collected from the people, everything was donated.”

Previously, the bell was in a precarious state and it was feared it could have fallen at any time on to the heads of worshippers below.

Beynur explained that in these troubled times, this was a chance to strengthen the bonds between the two faiths.

“From what I can remember my parents, our Muslim community and Christians who once were a majority in the village, we lived together,” he said. The communities were united by faith and jointly celebrated each others’ holidays. “This is an absolute sign that not only people becoming more strong in faith, but in a village where there are Muslims and Christians, all have played their part, rolled up their sleeves and taken care of their houses of prayer. Kozlets is a true example of tolerance, especially in these times when it is so important and necessary.”


Evangelical Christians Countering Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

NASHVILLEThere’s been a lot of negative campaign language about Islam this election season—calls for banning Muslims from entering the US and for patrolling Muslim neighborhoods. But there are also serious attempts to oppose anti-Muslims rhetoric. Correspondent Kim Lawton reports on efforts in Nashville, Tennessee to counter hateful speech by building personal relationships between Christians and Muslims. She talks with Rev. Josh Graves, pastor of an evangelical megachurch and author of How Not to Kill a Muslim: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America, along with Muslim community leaders who are participating in the bridge-building efforts.


A Few Miles From San Bernardino, a Muslim Prom Queen Reigns

30prom-web1-master768FONTANA, Calif. — In the days after the December terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., when pictures of the hijab-wearing suspect filled television screens and newspapers, Zarifeh Shalabi’s mother and aunts stayed at home.

With their home just a few miles from the scene of the attack that left 14 dead, they worried about an anti-Muslim backlash. When they went shopping, Zarifeh, 17, said, other mothers pulled their children away when they saw the women wearing head scarves.

“We were more afraid that someone was going to hurt us,” Zarifeh said.

But this month, Zarifeh received the ultimate symbol of teenage acceptance: She was crowned prom queen after her non-Muslim friends campaigned for her by wearing hijabs in solidarity.

“We saw it as a chance to do something good, to represent something good,” said a friend, Sarahi Sanchez, who like Zarifeh is one of a few dozen peer mentors at Summit High School. “This was a way to prove we don’t have problems with bullying or racism.”

Zarifeh said her win “proved that not all Muslims are something to worry about.”

“They don’t see me as a threat,” she said, “they see me as their friend.”


True Islam teaches gender equity and empowerment of women

womenBy Samantha Issam

As a feminist, one reason I chose Islam as a religion is because true Islam teaches gender equity and empowerment of women.

Before I converted to Islam, I, like many Americans, believed Islam was a religion that degraded women. News stories of child brides, honor killings and punishment for rape victims make it easy to interpret Islam’s treatment of women as terrible if we solely rely on these monstrous anecdotes. Our newsfeeds are filled with stories about extremists who treat women as less than human, leaving room for critics such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali to state that Islam is “especially bigoted against women.”

In my path toward Islam, I discovered that if all Muslim men actually practiced what Prophet Muhammad taught, they would be gentle, kind and equitable toward women. Instead, extremists are the brutes who lead to the question recently featured in The New York Times: “What is the Future of Women in Islam?”

Based on my experience, the answer is best left to the women of Islam — not the critics.

Not until I interacted directly with Muslim women did I find genuine understanding of the extent to which Islam empowers women to be educated, productive members of society. I attended an all-women’s event in a mosque, where I participated in women-led workshops and seminars on Islamic knowledge.

I was impressed with the scholarly knowledge of the women but was even more surprised by the Muslim men at the event. I was struck to learn that there were dozens of men in the kitchen cooking for the hundreds of women. Since then, I’ve seen how Muslim men in my community extend themselves for the comfort of Muslim women, whom they respect. This is far from the Islam you see in the news.


The Other Al-Andalus — When Muslims and Christians Flourished Side By Side in Sicily

1280px-Arabo-NormanArchitectureI sometimes think about the glories of “Islamic Spain,” or Al-Andalus. Starting around 711 and ending in 1492, Muslim rulers maintained a spirit of convivencia, a Spanish term meaning “living in togetherness” or “coexistence”, which allowed for an unprecedented level of interfaith engagement on the European continent. While Al-Andalus may represent the pinnacle of cooperation among Muslims, Christians and Jews, there is also a brilliant history – too often ignored and still inadequately assessed – coming out of Sicily, an island belonging to modern-day Italy.

The unique society that developed in Sicily is hardly mentioned by historians of Europe, Christianity or Islam. Over the course of several centuries, interfaith exchanges in cultural, religious and scientific fields led to a hybrid culture stemming from Norman, Arab and Byzantine influences. For a time, Sicily was truly the crossroads between East and West, Islam and Christianity. The island was one of the rare bright spots of the Middle Ages.


Muslims, Christians and Mozart: Seeking Harmony at the Met Opera

24TURK1-master768-v2When the curtain goes up on Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (“The Abduction From the Seraglio”), we are on the Mediterranean coast in the Ottoman Empire, at a palace where European captives are being held as slaves by a Muslim pasha. When the Ottoman Turkish overseer, Osmin, enters and sings about his rage against the Christian prisoners, he fantasizes about hanging them, impaling them on hot stakes and beheading them.

Mozart and his librettists wrote a comedy. But it is hard to listen to Osmin’s aria today and not think about contemporary nightmare scenarios of hostages and global conflict. An evening with “Abduction From the Seraglio” — first presented in Vienna in 1782 and opening Friday, April 22 at the Metropolitan Opera in a revival conducted by James Levine — reminds us that in the 18th century, when the vast Ottoman Empire was governed by the Turkish sultans in Istanbul, Mozart was one of many European composers fascinated by the relations, encounters and conflicts between Christians and Muslims.

It was an age of warfare against the Turks, full of the tensions between the Muslim and Western worlds. But “Abduction” may be an opera for our own times, too: an intriguing if disturbing model of how to understand — through the structure of music — the anger of an enemy and how to explore harmoniously the reconciliation of cultural difference.


New Montana Group Embraces American Muslims

MissoulaBy Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

When residents in the Bitterroot Valley rallied to persuade Ravalli County commissioners to approve a letter opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the surrounding areas, the wheels began turning at a synagogue back in Missoula.

Around that time, Soft Landing was also working with the U.S State Department to reopen a refugee resettlement office in Missoula. The regional talk of refugees and the off chance that some of them might be Muslim fanned the fires of controversy and saw its share of hateful rhetoric.

“Laurie Franklin, the rabbi at Har Shalom, had picked up on a lot of the anti-Muslim sentiment and decided to send out an email,” said Clem Work. “With that – in addition to the national anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail – she suggested we get together to form a group to see what we could do to combat this Islamophobia.”

Standing Alongside America’s Muslims, or SALAM, was born.

The Missoula-based group, of which Work is a member, has grown over the past few months by launching a Facebook page and incorporating a cross-section of religions. Later this month, the group will host its first “Celebrate Islam Week” in an effort to do what its acronym suggests by standing with the community’s Muslim residents.

“We want to push back against what we perceive as a rising tide of Islamophobia and counter it through conversation, and by projecting an image of what is undoubtedly the majority belief and the majority support of Islam as a religion,” Work said on Tuesday.

Work proudly notes the group’s composition, describing it as a little bit of everything. In that sense, he said, it represents America itself. He’s a self-proclaimed Episcopalian while Franklin is Jewish. Some members are Catholic and some are agnostic. SALAM also claims several Muslims, including Jameel Chaudhry and Samir Bitar.