Christians and Muslims should team up to preserve religious liberty

Sap_636266427630-1Steve Tennes is an orchard owner in Michigan. He frequently sells his produce at a local farmers’ market about 20 miles away, yet this summer, the city of East Lansing prohibited him from doing so. His crime? Refusing to host a same-sex wedding on his property.

The Tennes family holds a traditional Christian belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. When approached by a same-sex couple in 2014, Tennes refused to host the wedding, instead referring them to a different orchard that would provide the service. While it is entirely legal in the state of Michigan for business owners to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, East Lansing has an ordinance that prohibits this practice. So Tennes sued the city on the grounds that it was violating his religious freedom. The case is ongoing.

Similar issues of religious liberty are popping up all over the country, particularly around the issue of same-sex weddings. Yet it isn’t just Christians who face challenges to the exercise of their religious beliefs. Muslims, too, are fighting for their right to uphold their religious tenets in the public square.

In 2014, for example, a young Muslim woman was denied a job at Abercrombie and Fitch because her decision to wear a hijab violated the company’s dress code (she was not informed of this policy at the time of her application). The Supreme Court ruled in her favor 8-1, arguing that allowing the hijab was a reasonable accommodation that the business has a responsibility to provide. In 2013, two Muslim truck drivers were fired for refusing to transport alcohol, citing strong religious objections — ultimately, a jury ruled in their favor.

It’s time to forge a new alliance. Muslims are the most ethnically diverse non-Christian religious group in America today and are projected to grow in population in the future; they have increasing political clout as a group. Christians would do well to recognize that they and Muslims share a strong interest in preserving their liberty to robustly uphold their religious convictions.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RARE

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Hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims unite against racism, anti-Semitism

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A diverse and growing coalition of New York City religious clergy and faith organizations called people of faith to gather, in the face of the emboldened racism and resurgence of anti-Semitism in America, for “Yes to Love, No to Hate” Interfaith Solidarity, Hope and Action, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, at the Fourth Universalist Society, 160 Central Park West.

Organizers Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann (Society for the Advancement of Judaism), the Rev. Dr. Nigel Pearce (Grace Congregational Church), Rabbi Shuli Passow (B’nai Jeshurun), Rabbi Joy Levitt (JCC Manhattan) and the Rev. Shuyler Vogel  (Fourth Universalist Society) see this event as the spark to empower faith communities to take part in ongoing action to dismantle white supremacy in New York and around the country.

Soon after the plans were announced, interested co-sponsors began to pour in from all over the city. More than 60 organizations signed on to be part of the evening’s program, which featured music from different religions, as well as speakers Imam Shamsi Ali, the Rev. Brian Gibbs-Ellis, Rabbi Roly Matalon and the Rev. Chloe Breyer, who emceed the program.

Despite the diverse landscape of religion, race and ethnicity represented by the sponsors, the communities of faith share a common set of values and morals:

• The belief that all people are created equal in the image of God. All God’s children are worthy of love, respect, safety and security.

• Rejection of white supremacy, in all of its forms, and commitment to standing up for the rights and safety of people of color, Jews, Muslims, immigrants and LGBTQ individuals.

• Commitment to action, however small or large, that will reach across political, religious, denominational and racial divides in spreading understanding, acceptance, respect and love.

• The understanding that though the communities and individuals may not agree on everything—from tactic to policies—they share a vision of a future in which we are all free to live without fear and to live up to our God given potential.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS 

Harvey: Muslim youth group hits streets to help Houston residents during storm

bedAs tropical storm Harvey hit Texas with devastating floods, a group of young Muslim men hit the streets to help their neighbours.

More than 100 members of Muslim Youth USA, and 40 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, passed out food, water, and other supplies in Houston, according to organisers. Both groups expect to gain more volunteers from surrounding cities when the roadways open up.

Madeel Abdullah, director of humanitarian affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, said more than 700 members of his organisation have been affected by the storm. But the volunteers, he said, are “helping anybody else that’s in distress”.

