GAYChristianity, Judaism, and Islam need to break the gay taboo

It is almost spring, and love, of the gay variety, seems truly to be in the air. The last few weeks have brought a constant stream of good news for LGBT communities in Europe, not to mention encouraging developments in the United States and even within the Catholic Church.

British and French MPs spread the love in the run up to Valentine’s Day by giving non-heterosexual marriage a resounding vote of confidence, while Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of so-called “successive adoption” by same-sex couples.

Across the Atlantic, where same-sex marriage has faced stiff opposition from religious and social conservatives, a pro-gay marriage ad campaign featuring prominent Democrats and Republicans, including Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, has just been released, while there is talk that Barack Obama is planning to utilize the Supreme Court to push for same-sex matrimony.

Homosexuals, not to mention feminists, have toasted to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, who “made homophobia one of his battle cries”, according to one activist. This has left many in the LGBT community hopeful that the next and future popes will be more relaxed towards questions of sexuality, while activists have been urging the Vaticanto wake up to reality.

“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,”  wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, the Holy Father’s previous incarnation, in an opinion he wrote for his predecessor Pope John Paul II in 2003 on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Why? Apparently, because “marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law”.

Although the argument that homosexuality is unnatural is contrary to the available scientific evidence and undoubtedly angers gay communities and their supporters, this idea is common not only in the Catholic Church, but in other branches of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

However, despite Ratzinger’s protestations, deep, deep inside Christianity’s historic closet, there was greater tolerance of homosexuality than appears at first sight. Although the medieval and pre-modern church, especially during the various inquisitions, was well-known for persecuting and killing homosexuals, it may, at least at times, have been rather gay-friendly.


In run-up to parliament polls, Egypt’s Christians remain disaffected

coptsDespite president’s decision to bring date for legislative polls forward so as not to conflict with Easter holiday, Egypt’s Coptic Christians still appear to harbour resentment

“We’re told it’s a good thing that they decided to change the date of parliamentary elections to avoid their falling on the Easter holidays,” said Nabil, a Coptic-Christian silversmith in Cairo’s Heliopolis district. “I was really dismayed by the original date, but – let’s face it – these aren’t the easiest times for Christians.”

Speaking shortly after Egypt’s presidency changed the electoral timetable – which had initially failed to take into account Coptic Easter celebrations – Nabil said: “It’s not just the Muslim Brotherhood [the group from which President Mohamed Morsi hails]; the state never really paid much attention to Easter under [ousted president Hosni] Mubarak, too.”

He added: “The Muslims don’t recognise Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and as such Easter never meant much to the state.”

On Sunday evening, the presidency brought the date for parliamentary polls forward – from 27/28 April to 22/23 April – “in compliance with the demands of Coptic members of the Shura Council,” the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, which is currently endowed with legislative powers.


99 Names Exhibit at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center

(This is the first of a five part series by the artist introducing the project – an artistic endeavor focused on bringing to light the essence of the Islamic 99 “names” [attributes] of God)

compeller99 Names Project Introduction (Part 1)

When 9/11 happened, I was in something of a mental fog attending an art history class at BYU.  My mother had passed away a few months earlier and I was her executor–with all the good vibes that position brings with it in a family of four strong-willed brothers and their equally strong-willed wives–and I was realizing I had to actually graduate.  The realities of what happened in New York and elsewhere had a difficult time breaking into the net of the mundane filling my mind.

I had been taking a couple classes each term as I was slowly approaching my thesis project; because stained glass is not an official emphasis in the art program, I had worked out with the Powers That Be to take the one repeatable stained glass class over and over, and support my academic efforts with special projects in my job working full time at a stained glass studio.  With my mother’s passing, I had to finish up and graduate as per her last request and I was busily mentally adjusting to the full time student mindset.

It was startling how quickly that receded into the background as the magnitude of what had happened unfolded onto the American conscious.  It was also startling how quickly someone–a surviving someone–had to be blamed.  I fully supported military efforts to punish the guilty, and joined my fellow Americans on the lookout for any and all who acted suspiciously.

Then something started nagging at my conscience.  It wasn’t a group of evil people being blamed, it was an entire religion.  A quarter of the world’s population, I was regularly told, wanted me hurting and dead.  This was becoming socially sanctioned, media-driven religious persecution–something against which this country was originally formed.  And it bothered me greatly.

People who are different can be frightening, and many times we react to fear through aggression.  If we can warn off, threaten, or terrify the object of our fear, the situation (we think) is resolved.  But the fear itself remains.

When fear is attached to a group of people, this aggressive reaction can quickly become the ugly realization of prejudice.  When people in a neighborhood are afraid of losing jobs folks can become antagonistic towards immigrants, for example, and this behavior may become extended towards any group perceived as being unusual, different, or in any other way threatening.



