Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Could Reopen To Jews, Christians And Other Non-Muslim Visitors

temple-mount-jerusalemThe religious sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City could be reopened to Jewish and Christian visitors more than 15 years after they were shut out. For months, Israel and Jordan have been secretly discussing the possibility of readmitting non-Muslim visitors to the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic Museum on the mount, according to Haaretz.

Details of the secret negotiations were revealed in a report by the International Crisis Group in Brussels, which concluded that reopening the sites to non-Muslims could help keep peace on the Temple Mount. But an agreement could be harder to reach with Israel’s new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party.

Some Israeli leaders have said opening the site to paying visits would give the Jordanian-influenced Waqf, an Islamic trust that oversees the daily religious affairs in and around the mosque, an incentive to maintain peace on the contested holy site. However, an official in Netanyahu’s office said, “There are no negotiations and no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount,” Haaretz reported.

Jewish and Christian visitors were allowed to purchase a ticket and enter the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islamic Museum on the mount until 2000, when the second Palestinian uprising against Israel erupted after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site in September. The Israeli government, which manages the mount’s security and admission, subsequently banned Jews and tourists altogether from the Temple Mount. In 2003, the sites were reopened to Jews and tourists despite opposition from the Jordanian government and the Muslim Waqf.

Today, the Temple Mount is the site of frequent and sometimes violent clashes between Muslim visitors and Jews who wish to pray there. Defense officials said the violence has partly caused an upsurge in terror attacks in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, where some terrorists have openly dedicated their attacks in defense of the Temple Mount.


ISIS and the Lonely Young American

10-recruitement-f-ss-slide-GKL6-master1050Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.

For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online — the most attentive she had ever had — who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.

One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.

But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

The only Muslims she knew were those she had met online, and he encouraged her to keep it that way, arguing that Muslims are persecuted in the United States. She could be labeled a terrorist, he warned, and for now it was best for her to keep her conversion secret, even from her family.

So on his guidance, Alex began leading a double life. She kept teaching at her church, but her truck’s radio was no longer tuned to the Christian hits on K-LOVE. Instead, she hummed along with the ISIS anthems blasting out of her turquoise iPhone, and began daydreaming about what life with the militants might be like.


American Muslims Supporting Gay Marriage Speak Up

1435401910373.cachedOften thought of as unremittingly hostile to homosexuality, some American Muslims celebrated Friday’s Supreme Court decision and chided their co-religionists who said judgment day was nigh.
Mu’min Marcos Arquero Castenada is an openly gay Muslim fasting in this Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He ululated when he heard the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage nationwide on Friday, then he went to his Oakland mosque to do his Friday prayers in celebration.The Sufi sheikh at Masjid Al Iman mosque welcomed Castenada with open arms, he said. The Filipino-American says he sees no contradiction between his faith and homosexuality, although homosexuality is illegal on religious principles in several Muslim countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“My experience of Allah (God) is so deep and meaningful,” said Castenada, a family and marriage therapist. “There are many things we are still discovering in Islam.”

But many Muslims on social media lashed out, bashing Friday’s Supreme Court decision and saying qiyamah, the day of judgment, was near while the story of Lot condemning homosexuality in holy scriptures, including the Quran, is being ignored. Commentators and atheists Bill Maher and Sam Harris have criticized Muslims for failing to accept homosexuality as a human right.


How Can Interfaith Work Be Planned to Be Useful?


by Kemal Argon

Many people of religion have grave doubts about the worth and utility of interfaith dialogue, dismissing it entirely. Interfaith work can appear to be leading nowhere and accomplishing nothing relevant or useful. While there are those who support interfaith work, there are others who could not be bothered, seeing it as a waste of time. These people are missing something: they are often losing a strategic opportunity to train their own scholars and activists, stimulate the revivification of their own religious tradition, or even to work on peace building.

Interfaith work can be very useful for religionists who know how to plan and use dialogue, who are prepared beforehand and ISLAM_-_CRISTIANESIMOare approaching it with the right understanding. For dialogue to be made useful, what I firstly want to suggest seeing is that there can be three parts to dialogue: preparation beforehand, the actual dialogue, and the follow-up phase. In brief, the preparation beforehand involves adequate study of our own religion as well as that of the dialogue partner, the actual dialogue will be comparatively short but will provide useful material, especially useful being material from people whom we definitely disagree with. The final followup, “post-encounter,” phase in our own community with our own scholars can be the most important one as that is where the real examination and inquiry into matters is taking place. This post-encounter reflection and inquiry can happen over a long period of time, meaning the benefits of deeper inquiry in response to disagreement need not be limited to any particular time frame, especially if we have been paying careful attention and taking notes. This also means that, if we participate sincerely, we can be learning something that may become known to us later.


