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.


Boston Muslims Struggle to Wrest Image of Islam From Terrorists

BOSTON1-jumboBOSTON — Yusufi Vali was hunched over his computer at this city’s biggest mosque, where he is executive director, when the first phone call came. The police had killed a man a few miles away. Soon there were reports that the man was a Muslim who had been under investigation for terrorism.

And so the news media inquiries began. More than 100 calls came to the mosque over the next few days. Mr. Vali would explain, over and over, that the young man fatally shot after pulling a knife on the police on June 2 had only the slightest connection to the mosque: He had been hired by a security contractor to guard the mosque during the holy month of Ramadan in 2013.

No, he was not a regular at prayers. No, Mr. Vali did not recall meeting him. No, he could not shed light on any purported plan to behead a police officer, except to say that such a thing would be abhorrent.

“It weighs on you,” Mr. Vali, a rail-slender 31-year-old Princeton graduate, said of the fallout from the latest allegations of terrorist plotting in the name of Islam. “I don’t have control over what these people do. It’s frustrating to have it put on us.”


Lebanon: Islamic summit slams anti-Christian attacks and violence in the name of Islam

(Vatican Radio) The spiritual leaders of the main Islamic sects in Lebanon in a joint statement have warned after an “urgent summit” Tuesday, against fueling sectarian tensions in the country, underlining that inter-Muslim violence is forbidden. While denouncing the threats to the unity, security and stability of the Arab world, they slammed Israel for its alleged plans to divide Muslims. They also came to the defence of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
The special Islamic summit was held at Sunni Islam’s main body, Dar al-Fatwa’s headquarters in Beirut and was attended by a number of religious figures from all four sects. The meeting was headed by the Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian, of Dar al-Fatwa, and was held for the first time after he was appointed on August 10, last year. The other religious heads were: Deputy Chief of the Higher Islamic Shiite Council Abdel-Amir Qabalan, Druze spiritual leader Naim Hassan and the religious head of Lebanon’s Alawite community Assad Assi. Mohammad Sammak, co-chair of the National Committee for Islamic-Christian dialogue, coordinated the event.

The representatives of the four Islamic groups voiced in a joint statement their “concern over the allegations exchanged between political officials that are taking sectarian natures.” They said adopting such rhetoric would “give a sectarian dimension to their disputes and thus widen the gap that the Israeli enemy is working to expand and exploit.” The statement said conflicts within Arab states wrongly suggest that “Muslims in general and Arabs in particular have given up the priority of the Palestinian cause,” which further benefits Israel.

They made several points, like condemning violent and discriminatory practices by takfirist Islam, condemning coercion in religious matters, calling for respect for everyone’s private and public rights, and reiterating the principle of pluralism in Muslim-Christian relations and intra-Muslim relations

The leaders argued that when conflicts take on a sectarian nature, they “endanger unity in the societies of these countries, including Lebanon, and thus their security and stability.” The summit called on “Muslims, all Muslims, to stick to God’s solid path and avoid fragmentation.”


Phoenix Interfaith Community Fills Mosque Targeted By Bikers With ‘Love Not Hate’

n-ISLAMIC-COMMUNITY-CENTER-OF-PHOENIX-large570Arizona’s interfaith community is standing with its Muslim brothers and sisters.

Religious leaders gathered at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix on Monday evening for a solidarity vigil against a group of armed bikers trying to spread an anti-Muslim message.

The bikers’ “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II” and accompanying “draw Muhammad” contest were organized by Jon Ritzheimer, an ex-Marine. His group may have intended to send a message of hate to the mosque’s 800 members, but churches and synagogues in Phoenix were determined to reject that hate with a powerful show of love.


There’s a movement to tear down and separate out our community, but I’d like people to understand that we are stronger together,” said the Rev. Erin Tamayo, executive director of the Arizona Faith Network, one of the organizations behind the vigil. “We are one, even though we are different.”

Monday’s vigil was organized by more than 20 groups including the Arizona Interfaith Movement and the Anti-Defamation League and drew about 200 participants, according to Reuters. The event featured a number of speakers and a time for attendees to meet and greet. Community members also left flowers at the mosque, filling the house of worship with “peace, love and care,” Tamayo said, instead of the negative messages the mosque has received in the past.


Arizona Mosque: “Why Do You Hate Us?”

maxresdefaultIn early November last year I was invited, along with Palestinian Christian Sami Awad and Israeli Danny Sherman to speak to a group of Muslims in Phoenix, Arizona. We, as American and Palestinian Christians and an Israeli Jew, were able to speak with this community about peace-building efforts in the Middle East. It was a blessing to have this time and the people I met there were excited and willing to be a part of these peace-building efforts.

When we opened up the floor for questions about half way through our time that evening, a young Muslim boy in the audience raised his hand and asked, “Why do Christians hate us?”

Sami Awad initially answered this question. He told the boy that it’s not all Christians that hate Muslims. He said that Christians who claim to follow Jesus and hate, attack, and fear Muslims are failing to live into the teachings of Christ. For Jesus tells us to love everyone. Christians are even called to “love our enemies.” (Matthew 5:44)

When I heard this young Muslim boy’s question: “Why do Christians hate us?” My heart was broken. Hatred toward Muslims is wrong — for all of us — especially for those of us who choose to follow Jesus.

When I had the opportunity to respond to this young boy’s question, I said, “Because we don’t know you.” Getting to know people who are outside of our standard circles — particularly those outside of our own faith traditions — is a crucial step to raising awareness and enabling ourselves to build bridges that lead to peace. This is especially true for high-tension and multi-faceted subjects like the conflicts in the Middle East and the growing tension between American Christians and Muslims.

This talk took place at the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix. The same place where people organized an anti-Muslim rally and on May 29 protesters showed up outside wearing shirts with profanity and carrying weapons. I can only imagine what that young boy must have been thinking. I can only wonder if people within that community remembered our words about what it looks like to follow the teachings of Jesus. In the face of such divisive force, how might those Muslims have experienced Christian followers of Jesus?