Not Guilty: Pakistani Christian Sees Victory in Islamic Court

supreme-court-of-pakistan5A Pakistan court last month surprised all involved when it dismissed charges of blasphemy against a Christian man accused of insulting Islam.

The Jan. 28 ruling by a trial court in Punjab province surprised defendant Barkat Masih, his attorney and religious-rights advocates. It came two months after a different judge threw out similar charges against a teen-aged girl that drew worldwide criticism of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.

“I didn’t think God would rescue me from such an impossible situation,” Masih told World Watch Monitor, “but my miraculous rescue has strengthened my faith in Him.”

Masih, a 56-year-old high school custodian and a Hindu convert to Christianity, said his trouble started in September 2011. He was passing the time in an old Hindu shrine in his native village of Khairpur Tamewali, on two acres of land he said has been in his family for generations. The shrine pre-dates the 1947 partition of Pakistan from India, he said.

“Many people, belonging to all communities, gather there every Thursday to listen to Qawwalis (Islamic hymns) and to socialize. We have been caretakers of the shrine for three generations,” Masih told World Watch Monitor from Bahawalpur, a district in the heart of Punjab province known as a breeding ground for radical and jihadi outfits.

Two frequent visitors to the shrine, whom Masih identified as Muhammad Saleem and Muhammad Shoaib, arrived.

“They deliberately started an altercation with me, alleging that I had spoken ill of the Muslim prophet during a conversation with them,” he said. “I couldn’t make out what they were saying. They accused me of indulging in black magic even though they knew I couldn’t read or write. The other people present there intervened in the situation and forced the two men to leave.”



Christians, Muslims Coexist Amid Chaos in Syria

General view of 1,500-year-old Saidnaya monastery, near Damascus, during light-up of 35-metre tall Christmas treeBy: Tareq al-Abed Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).

Al-Qalamoun’s towns might be a model for peace and coexistence. It is here where people confront strife and where everyone stands together against the dangers that beset their homes and the region in general — from al-Tal, to Rankous, Saidnaya, Maaloula, Jirod, al-Qatifa, Yabrud, Nabak and Deir Attieh. These cities are quiet, but solid as a rock. They gave the world the Aramaic language, and to this day there are monasteries and historic churches in Saidnaya, Maaloula and Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi in Nabak. Those towns, along with neighboring towns in Lebanon, gave South America prominent leaders, such as former Argentine president Carlos Menem, originally from Yabrud.

Reaching Yabrud is not easy, as it is not off the highway that connects Damascus and Homs. This highway has been the site of clashes between the regime army and the opposition. Yabrud, a quiet town with a population of about 40,000, has succeeded in distancing itself from the lawlessness that has affected most of the country. There are no government soldiers in Yabrud. They are stationed on the road leading to town, which suffers from a lack of electricity, communications and fuel. Even so, Yabrud seems well organized. Its judicial body is able to resolve disputes, and its courts and the police are also functional. The armed opposition is abiding by the directives of the town council, so the town has succeeded in controlling the so-called revolution’s merchants — those who have taken advantage of the situation for their own interests. The town’s inhabitants refuse to replace one tyrant with another. It is worth noting that there is no trace whatsoever of tensions between Muslims and Christians in the town, despite the chaos that has jolted the country.


Murder In Zanzibar: Christians, Muslims Struggle To Keep The Peace In Tourist Hotspot

zanzibarFather Evarist Mushi was on his way to lead a service at the Betras Catholic Church in Mtoni — an area not far from Stone Town, a World Heritage Site — when assailants cornered and killed him. The incident echoes a similar attack in December, when attackers shot and seriously wounded another Catholic priest in the Tomondo area to the south of Stone Town.

Mushi’s death spurred condemnation from security officials on the island, who urged calm and vowed to apprehend the perpetrators.

“We understand that these crimes are being propped up by some bad elements under the pretext of politics, religion or economic reasons, though no religion or political grouping supports violence in principle,” said Said Mwema, the Tanzanian inspector general of police, according to the Tanzania Daily News.

Despite these assurances, the death of Father Mushi is sure to unsettle Zanzibar’s Christians, who are vastly outnumbered on the archipelago. Tanzania as a whole is 60 percent Christian and 36 percent Muslim. But in Zanzibar, more than 95 percent of residents follow Islam.

Religion is integral to Tanzanian society; a full 95 percent of both Christians and Muslims said that faith was a very important part of their lives, according to data from a comprehensive 2010 poll conducted by the The Pew Forum. Of Tanzania’s Muslims, 86 percent said the Quran should be taken literally; 78 percent of Christians said the same of the Bible.