Christianity, Islam and yoga: How far can you stretch?

20150627_blp510YOGA has been in the news a lot recently. As colleagues have written, the establishment of International Yoga Day, celebrated for the first time last Sunday was a significant milestone for India’s “soft power” and on balance, a personal success for Narendra Modi, the prime minister who led 37,000 people in a display of the spiritual exercise.

Yoga also generates headlines in countries far from India, both because of its widespread appeal and the mixed feelings (to put it mildly) that it engenders among followers of the world’s monotheistic faiths.

Malaysia and Iran stand out as Muslim countries where yoga is both quite popular and controversial. In 2008, when Malaysia’s supreme Islamic authority told Muslims to eschew the practice, this was widely greeted with dismay as a symptom of a hardening theological line in a country where many faiths have to rub along. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the (devoutly Muslim) prime minister at the time, later specified that it was permissible to do the exercises as long as people held off from Hindu chanting.

n Western nations which are historically Christian but increasingly diverse in their approach to things spiritual, the very ambivalence of yoga (call it flexibility if you like) is one of its selling points. Depending on which school of yoga you follow and how far you go, it can be a way of limbering up the body and easing tensions, or it can involve the pursuit of extra-ordinary spiritual experiences, culminating in samadhi, variously described as union with, or absorption into, ultimate reality. It is agreed that yoga has its roots in the Hindu tradition, and that it constitutes one of the main schools of Hinduism; but it can of course be practised as a physical and even mental discipline by people who are ignorant of, or even mildly resistant to the teachings of Hinduism. That point is made defensively by many Western yoga teachers, and with dismay by purist advocates of the Hindu path.

Traditional Christian clerics still see dangers in the practice. In the Northern Irish city of Derry-Londonderry, a Catholic priest caused a local furore in February by telling his parishioners that yoga, and even Indian head massage, could open people to demonic influences. Around the same time, a Church of England priest in Bristol told a yoga teacher who had been instructing hundreds of people on church premises to find other quarters. The teacher, Naomi Hayama, complained bitterly, on grounds that her kind of yoga, at least, was certainly not an alternative faith. “They are trying to say that is a spiritual practice but my classes are not. I respect people who are religious but I am not,” she said.


Judge Upholds MTA Ban on Political Ads Including Pamela Geller’s Islamophobic Posters


Pamela Geller, pictured in May, lost her fight in Manhattan Federal Court to be allowed to post Islamophobic ads on New York buses.

Conservative firebrand Pamela Geller’s Islamophobic posters will not appear on Nwe York City buses any time soon.

A Manhattan Federal Court judge has ruled that the MTA’s recently revised policy banning all political advertising in subways and on city buses renders moot his previous ruling that Geller’s ads were protected speech.

U.S. District Judge John Koeltl had said in April that the posters — showing a menacing man with his face masked in a Middle Eastern-style scarf next to the quote “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah” — should be allowed to be displayed like other political ads in the MTA system.

Before the bills went up, the MTA board then voted to change its policy and banned controversial political ads altogether — a move Geller’s team argued was done in bad faith.

An example of Geller's posters.PAMELAGELLER VIA INSTAGRAM

An example of Geller’s posters.

Koetl disagreed.

“No law requires public transit agencies to accept political advertisements as a matter of course, and it is not for this Court to impose its own views on what type of forum the MTA should create,” Koetl wrote.


Thousands of Christians in Israel hold protest rally outside burned Galilee church

church-of-the-multiplicationThousands of Christians have held a protest rally in the Galilee, near the historic church in northern Israel that was seriously damaged after a suspected arson attack which included anti-Christian sentiment scrawled in Hebrew on a wall.

The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha was set on fire early on June 17 and the suspected hate crime drew fierce condemnation from Israeli leaders from major political parties, The Times of Israel reported.

Inside the church former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, auxiliary of the Latin Patriarchate, celebrated a Sunday Mass attended by hundreds of young people on June 18.

Many carried crosses and waved Vatican flags and Jewish, Muslim and Druze clerics came the church to express support, The Catholic Herald reported.

The church is run by the Catholic Benedictine Order and is known for its fifth-century mosaics, including one depicting two fish flanking a basket of loaves.

“The attack on the church is an attack on all those who believe in a civilization of love and coexistence,” said Father Gregory Collins, the head of the Order of Saint Benedict in Israel, to protestors.

