Muslims finding common ground with Christians: The path to peace


Christians and Muslims united#3#This week, my Muslim friend Raheel Raza asked me to come to Toronto’s Pakistani Consulate with her to protest her faith’s violent extremism against Christianity. It was an unexpected reach of kindness from Islam to me, a Christian, in response to a horrific attack days earlier at All Saints Anglican in Peshawar, which saw 85 Christians die when obscurantist suicide bombers rushed church doors as worshippers left. Like many, I’m angry that a powerful religion cannot correct its jihadism, and I don’t trust its ethos.

Hamid Ghassemi-Shall is a Muslim-Canadian who this week was finally released from Iranian prison after both Muslims and Christians lobbied five years for his freedom. Interfaith high-fives and hugs occurred between those working behind the scenes for his safe return to Canada – and then wise words were exchanged on the need for discretion over just how deep the co-operation really went.


These are two small illustrations from the salient truth that “A Common Word,” a ground-breaking initiative by Muslim leaders, has been exporting: “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.”



Fox host wants to take away my rights

130928140729-obeidallah-beckel-story-topEditor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the co-director of the new comedy documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” which was released this month. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) — Fox News’ Bob Beckel believes that I, as an American-Muslim, should have fewer constitutional rights simply because of my religious faith.

Beckel, the so-called “liberal” on Fox News, made this point on his show this week while discussing the horrific terror attack on the Kenyan shopping mall. Beckel opined that Muslims should not be allowed to build any more houses of worship in America, “until you stand up and denounce what’s happened in the name of your prophet.”

Sorry Bob, you’re dead wrong. If you would take a moment to read our amazing U.S. Constitution, you would perhaps understand the rights we are all guaranteed as Americans, such as freedom of religion.

But when you hear Beckel speak, you get the sense he isn’t a big fan of reading.

Let me address this to Beckel: I have never built a mosque, nor do I have plans to. But if I wanted to build one, I could build one right next to your house. In fact, I almost want to start a fundraising campaign on entitled: “Raise money to build a mega-mosque next to Bob Beckel’s house.”


Muslim beauty pageant challenges Miss World contest

image1.adapt.924.high.1379531854624Muslim women from six countries wore headscarves and elaborately embroidered dresses as they took to the stage Wednesday for the finale of an Islamic beauty pageant in Jakarta, Indonesia, a riposte to the Miss World contest that has sparked hardline anger.

Twenty contestants showed off the latest Islamic fashion trends in the Muslimah World pageant and will also take part in other activities, such as reciting the Koran.

“We’re just trying to show the world that Islam is beautiful,” said Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola, a 21-year-old contestant from Nigeria told Agence France Presse. “We are free and the hijab is our pride.” On Wednesday, Ajibola was crowned the winner of the pageant.

Organizers of the event said they wanted to show Muslim women there is an alternative to the idea of beauty put forward by the British-run Miss World pageant. They also stress that opposition to the pageant can be expressed non-violently.

Organizer Eka Shanti, who founded the pageant three years ago after losing her job as TV news anchor for refusing to remove her headscarf, bills the contest as “Islam’s answer to Miss World.”

“This year we deliberately held our event just before the Miss World final to show that there are alternative role models for Muslim women,” she told AFP.

Despite a pledge by Miss World organizers to drop the famous bikini round in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, Islamist demonstrators have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the event, denouncing the contest as “pornography” and burning effigies of the organizers.


Syria Christians, Muslims may meet in summit

Christians and Muslims in Syria massAFP – Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives in a drive to use faith to spur peace efforts, the World Council of Churches said Thursday.

“We plan to have parallel consultations when the Geneva II meeting happens, so we can mobilise both Church leaders and other religious leaders for a commitment to a peace process in Syria,” WCC head Olav Fyske Tveit told reporters.

Asked whether he aimed to get Muslim clerics from inside Syria on board, he replied: “We’ll see what’s possible. But of course we’ll invite them, and other major Muslim partners, who come from the opposition of course, but also from neighbouring countries.”

The so-called Geneva II negotiations are meant to be based on talks in the Swiss city in June 2012, where world powers called for a Syrian transition government.

But the warring sides failed to agree on whether President Bashar al-Assad could play a role, and amid spiralling fighting the plan stalled.

In a renewed effort to hold Geneva II, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 28.

Moves for a parallel faith summit followed talks among Church leaders, including from Syria, at a closed-door WCC meeting Wednesday attended by Brahimi.


The Vatican, Christianity and Islam


I feel lucky to have visited the Italian capital, one of the world’s most spectacular cities, about half-a-dozen times. Yet until the other day, I had never had the chance to see the Vatican Museum, which turned out to be a gem as amazing as Rome itself.

