Christians and Muslims Seek Common Ground in Cincinnati

For the past five years, a small, dedicated group of Muslims and Christians has been meeting in Greater Cincinnati, debunking myths and dissolving stereotypes, one personal relationship at a time.

The local Muslim-Christian Dialogue confronts tough topics head-on, says organizer Bill Lonneman of College Hill. “Even open-minded people are coming in with fears and concerns about terrorism. We don’t shrink away from addressing those issues.”

Dozens of such groups have been meeting for years across the nation and around the world, but co-organizer Karen Dabdoub thinks many Greater Cincinnatians would be surprised to learn that such an organization has been quietly at work here.

Without the group, “I think there would be a lot more distance between people of different faiths in our community,” said Dabdoub, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Cincinnati.

One issue the group confronts: Mainstream Muslims respect Christians and Jews as fellow “people of the book” who also believe in a holy text and one God, Lonneman said. Yet Muslim extremists, who make up a small portion of the Muslim population, draw the lion’s share of attention for their violent acts, he said.


Saudi Interfaith Center Opens In Vienna

(Reuters) – The road to reform in Saudi Arabia is long and winding. In the rigidly restricted field of religion, the path is so circuitous that part of it even runs through traditionally Catholic countries like Austria and Spain.

Next Monday, a pioneering Saudi-backed center for worldwide interfaith dialogue will open in a baroque palace on Vienna’s elegant Ringstrasse boulevard. Riyadh paid for the building and will foot the centre’s budget for the first three years.

Such largesse from a country often ranked as one of the most religiously repressive has stirred suspicion and protest in Vienna, where critics accuse the Saudis of everything from hypocrisy to plotting to spread radical Islam in the Alps.

But the center has supporters in unexpected places, most notably in Israel. Rabbi David Rosen, the Jewish member of the centre’s multifaith board of directors, says it presents an opportunity the world’s religions cannot let pass.

“This is the first multifaith initiative from a Muslim source, and not just any source, but from the very hardcore heartland of Islam,” said Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

“It is an essential stage in King Abdullah’s efforts to change Saudi Arabia itself,” the Jerusalem-based rabbi said. “If there are possibilities of good things coming from this, we have to give it a try.”


Canadian Islamic Group Accuses Jewish School of Using Racist Textbook

A Canadian Islamic organization is accusing a Toronto-area Jewish day school of using a textbook that vilifies Muslims.

In a Nov. 19 letter to Jewish groups, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-CAN, charges that a textbook used at the Joe Dwek Ohr HaEmet Sephardic School employs “inflammatory and hateful terms in describing Muslims.”

CAIR-CAN alleges the book, “2000 Years of Jewish History,” describes Muslims as “rabid fanatics” with “savage beginnings.”

“The entire chapter devoted to Islam presents a pernicious and extreme portrayal of Muslims and the Islamic faith. The material further denigrates the Prophet Muhammad as a ‘rabid Jew-hater,’ and falsely portrays Islam as inherently anti-Semitic and devoted to hating Jews,” the group said in its letter to the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center For Holocaust Studies and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, or CIJA.

It said the text is used in grade 7 and 8 girls’ classes at the Orthodox Jewish day school and “leaves impressionable young Jewish readers with a sense of suspicion and even intolerance towards their fellow Canadians.”


Correcting Misperceptions about Islam in Iowa

There are more than 5,000 Muslims in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area alone. Dr. Mohammed Fahmy is one of them.

He is an active member of the Muslim community and has been working as a professor at the University of Northern Iowa for 30 years.

“From its meaning from the word Islam comes Salaam,” Fahmy said. “Salaam is Shalom — that means peace.”

But peace is not a word that many associate with the religion.

Dr. Fahmy believes that images of violence, terrorism and hatred have fueled a shift of the entire idea of what Islam really is and what Muslims really believe.

“Some people say, ‘Are you Muslim first, or American first?’ And I say, ‘I am an American Muslim,'” Fahmy said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m a person who has chosen to be an American. I live in this country. I defend this country.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about Islam is the role of women.

“I have studied Islam for myself. I read a lot of Koran, and I just find that Islam elevated the status of women,” Salma Akbar said. “Fourteen centuries ago, the Prophet came and he liberated them from those practices. People used to bury their daughters alive and this is a religion that came and said if you raise your daughter well you will go to Heaven. I think Prophet Muhammad was the first feminist.”



