Israeli law distinguishing between Christian, Muslim Arabs draws fire

gaza2JERUSALEM   – A new Israeli law giving Muslim and Christian Arab citizens separate representation on a national employment commission drew fire from the Palestinians on Tuesday.
“This law aims to create a new reality among our people based on religion and not national identity,” Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement. Israel’s parliament on Monday passed into law a bill expanding the equal opportunities commission from five to 10 members, and giving separate seats for the first time to representatives of Christian and Muslim Arab workers’ groups.
“We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within,” Haaretz daily quoted the bill’s sponsor, Yariv Levin, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, as saying. It also sets aside seats for Druze, ultra-Orthodox Jews and families of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, all groups which have higher than average unemployment.


Muslims seek refuge in Central African Republic church

164-onLGU.AuSt.55CARNOT, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC — The Christian militiamen know hundreds of Muslims are hiding here on the grounds of the Catholic church and now they’re giving them a final ultimatum: Leave Central African Republic within a week or face death at the hands of machete-wielding youths.

On Monday, some of the 30 Cameroonian peacekeepers fired into the air to disperse angry militia fighters congregated outside the concrete walls of the church compound. The gunfire sent traumatized children running for cover and set off a chorus of wails throughout the courtyard.

The peacekeepers are all that stand between nearly 800 Muslims and the armed gangs who want them dead. Already the fighters known as the anti-Balaka have brought 40 liters (10 gallons) of gasoline and threatened to burn the church to the ground.



An Islamic Louvre On Venice’s Canals

1393156176944.cachedVenice has never had an easy time with its cultural history.  For centuries the lagoon city was an important trade hub between East and West, essentially importing spices and fabrics from the Middle East to distribute throughout Europe, filling the city’s coffers in the meantime.  But the Venetians also readily took part in the Saracen Crusades, killing and condemning the very trade partners who made them rich.  Now Venetians are struggling once again with their history thanks to the prospect of a new museum dedicated to Islamic art, slated to fill one of the empty 19th-century palaces next to the Rialto bridge on the city’s famous Grand Canal.

The museum was the brainchild of former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who agreed to make  “a commitment to explore the opportunity to build an Islamic museum in Venice” on a recent visit to Qatar. Italy has 1.2 million Muslim residents and 20,000 Italians who have converted to Islam from Catholicism.   But Venetians are torn between whether they want a museum dedicated to Islamic art and culture in the city known best for its Catholic carnivale traditions, which kick off next week.  Lorenzo Fontana, a European parliamentarian for the xenophobic Northern League party, which holds strong anti-Islam sentiments, said he and his party members will do whatever they can to stop any work to build the art space.  “If they try to do this then we will camp out in front of the site day and night and obstruct the work,” he said after Letta’s visit.  “We will sleep and eat there, they will have to take us away by force, and when they take us away, we’ll simply return. The Veneto wants independence, not Islamic museums.”


Thinking Through Islam

swanson-mThis is a reflection paper written 2002 in by Dr. Mark Swanson, associate director of our Center, and professor of Christian-Muslim relations at LSTC.   What it proposes about Christian-Muslim relations remains as pertinent now as it was then. 

Through” is a tricky preposition when its object is one of the great faiths of humankind, claiming the allegiance of about a fifth of the world’s people. I need not go farther than my mailbox or a few clicks away on the internet to find evidence of zealous Christians attempting to “see through” Islam, looking (they believe) beyond and beneath superficial pieties and apologetic constructions in order to comprehend the essential nature of Islam—to prepare for Christian evangelism, perhaps, or simply to affirm the superiority of their own Christian faith. This is not my intention with the expression “‘thinking through’ Islam.” To “think through” is not a matter of the other becoming transparent to my all-knowing gaze. While it does not exclude analysis and criticism carried out with the requisite humility, it has to do especially with ways by which that other may become notonly an object of reflection but also a conversation partner and teacher.



Farrakhan urges Christian-Muslim ties

628x471DETROIT (AP) — The black community must unite across Christian-Muslim lines and recognize the common goals among the diverse approaches of its past leaders, from Malcolm X to W.E.B. DuBois, because they all “wanted our liberation,” Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told thousands of supporters Sunday in Detroit.

Farrakhan spoke to a packed Detroit Joe Louis Arena during his keynote address during the annual four-day Saviours’ Day convention. He touched on a range of topics, including problems facing the bankrupt host city, where the National of Islam started.

He spoke of the common reverence for Jesus that that Muslims and Christians share, and praised the work of Christian ministers in spreading the word of God. Farrakhan went through what he called his “Pantheon” of black leaders, describing how Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, DuBois and Malcolm X were part of a common struggle.

“All of them wanted our liberation,” Farrakhan told the crowd. “Can you hold onto the common thread that binds them all together as one?”


Scholar: Disagreement good for the interfaith soul

imagesArguing has always been an integral part of Jewish tradition, going back to Abraham’s debate with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham didn’t win that one, but his ancestors have carried on his and other Jewish prophets’ knack for argumentation, according to Loyola University professor Devorah Schoenfeld.

“We love to argue,” Schoenfeld said at the 12th Annual Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue Feb. 10 at the University of Toledo. Her topic was “Disagree: The Power of Sacred Dissent.”

She displayed copies of the Talmud, a Jewish text in which Scriptures are surrounded by commentaries and interpretations by rabbis.

Arguing, challenging, and asking questions are “life-giving” activities, Schoenfeld said, and she encouraged participants in interfaith dialogues to discuss their differences and not be afraid to challenge one another’s beliefs.

“When I have somebody who challenges me, who confuses me, then I have the possibility of growing,” she said. “If I have a partner who just tells me I’m right, then I stagnate; then I die. It’s tragic.”