A division between the country’s two largest religious groups is evident. Though the survey found that 95 percent of both groups said religiously motivated violence could not be justified, a majority of Muslims said they knew little or nothing about Christianity, just as the majority of Christians said they knew little or nothing about Islam.


Egypt detains Islamic preacher for insulting Christianity

Egyptian-cleric-Ahmed-Abdullah-via-AFPEgypt’s state prosecutor ordered on Sunday an extremist Islamic preacher detained for questioning on suspicion of insulting religion after a complaint from a Christian activist, a judicial source said.

The preacher Ahmed Abdullah, known as Abu Islam, is already on trial for tearing up a bible during a protest outside the American embassy in Cairo in September over a short film made in the United States that insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

The latest probe came after a complaint filed by Coptic Christian activist Nagib Gibrail who accused Abu Islam of insulting Christians on a television show.

Egyptian law forbids insults against religion, allowing police in the past to arrest Shiite Muslims and Christians for alleged slights against Islam.

A court last month upheld death sentences for seven Egyptian Coptic Christians who live in the United States and were accused of producing “Innocence of Muslims,” a movie that insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

The movie triggered outrage across the Muslim world when it surfaced last September.


Is the Lenten Season Awkward for Muslims? Not at Georgetown University

2013-02-08-GeorgetownHealyHallI’ve often heard that the Lenten Season is the most awkward time between Christians and Muslims. This is probably because the end of Jesus’s (PBUH) story is one of the major differences between our two religions. In Islam, Jesus ascended directly into Heaven and was not killed while the Romans crucified another man who was “made by Allah to appear like Jesus” (Quran 4:157-158). For many Muslims, engaging with Christians around the time of Easter is especially challenging because the Christian belief in Jesus’s crucifixion is central and frames much of Christian identity.

However, since Muslims and Christians often find common ground in Jesus’ teachings, I believe that a holy period focused on Jesus provides opportunities to reinforce the commonalities between our faiths. Indeed, attending Georgetown University showed me the enormous potential for interfaith dialogue about common values during the Lenten season.

Georgetown is a Jesuit-Catholic institution, but the university greatly supports other chaplaincies and actively encourages other religious groups to host their own events during the Lenten season. For example, virtually all chaplaincies (and even some secular organizations) host spring retreats which emphasize personal reflection and spiritual growth. Retreats are part of the university’s Ignatian heritage, but people of all faiths (and non-faith, as well) are invited to engage with the Jesuit value of Contemplation in Action. Also, Georgetown hosts a large number of community service and interfaith events designed to bring the campus together around Jesuit values ofWomen and Men for others and Community in Diversity. Although these principles are officially part of Jesuit spirituality, I have found many similarities between them and my personal values as a Muslim. Through Georgetown’s many forums for inter-religious dialogue, I have grown stronger in my own faith.

Mali: Christian or Muslim – ‘We Are All Victims of Those Terrorists’

MaliChurchMopti — At the entrance to the Evangelical church in Mopti, central Mali, military soldiers stood on either side of the door as Pastor Luc Sagara greeted his parishioners for Sunday mass.

The presence of the soldiers were a stark reminder that less than three weeks ago the town was under occupation by Islamist extremists committed to the imposition of Sharia law in this West African nation.

“We feel safe now. With the French intervention, we are hopeful that the Islamists will not attack us,” Sagara told IPS.

France launched a military intervention in Mali on Jan. 11 at the request of the country’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré after extremists advanced on the town of Konna, 60 kilometres northeast of Mopti. As the Islamists occupied town after town, intent on seizing the capital Bamako, Sharia law was imposed, and Christians and moderate Muslims were persecuted.

Since April 2012, northern Mali has been taunted by a coalition of armed groups composed of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, and Ansar Dine, an Islamist group among Mali’s Tuareg population that live across the country’s southeast.


Egypt blocks YouTube over anti-Islam film

youtubeA Cairo court has ordered the government to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube for a month for carrying an anti-Islam film that caused deadly riots across the world.

Judge Hassouna Tawfiq ordered on Saturday Youtube’s suspension in the country over the film, which he described as “offensive to Islam and the Prophet (Muhammad)”.

Tawfiq made the ruling in the Egyptian capital where the first protests against the film erupted last September before spreading to more than 20 countries, leading to the deaths of more than 50 people.

YouTube’s parent company, Google, declined requests to remove the video from the website last year, but restricted access to it in certain countries, including Egypt, Libya and Indonesia, because it says the video broke laws in those countries.

At the height of the protests in September, YouTube was ordered blocked in several countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah issued an order blocking all websites with access to the anti-Islam film in the kingdom.