In an entrance corridor of the building, believed by Christians to be the site of Jesus’s miracle described in the Bible of multiplying two fish and five loaves to feed 5,000 people, Hebrew graffiti was found.

It read, “The false gods will be eliminated,” The Times of Israel reported saying it is a quote from Jewish liturgy.


Nigerian Christians Reach Out to Muslim Inmates Ahead of Ramadan

nigeriaKADUNA, NIGERIA— Christian clerics in Kaduna, Nigeria, this past week distributed food items to prisoners and underprivileged people to mark the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Leaders said this was part of an effort to promote peace between the two main religions in the region.

For the last couple of years, members of the Peace, Revival and Reconciliation Foundation have visited prisoners in Kaduna to distribute food, soap and other items to Muslim inmates and pay fines for those serving short sentences. Ismail Saidu, who received donations recently on behalf of the Kaduna Central Prison, expressed his thanks, “and definitely, what they have given us, we are going to use it judicially.”

Pastor Yohanna Buru, who established the foundation, said the donations were being made to try to foster peace between Muslims and Christians “for mutual understanding, so that they may break their fast this evening and pray for our nation, pray for peace for this country, pray for peace in northern Nigeria, peace in Kaduna state and peace across the world.”

Buru said his organization wants to break the boundaries that divide groups along religious and ethnic lines and bring them together.

He also said that as he’s done for the past four years, he had secured the release of four inmates who were incarcerated for lesser crimes. “We don’t want to break the tradition. … Every year we are releasing Muslim prisoners for Ramadan fasting,” he said.

The pastor noted that some inmates were not guilty of any offense but were in jail because of failures in the country’s judicial system.


This week in Jakarta: The politics of Ramadan

imageIndonesia is the country with the greatest number of Muslims in the world, but it is not an Islamic state. Nor is it strictly secular – the first principle of the state ideology is the belief in God.

Defining the boundaries between religion and politics has been a constant theme throughout the history of Indonesia as an independent state, and at no time is this debate more prominent than during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Jakarta, along with the rest of Indonesia, entered the fasting month on Thursday this week. This in itself was a feat of state politics, as the new Religious Affairs Minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, made a concerted effort to reach consensus between religious groups on when to begin fasting.

The starting date of the fast tends to be announced only a few days in advance and can differ among the major religious organisations, since Islamic scholars differ on how to calculate the precise starting date of Ramadan. Some calculations are based on the sighting of the crescent moon rather than astronomical observations.

This year, the minister arranged to announce a single starting date agreed on by the government and Indonesia’s two largest Islamic organisations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama.

Observant Muslims will spend the next month fasting during daylight hours, aiming to control their urges and emotions, performing prayer rituals, donating to charity and celebrating the holy month in other ways with family and friends.

Unique local foods are prepared for breaking the fast, such as kolak, a warm drink made of coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar and fragrant pandan leaves, with the nourishing addition of stewed bananas, sweet potatoes and chunks of jackfruit. Fasting and eating together become rituals of solidarity and gratitude, while also developing empathy for those who go hungry on a regular basis.

There is no legal obligation for Indonesian Muslims to observe Ramadan. However, there are laws obliging certain businesses and entertainment venues to respect those who do. In Jakarta, nightclubs and men’s massage parlours must close for the full month, while karaoke bars, billiard halls and live music venues face restricted opening hours.


Why Muslims Celebrate Ramadan

A man reads the koran as Indonesian Muslims wait for the first day of Ramadan prayers at Al-azhar Mosque in Jakarta on June 17, 2015, to mark the Muslim holy fasting month. More than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will mark the month, during which believers abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn until sunset. AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO        (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

What to know about the Muslim holy month

Wednesday evening marked the beginning of Ramadan, a month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting for nearly 1.6 billion Muslims across the world. But what exactly is Ramadan? Here’s a quick guide:

What is Ramadan?

For Muslims, Ramadan is a holy month dedicated to prayer, Quran recitation, introspection and fasting during the sunlight hours. But the Arabic word for fasting—sawm—doesn’t only refer to abstaining from food or drink. It translates literally to “refrain,” and encompasses abstinence from food, drink, having sex, and all evil thoughts and deeds in the interest of self-purification. Muslims observing the holy month break the daily fast with an evening meal called Iftar, often beginning with a few sips of water or something sweet, like an odd number of dates.

What’s the religious significance of Ramadan?

Ramadan is believed to be the holiest month of the year within Islam, and the month in which the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. In this month, the gates to heaven are believed to be open and the gates to hell closed. Muslims are instructed to fast in the Surat Al-Baqarah, the second and longest chapter of the Quran.