Pakistan Court Acquits Christian Girl of Blasphemy

ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani court on Tuesday acquitted a Christian girl accused of blasphemy over the burning of the Muslim holy book, her lawyer said.

The ruling was the final chapter in a case that caused an international outcry over Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which are very popular in the country and are primarily used against supposed offenses to Islam.

In August, the young Christian girl was arrested in Islamabad after a Muslim cleric accused her of desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Quran. The cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence against the girl, whose mental capacity was subsequently questioned.

Attorney Abdul Hameed said the court on Tuesday exonerated his client for lack of evidence and dismissed all charges against her, concluding they were based on heresy and incriminated material that was planted in the girl’s possession.

“I am happy that the poor girl’s ordeal is now over,” he told The Associated Press after hearing the court ruling in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.


Palestinian Muslims and Christians Work Together in Gaza

GAZA, Nov 1 (KUNA) — The Prime Minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian Government in Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said Thursday the Palestinian Muslims and Christians are partners in struggle for liberation and reconstruction.
The close partnership between the two Muslim and Christian communities in Palestine continues to be the mainstay of our citizenship based on our Quranic creed,” he said. Haniyeh made the comments during the funeral of Hosam Al-Taweel, a Christian member of the Palestinian .Legislative Council (PLC), at Saint Porphyrius Church here. Citizenship is a sacred right for everybody whatever their beliefs and creeds might be. We work together as one family for the one and the same aim that is to get liberated from the (Israeli) occupation and establish the state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.
Paying tribute to the deceased MP, the Hamas leader said: “Brother Al-Taweel used to be a staunch supporter of the resistance against the Israeli occupation in the political sense of the word. Al-Taweel proved allegiance to our national fundamentals during his work at the PLC committee for the right of the .Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.


Catholics on Both Sides of the Gaza Border Pray for Peace

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) — As diplomatic efforts were underway to reach a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel Nov. 20, Catholics on both sides of the Gaza border prayed for peace.

“When we pray for peace, we pray for peace for everyone,” said Father Yoel Salvaterra, who serves the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, after a morning in which more than 20 rockets landed in the city. “Our prayers have no borders. We know we are suffering here and they are suffering there. It is just suffering.”

Egypt was reported to have been brokering a cease fire agreement between Hamas and the Israeli government late Nov. 20, according to news reports.

The parish celebrated Mass Nov. 18 in the church bomb shelter, Father Salvaterra said, and only 15 people came to pray, about half the normal number. The community has about 150 members.


Liberian Christians and Muslims campaign against gay marriage

MONROVIA, Liberia — A few hundred Liberians representing the Christian and Muslim faiths and civil society organizations gathered here Saturday to launch a campaign to press the government to ban same-sex marriage.

The campaign is seeking 1 million signatures supporting a resolution to ban gay and lesbian activities here.5

More than 25,000 signatures have already been gathered, the head of the citizens’ movement spearheading the campaign, Jim Tornonlah, told The Associated Press.

The Liberian senate recently passed a bill strengthening the law against homosexuality. It must be approved by the House of Representatives before it is sent to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to sign into law.



In troubled Egypt, Copts turn to beloved saint

MAR GIRGIS MONASTERY, Egypt — There was no mention of churches torched or Christians killed, but the prayer neatly written on a tiny piece of paper and placed atop an icon of St. George in the chapel of a desert monastery left no doubt about the growing fear and despair of Egypt’s Coptic Christians.

“Oh Lord, for the sake of all the saints of the church, raise high the banner of the cross and vanquish our enemies, the enemies of the church,” it read. “Make our enemies realize their weakness, foil their actions against us, bring joy to our hearts, increase our profit and make us victorious.”

There were folded slips of paper all over the icon of the Christian knight rearing on his steed and skewering a dragon with his spear. Tucked into its frame, piled on a small table below it, spilling on the floor around it, all pleas to God for health, fertility, wealth, happiness – and protection. Copts stood motionless in prayer before the image. Others broke into hymns praising his valor. Wanting to linger in the saint’s presence, families picnicked on the chapel floor, gossiping and eating sandwiches.

The past week, hundreds of thousands of Copts from across the country flocked to the monastery of Mar Girgis, as St. George is known in Arabic, in one of the biggest and most exuberant events of the year for Egypt’s Christians. The annual pilgrimage at the walled monastery in the deserts of southern Egypt overlooking the Nile is a festival of faith, a time to pay homage to the 3rd Century saint who is one of the most revered figures of Christianity’s oldest Church.