Besides the breathtaking aesthetics, though, I noticed something else in the museum that gave me some food for thought: Openness. First, I noted, the Vatican is open to visitors from all faiths and persuasions. Muslims can freely walk in, along with atheists, Jews, Hindus or whomever. Secondly, the Vatican Museum is open to non-Christian traditions as well, in the sense that it has countless numbervatican1s of pagan statues dating from the pre-Christian Romans and Greeks.

I well know that Christianity, particularly Catholicism, has in fact not been a very open religion for most of its millennia-old history, as the “heretics” or “witches” who were burnt at the stake well knew.
Moreover, there are still important liberal criticisms against the church, on issues such as gender equality and birth control.

Yet still, the openness I saw at the Vatican led me, a Muslim believer, to some comparative thoughts. Unlike the Vatican, the holiest center of Catholicism, the three holiest sites of Islam (Mecca, Medina and the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem) are closed to non-Muslims – so that you have to prove that you are a Muslim in order to enter these spaces. Moreover, I also cannot imagine a museum at these sacred sites, or any other Islamic shrines, which can host elements of non-Islamic cultures, especially pre-Islamic ones superseded by the Muslim faith.


Hindu, Muslim, Jewish Groups Join Fight Against Texas Cheerleaders’ Bible Banners

Cheerleaders-Banner-300x193KOUNTZE, Tx. – Four months after a district judge ruled that cheerleaders could legally display Bible verse banners at school football games, several religious organizations have joined a court brief challenging the decision.

As previously reported, public school cheerleaders in the tiny east Texas community of Kountze are fighting for the right to display banners with inspirational Bible verses at sporting events. Following a complaint last year by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, school officials ordered the cheerleaders to stop including Scriptures on their signs. However, the Liberty Institute—a religious rights organization—legally challenged the school’s action, and in early May a Texas judge ruled that the banner displays were constitutional.

Despite the ruling in the cheerleaders’ favor, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday filed a 79-page “friend of the court” brief in Texas’ Ninth District Court of Appeals. Although the document was written by ACLU attorneys, several other organizations are listed as sponsors of the motion, including the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Muslim Advocates, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Hindu American Foundation, the Sikh Coalition and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, more Muslims live in Texas than any other state,” the ACLU asserted in a news release announcing the participation of the groups. “Texas is second only to California in the number of Hindus and ranks third in the number of Buddhists.”


Christian, Muslim leaders examine challenges of Arab Christians

e3de_sc04-arab-ach-950pBy Dale Gavlak
Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — For decades, Arab Christians have been fleeing the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East in droves, mainly because of violence.

Within the past two-and-a-half years, some 450,000 Christians are believed to be among the 2 million people who have fled the civil war in Syria, an ancient land of historic churches, the country where St. Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus.

Some 70 high-ranking Arab church leaders, together with their Western counterparts, and Muslim clerics gathered in Amman for a Sept. 3-4 meeting aimed at tackling “the challenges of Arab Christians.”

The Christian and Muslims leaders aimed to find a way to end the sectarian strife threatening their people and countries.

“We must confront extremist trends,” Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the gathering. He said it was the duty of religious leaders and their communities to work jointly “to get the new generation to accept ‘the other,'” in order to “isolate these trends.”

Sheik Aref Nayed, a Libyan Muslim theologian, challenged participants to consider what factors help create extremist groups in the first place and whether religious leaders may have also failed to protect their people against government-sanctioned violence.


Christians in Middle East: U.S. attack on Syria would be detrimental

Syrian-Christians-wait-for-the-crisis-to-end-0G1F9KOJ-x-largeNEW YORK (RNS) As the Obama administration considers a strike in response to recent chemical attacks, the head of a global evangelical group said Wednesday (Sept. 4) that Christians in the Middle East oppose military intervention in Syria.

“There is major consensus amongst the Christian leaders in this region that any military intervention would have a detrimental effect … on Christians in Syria,” wrote Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general/CEO of World Evangelical Alliance, in a letter to the State Department, the White House and the United Nation’s Security Council.

Tunnicliffe was attending a meeting of Christian leaders in neighboring Jordan that included California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, “Touched by an Angel” actress Roma Downey and her “Survivor” creator husband Mark Burnett.

The group, convened by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, met with about 70 Middle Eastern Christians to discuss the challenges facing Arab Christians.

“I couldn’t find a Christian leader at the conference who supported military intervention,” Tunnicliffe said in an interview. “The question is, how do you protect Christians if there’s a regime change?”

Tunnicliffe said two Syrian pastors told him independently that Christians have received threats from those who say a regime change would mean a takeover by Islamists who would force Christians out of the country.

Christian representatives from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan were present at the gathering, as well as a few Muslim clerics and academics. In his address, King Abdullah IIurged interfaith harmony.