“We’ve already provided basic supplies such as food items and water bottles,” Mr Abdullah told The Independent, “and we have a few members who have boats who are going around making sure everyone is safe.”

Both youth groups were assisted by Humanity First, an Ahmadiyya Muslim charity dedicated to disaster relief. First founded in England, the charity has expanded to more than 40 countries in the last 25 years.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE INDEPENDENT 

U.S. Muslims are religiously observant, but open to multiple interpretations of Islam

FT_17.08.23_islam_interpret_ledeFor American Muslims, being highly religious does not necessarily translate into acceptance of traditional notions of Islam. While many U.S. Muslims say they attend mosque and pray regularly, sizable shares also say that there is more than one way to interpret their religion and that traditional understandings of Islam need to be reinterpreted to address the issues of today.

By some conventional measures, U.S. Muslims are as religious as – or more religious than – many Americans who belong to other faith groups. Four-in-ten (43%) Muslim Americans say they attend mosque at least once a week, including 18% who say they attend more than once a week, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. An additional 32% say they attend once or twice a month, or a few times a year. These attendance levels are comparable to those of U.S. Christians, 47% of whom say they attend services weekly or more, and greater than the 14% of American Jews who say the same.

A majority also say that they pray at least some or all of the salah, or ritual prayers required of Muslims five times per day. Among all U.S. Muslims, fully 42% say they pray all five salah daily, while 17% pray at least some of the salah every day. A quarter say they pray less often, and just 15% say they never pray.

And nearly two-thirds of U.S. Muslims (65%) say that religion is very important in their lives, similar to the share of U.S. Christians who say the same (68%), and higher than the share of U.S. Jews who say this (31%). An additional 22% of Muslims say that religion is somewhat important in their lives, while fewer say that religion is not too or not at all important to them.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PEW RESEARCH 

At an Arkansas Mosque a Vandal Spreads Hate and Finds Mercy

Abraham Davis was sitting on a thin blue pad on the concrete floor of Cell 3 in a jail in western Arkansas when a guard came around with stamped envelopes and writing paper.

The first person he wrote to was his mother. Abraham, just shy of 21, had barely spoken to her since his arrest a few days before, and he had a lot to explain.

It all began on a night last October when he borrowed her white minivan and drove to the home of a friend. They’d gotten drunk on cheap whiskey. Kentucky Deluxe. Abraham agreed to drive his friend to a mosque in town. His friend drew swastikas and curses on the mosque’s windows and doors while Abraham stood watch in the driveway.

The next day, the vandalism was all over the news. Abraham watched the reports over and over on his phone, his stomach curdling with regret.

Even now, as he was facing up to six years in prison for the act, Abraham could not explain why he had done it.

He had grown up in Fort Smith, a city of tall oak trees and brick churches that has the look of a faded Polaroid. His father, charismatic but violent, died when Abraham was 5, leaving him with a feeling of powerlessness so intense that he has been trying to conquer it ever since. “Most of my life I’ve spent trying to train myself to become something that’s too strong to be broken through,” he said. Life has teed him up for a fight, and he walks tilted slightly forward, as if someone is pulling him with an invisible wire.

As a poor student in the high school on the wealthier side of town, Abraham often felt like an outsider. He walked, not drove, hung out on playgrounds, not in restaurants. He got into a lot of fights. He did poorly in school, but he doesn’t remember his teachers seeming surprised. Expectations were low, and he bent to fit them. He slept a lot in class. At 18, he dropped out.

Fort Smith has two country clubs, several golf courses, a Talbots and a symphony orchestra. But a proliferation of pawnshops and a circuit court crowded with indigent defendants are reminders of the grinding poverty all around, in the rural areas of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

For years, those divisions had been etched into the city’s geography. Poorer families lived on the north side of town and wealthier families on the south. Race followed the same pattern, with the south predominantly white and much of the city’s black population in the north.

But time has scrambled those old lines. Latinos came here to work in the poultry industry. Pho shops dot the city’s main drag, property of Vietnamese who began arriving as refugees after the fall of Saigon. R & R’s Curry Express serves deliciously spicy North Indian food at a Finish Line gas station.

