Muslim on Main Street: Akbar Ahmed on American Muslims

AkbarAhmed-588x330Once an international diplomat, this scholar now seeks to build bridges between American Muslims and their neighbors.

Akbar Ahmed has written a book of poetry and traveled the world as an anthropologist, but perhaps his most fitting title is ambassador. The former Pakistani ambassador to England, Ahmed has lived his life between cultures.

Growing up in Pakistan, he had great respect for the Catholic priests who educated him. As a young administrator in Waziristan, Pakistan, however, Ahmed also witnessed the ascent of literalist Islam.

When he came to the United States in 2000, Ahmed recognized that Americans knew nothing of that world. He landed at American University in Washington in August 2001—“divine providence,” the interfaith leaders he works with tell him.

“From 9/11 on—and I am not exaggerating—I haven’t had one 24-hour period when I’ve not been on TV, radio, talking to students, in the White House or the Pentagon, trying to close the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims,” he says.



Study: Muslim job candidates may face discrimination in Republican states

NA-BB812_MILMUS_G_20091106213119A new study by Carnegie Mellon University found that in the most Republican states in the country, employers may be less likely to interview job candidates whose social networking profiles indicate that the applicants are Muslim.

As part of a social experiment, the researchers created four fictitious job candidates – each with a unique name that most likely points to someone who is male, U.S. born and Caucasian. The candidates had identical resumes. The researchers also created social network profiles for each of the candidates that revealed either his sexual orientation or whether he was a Muslim or Christian. All other information, including the profile photograph used for each candidate, was the same. The resumes, which did not mention the candidates’ online profile, were then sent out to more than 4,000 employers nationwide with job openings.

Readers should note that the study’s authors did not design the pool of open jobs to be representative of all jobs available in the country, or in Republican-leaning or Democrat-leaning states. The number of job vacancies varied from state to state, and overall, a smaller share of all open jobs was located in Republican states.

In both Republican and Democratic states, there was no difference between the call backs received by the gay candidate as compared with the straight candidate. But in the Republican states, the Christian candidate received more interview calls than the Muslim candidate. In the 10 states with the highest proportion of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney voters in the 2012 election, 17% of Christian applicants received interview calls, compared with 2% of the Muslim job candidates. There were no differences in call backs received by the Christian and Muslim candidates in the 10 states with the lowest proportion of Romney voters.


Muslim at Korea World Christian Churches Congress

AMuslim-at-the-World-ChristianChurches-KoreaThe Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) was founded after the Second World War as a forum for Christians to try and bring the different branches of Christianity closer together after centuries of division.

Since that time Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians, all with their different histories, traditions and beliefs, have all worked for the day when there will just be one Christian Church. Since then, every seven years the WCC has held a global Congress where participants of the member Churches come together to discuss the faith they have in common.

So it was that in November 2013 around four thousand Christians from all across the globe gathered in Busan, South Korea, for the 10th. such Assembly of the World Council of Churches.ULL


Catholics, Muslims Break Bread in New Jersey Mosque

20101021_inq_jmosque24-bA Muslim religious leader chanted Islamic prayers from the Koran as he often does at the Voorhees Islamic Center mosque.

But Thursday’s event was far from the usual prayer ritual.

Sitting near Muslim leader Imam Riyadh Thabata that night was the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden, Bishop Dennis Sullivan, and other diocesan priests.

In the audience, Muslims and Catholics sat side by side.

They gathered for a ceremony praising the new Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation that promotes respect and love between the two religious communities and establishes the Catholic-Muslim Commission of Southern New Jersey.

It was the second interfaith visit that day for the bishop, who earlier met in Cherry Hill with members of the Jewish Federation. The diocese has had a 20-year interfaith relationship with the federation.

“Christians and Muslims should live in peace with one another, and as bishop, I support the commission’s work,” Sullivan said in addressing the mosque gathering. He stood in front of a decorative concave wall of mosaic tiles with the imam alongside.


Leading Nigerian prelate: ‘discover the African brand of Christianity,’ learn about Islam

imagesIn a recent address to a diocesan synod, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria called upon Christians to “discover the African brand of Christianity and Islam” and learn about Islam.

“Knowing that not everybody is a Jew, Arab or Roman, we should work hard to discover the African brand of Christianity and Islam,” said Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, according to a Catholic News Service of Nigeria report. “There was a time when Christians prayed only in Latin but now, the Christians are able to pray in the local language.”

“If the Africans can rediscover the values of hospitality, love of community life, respect for elders, and many others, we shall discover that ethnic wars will minimize greatly,” he continued. “The Christian should take a bold step to study Islam, while the Muslim should take bold step to study the Christian religion. This knowledge of the facts of each other’s religion will go a long way to promote peaceful coexistence. It will make us live and accept instead of mere tolerance.”


The Hijab — The Meaning of a Scarf

To show modern Palestine both in its people and its institutions, we popped into Birzeit University. Its campus, at the edge of Ramallah, has an enrollment of about 10,000. With beautiful landscaping connecting modern buildings and a student body that seemed like the future leaders of this young country, the campus was a huge contrast with the intense and chaotic cities.

Strolling through the campus, I sensed a younger generation working hard for a stable and prosperous future. My agenda was to connect with young women and learn a bit about the status of women in Palestine. Along with many other things, I’m curious about the beautiful hijab, or head covering. I’ve noticed that some women throughout the country wear it, while others don’t.

We’ve filmed a series of interviews with people from many walks of life in Israel and Palestine to be used as DVD extras for our Holy Land special (and, I hope, for radio interviews). Our guide set us up with these three women. They were majoring in architecture and civil engineering and spoke English well. We had a delightful conversation about the role of women in a Muslim-dominated society. They all agreed that there were more women than men here in higher education, and that they can do anything if they work hard. Still, the consensus was that a woman’s role is generally to raise children and run the family, while the man’s role is to be out making the money.

The women I talked with agreed that women are free to be individuals in Palestine, and that choosing to wear the hijab was entirely up to them. The woman who covers up is just as socially active and in on all of the jokes and fun. But when she walks in public, she feels she gets more respect.

While a woman on the street wearing a scarf is treated differently, that doesn’t mean she isn’t fashion-conscious. One woman I met told me that she has over a hundred scarves, and each morning, she enjoys choosing one that fits her mood. It’s an ensemble. You never wear pattern-on-pattern or solid-on-solid. If the dress is solid, the hijab will be patterned. And color coordination is important, too. Many women are sure to have toenail polish, handbag, lipstick, and scarf all in sync.


A Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew walked into a church in Texas . . .

I am here in Texas, in the heart of the Bible Belt. I have met here not just one Muslim, Christian and Jew but a number, and I believe there are Buddhists here also. Thespeaker list is quite impressive.

I’ve already realized that this Global Faith Forum is going to be unlike any other event I have ever attended. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some very interesting people already. These are just some of them:

  • A Christian who is serving in Iraq to help in the provision of specialist healthcare.
  • A man with the surname “Love” who works in conflict resolution
  • A Rabbi and an Imam who seem to be good friends
  • A Palestinian Arab Christian who is an Israeli citizen
  • A guy who was part of the Microsoft One launch party before coming here!

UntitledTalking with some of the presenter team about why we are all here, it was clear that we all had one thing in common: We are all friends of Bob. Apparently, when Bill Clinton was president, in Washington there was an acronym “FOB” as it seemed everyone was a “friend of Bill!” So jokingly we adapted that nickname among ourselves.

The conference began, not with worship, as this is not an eccumenical “lowest common denominator” type of gathering. But the church’s worship band did play a Texas tune.

Bob then interviewed Jack Sara who described his experiences growing up as a Palestinian Arab Christian, with an Israeli citizenship. He explained that for him he had many friends who were Muslims, Christians, and Jews. He described how actually he had experienced good relationships. He did say one specific thing which I thought was very interesting. He said that he and his friends growing up just didn’t talk about their faiths.  I can certainly see why that may have been a very wise approach in Israel and Palestine. But it seems to me that being together without a war starting is one step. The next step is us being able to actually talk about our faith.  In a sense that is what Patheos is all about with our motto here “hosting the conversation on faith.”


Lebanese Shiite leader launches interfaith dialogue

Shiite cleric Ali Fadlallah (R), son of“God taught us how to converse with all people. There are no sanctities when it comes to dialogue. God Almighty himself spoke to the devil. Are there people like the devil? Also, the Quran is a book of dialogue with polytheists about the unity of God, and with infidels about the existence of God and the prophecy of Muhammad.” This is how the late Lebanese Shiite cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah responded when asked about the increased talk of interfaith dialogue in the 1990s.

The occasion to talk about the late Fadlallah today, and about his call for dialogue with the “Other” — especially with other Christian and Islamic sects — is an initiative launched by his son, the scholar Sayyed Ali Fadlallah. The latter established the “Religions and Cultures Forum for Development and Dialogue,” in which 50 different personalities participated, including Muslim and Christian clerics and intellectuals from Lebanon and other countries of the Arab and Islamic world.

This forum was announced by Fadlallah during a ceremony held in Beirut on Tuesday, Oct. 30, attended by MPs, politicians, party leaders, intellectuals and media figures. The most prominent attendees included the head of the Loyalty to the Resistance (Hezbollah) Bloc, MP Mohammad Raad; the head of the Islamic Group in Lebanon’s political bureau, Azzam Ayoubi; a representative of former Lebanese President and Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel; and delegations from the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party.

A number of religious leaders were also in attendance, including the Rev. Fadi Daou, a representative of Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara al-Rai; Rev. Sulaiman Wehbe, a representative of the patriarch of Antakya, Alexandria and Jerusalem for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Gregory III Laham; a representative for the papal ambassador to Lebanon; Archbishop Daniel Sukkar, a representative for Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas; and a number of Sunni, Shiite and Druze religious scholars from Lebanon and the Arab and Islamic world. The most notable among the latter were the General Secretary of the Supreme Islamic Legislative Council Sheikh Khaldoun Oraymit, and Sheikh Sami Abou al-Mona, who represented the spiritual leader for the Druze sect Sheikh Naim Hassan.


Christians and Muslims Mingle in Bethlehem

2013-11-12-RS13Summer_0930Both of my Palestinian guides helped me understand that here in the Holy Land, “religion” is a matter of both faith and culture. Muslims, Jews, and Christians who don’t practice their family’s faith still embrace that tribe or clan as an identity. Even non-practicing Christians wear a cross to indicate their culture (not their faith). And it can be devastating for a young person to marry out of their faith. On the other hand, someone told me, “I’m a Christian. My friends are Muslim. For us, it’s cultural more than religious. When we get old and scared of death, then we become more religious.”

The whole religion vs. culture thing is interesting to me, as there are so many intersections between my Lutheran/Norwegian heritage and the Catholic/Irish or Catholic/Italian or Catholic/Filipino heritage of my friends and loved ones.

In Palestine, where Christians are an important minority, Christians tell me they don’t feel treated like a minority. Among Palestinians, one’s Arab-ness trumps their Christian-ness or Muslim-ness when it comes to identity. But in Israel, Arab Israelis report to really feeling treated as if they’re a minority.


Iran urges dialogue between Islam, Christianity

333164_Iran-VaticanIran President Hassan Rouhani has called for dialogue between Islam and Christianity as the followers of both religions share the same divine values and face a common enemy.

Rouhani made the remarks on Tuesday as he received Vatican’s new Apostolic Nuncio to Tehran Archbishop Leo Boccardi to submit his credentials. 

The Iranian president stressed the need for dialogue between Islam and Christianity as well as Shias and Catholics. 

“Today we have common objectives and enemies. Extremism and terrorism are our common enemies and, based on the divine teachings, human interactions and cooperation for the elimination of poverty and injustice are common objectives,” the Iranian president added.