An assistant professor of theology/Judaism at Loyola University in Chicago, Schoenfeld was the keynote speaker at the dialogue, which alternates among religions in leading the annual dialogue. Peter Feldmeier, professor of Catholic studies, and Ovamir Anjum, professor of Islamic studies, both of the University of Toledo, presented brief responses from their own traditions’ perspectives.

Schoenfeld gave the audience of about 65 people an assignment: to read a selection from the Talmud aloud to a partner, then discuss, interpret and take a stand on the text.

Reading aloud and debating the meaning of a text is taught in yeshiva, or Jewish schools. “In a yeshiva, it’s not quiet; it’s not a library,” Schoenfeld said, adding that reading aloud and listening are important parts of the process of interpretation.


A Christian-Muslim crisis of faith in Africa

car_full_380With Christians and Muslims killing each other in the Central African Republic, the country needs more than foreign troops. A group of interfaith religious leaders are banding together to make peace real.

The last time the world watched Christians and Muslims kill each other by the thousands was in the 1990s during the Balkan wars. Now, two decades later, a similar massacre is occurring in the Central African Republic – and with a brutality just as shocking.

As with the Balkans, world leaders are again wringing their hands over how to stop the sectarian slaughter in the Central African Republic, an impoverished and landlocked country the size of Texas near the heart of Africa. They are hoping for local solutions.

Since early December, when a Muslim president was forced from office, Christian and Muslim militias have been engaged in religious cleansing of villages and town. About a quarter of the country’s 5 million people, which is majority Christian, have been displaced. Many more need food aid.

As the mass killing of people based simply on their faith has intensified, so too have international efforts to intervene. Some 7,000 troops from France and other African nations have so far tried to suppress the militias. But the United Nations is weighing whether to send more forces.

“Our common objective is to end the violence between Muslim and Christian communities,” says UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. “We must act without delay.”


President Rouhani Donates To Jewish Hospital: Iranian Leader Gives $400,000 Interfaith Gift

Switzerland Davos ForumPresident Hassan Rouhani of Iran surprised Tehran’s only Jewish hospital with a generous donation on Thursday, reports the New York Times. His brother personally delivered $400,00 to the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center, along with the message that “the Health Ministry would give more attention to hospitals that traditionally serve Christian and Jewish Iranians,” according to the Mehr News Agency. Another news source, Tabnak, reported the amount as $200,000 but said a second installment would be coming.

A nurse said to the Times, “We are very happy. This is a good sign.”

Tabnak quoted the message delivered by the hospital by Hossein Fereydoon as saying, “Our government intends to unite all ethnic groups and religions, so we decided to assist you.”

This is the second time that Rouhani has donated to the hospital, reported the Times of Israel. His actions stand in stark contrast with his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who notoriously denied the Holocaust.

Iran’s Jewish community is the largest group in the Middle East other than in Israel, numbering about 25,000.

Earlier this year, Rouhani sent a personal New Year’s message to Iran’s Jews via Twitter, wishing them “a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”


A Look at Muslim-Christian Relations in Ethiopia

1390326813014The Muslim-Christian relationship in Ethiopia has a mixed historical background. Ethiopia is located on a religious fault line, although the relationship between the two religions has been reasonably cordial in recent decades.

Christian rule has prevailed in the Ethiopian highlands since the early 4th century. Early in the 7th century a group of Arab followers of Islam in danger of persecution by local authorities in Arabia took refuge in the Axumite Kingdom of the Ethiopian highlands. As a result of this generosity, the Prophet Mohammed concluded that Ethiopia should not be targeted for jihad. Not all Muslims took this message seriously and subsequent contact was less cordial. In the late 15th century, Islamic raids from the Somali port of Zeila plagued the Ethiopian highlands. In the first half of the 16th century, the Islamic threat became more serious when Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi rallied a diverse group of Muslims in a jihad to end Christian power in the highlands. The Ethiopians finally defeated this threat by the middle of the 16th century.

Although Wahhabi missionaries from the Arabian Peninsula made efforts to penetrate Ethiopia beginning in the 19th century, they had little success until recent decades. During the first half of the 1800s, Egyptian/Ottoman power in neighboring Sudan made periodic incursions inside Ethiopia. In 1875, the khedive of Egypt tried unsuccessfully to conquer Ethiopia entering from the Red Sea. The last major organized threat from Islam occurred in 1888 when the forces of the Mahdi in the Sudan sacked the former Ethiopian capital of Gondar and burned many of its churches. Subsequently, both the Ethiopians and the Mahdists harbored rebels opposed to the other side, creating a tit-for-tat situation that has periodically continued to the present day.


Interfaith Dialogue With Iran Is Possible, Says Jesuit Scholar



Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir speaking in June 2010 in Birmingham, England.

Following a number of under-the-radar visits with religious leaders of Iran’s Shiite Muslim community, Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir says religious leaders in the Islamic republic are open to improving relations with Christians.

The renowned scholar believes Iran is eager to engage in wider interfaith discussion. Father Samir’s optimistic assessment is based on unprecedented off-the-record visits and dialogue with Shiite leaders in the Middle-Eastern nation and bordering Iraq.

At last month’s three-day Communion and Liberation “New York Encounter” event, Father Samir confirmed that he traveled to Iran’s holiest city, Qom, just over a year ago for a weeklong conversation with some of the country’s leading clerics.

He also visited Najaf, Iraq, another holy city, to meet leaders of Iraq’s Shiite community.

Father Samir’s guide on his personal visit to Iran and Iraq was Sayed Wissam Tarhini, a former student at St. Joseph University in Beirut, Lebanon, where the Jesuit priest teaches Catholic theology and Islamic studies to Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox Christian students.