Abraham Davis drove his mother’s white minivan to the mosque last October.
Pho shops dot the city’s main drag, started by Vietnamese who began arriving as refugees after the fall of Saigon. Other nationalities also call Fort Smith home now.
The tombstone of Hud Davis, Abraham’s and Noah’s biological father, in Fort Smith. Noah often visits; Abraham does not.
Hisham Yasin in the office of his used-car business.

Muslims from different countries came, too — some to study, some to work in the city’s growing medical industry. Many had money. Hisham Yasin did not.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Muslim Jesus provides common ground for Christianity, Islam

Iraqi man carrying cross and Quran attends Mass  in BaghdadAs the country sits transfixed with one of the strangest, divisive and most unpredictable presidencies in the history of the United States, lost in the madness has been the increase in Islamophobia since Donald Trump was elected president.

Islamophobia, defined as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims” has become frighteningly commonplace in the U.S. and this hatred and misinformation has found fertile soil in the past eight months of the Trump presidency.

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations has documented 451 incidents that stemmed from anti-Muslim bias between April 1 and June 30, 2017, 15 percent of which were acts of violence against Muslims. This represents a 91 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes during that time compared to the same time period in 2016.

These crimes occur in a conducive environment. A Pew Research Center survey in 2017 rated Muslims at 48 degrees, the lowest on a 0-100 “feeling thermometer” out of nine religious groups in the United States, two points lower than atheists. Particularly negative feelings towards Muslims were harbored by Republicans and those who were Republican-leaning.

The irony here is that most Americans really have no idea what is in the Quran, the Muslim equivalent of the Bible, beyond the mostly negative and out of context soundbites they hear on talk radio, cable TV or the internet. They have no idea that the three monotheistic religions that follow the same Abrahamic tradition, namely that Abraham was the first prophet of God, are Judaism, Christianity and yes, the third sibling, Islam.

All three religions were born in the Middle East and are inextricably linked to each another. While Christianity was born from within the Jewish tradition, Islam developed from both Christianity and Judaism. In fact, Islam sees itself as the culmination of the Abrahamic faiths, the final revelation by God in the monotheistic tradition.

The Quran specifically protects Jews and Christians as Peoples of the Book, the “Book” meaning revelations from God to Jews and Christians which gives them a spiritual connection to Islam.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER 

US’ first Muslim-majority city a colourful example of diversity

ST_20170826_NIFIELD26MOS_3373908Burqa-clad women walk down Joseph Campau Street, where the flags of half a dozen nations, from Bosnia to Bangladesh, flutter in the wind outside rows of houses and shopfronts.

“You see them? People come here from outside and they go crazy when they see this,” said Mr Greg Kowalski, chairman of the Hamtramck Historical Commission.

The world in two square miles. That is how locals describe Hamtramck (pronounced “Hamtramick” – the name of the French-Canadian soldier who founded the town), one of America’s most diverse cities and the first with a majority Muslim population.

The tiny city of 24,000 people in mid-western America first hit global headlines in 2004, when the town council amended noise laws to lower the volume of the call to prayer from the mosques, which proliferated with the arrival of more Muslim immigrants.

In 2015, the town council became majority Muslim, triggering a second round of media frenzy. Some headlines even warned about the onset of syariah law.

But far from seething with conflict, Hamtramck is a colourful example of diversity and tolerance, and potentially a litmus test of change in America, a country formed by successive waves of immigrants.

The Polish Village restaurant bustles with customers well past lunch time, serving up kielbasa sausage and potato dumplings. Up the road and around the corner, the Royal Kabob fires up its first order of succulent halal lamb chunks.

A couple of blocks away, the Alladin Cafe serves hot samosas and Bengali-style fried fish and sweet tea to a hungry high-school group.

“Honestly, Hamtramck is one of the chillest and most comfortable cities I’ve ever lived in,” music producer Joseph Martinez, 23, told The Straits Times, looking up from a book he was reading at Pope Park.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE)