Pope Francis uses Bahrain visit to foster Christian-Muslim dialogue 

  • King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa invited the pope to come to the country

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis intends to foster dialogue between Catholics and Muslims during his coming trip to Bahrain, and will launch a message of peace to the Arabian Gulf.

The Pope will be in Bahrain from Nov. 3 to Nov. 6. The trip will begin with a visit at the Sakhir Royal palace to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who invited him to come to the country.

This will be the tenth trip for Francis to a country with a Muslim majority and a tiny Catholic presence of nearly 80,000 out of a population of about 1.3 million.

“It will also be a ‘sign’ for Shiite Islam, in the framework of a strategy of rapprochement with different branches of the Muslim faith the Pope is following,” Fr Giuseppe Ciutti, an Italian priest who spent time in Iraq and studies the relationship between Islam and Catholicism, told Arab News.

Monsignor Paul Hinder, the apostolic administrator of the North Arabia apostolic region, which includes Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, said at a press conference that the Pope’s trip to Bahrain followed the path begun with the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Common Coexistence,” which Francis signed in February 2019 in Abu Dhabi together with Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of al Azhar, a figure of reference for Sunni Muslims.

Hinder believes that the Pope will carry out a “positive strategy” of rapprochement with the “different currents” of the Muslim faith and offer an invitation to continue along the path of dialogue with other religions.

Bahrain will be the 58th country visited during his pontificate by Pope Francis, and he will be the first pontiff in history to set foot there.

“It is an ancient land where different national, ethnic and religious groups coexist and therefore it is a precious step in the journey of fraternity the Pope has undertaken,” Bruni said.


How ‘Screw Your Optics’ Became a Far-Right Rallying Cry

White supremacist terrorists have taken a page from the Islamic State’s playbook—discarding concerns about image and embracing shocking displays of public violence.

On Oct. 27, 2018, my husband and I went on a nature hike. We were on a weekend visit to the college where our daughter, the youngest of our four children, had just started as a freshman. I silenced my phone and tucked it away, hoping no urgent work-related matters would interrupt us.

My phone began buzzing in my pocket, but I ignored it. After the fifth buzz, I realized that something was wrong. I looked at my phone. My staff was feverishly sending news reports: “Emergency situation at US synagogue,” “gunman opens fire at US synagogue,” “Pittsburgh police confirms active shooter at synagogue, multiple victims reported.”

“We’ve got to go back right now,” I told my husband.

I sat with my laptop in the passenger seat as he drove.

As I dug through those early details of the event, my mind kept going back to the evening before, when our daughter sat across from us at a nearby restaurant with a grim expression. She told us how she and her friends from the college’s theater club were putting on a play with LGBTQ characters and how the local Ku Klux Klan caught wind and held a demonstration outside of the building. The professor running the production tried to calm the cast and crew before the opening night, but their fear couldn’t be dissolved. It was 2018, and right outside of the halls of the music theater was an organization notorious for lynching and bombings that was laser-focused on our daughter and her friends’ performance.

“How is the Klan not illegal?” she asked me and my husband. “Aren’t they a terrorist organization?”

I’ve spent many years digging through the details of terrorist attacks and gory executions, but I’ve never grown able to stomach the images. I sat in the passenger seat scrolling through information about the synagogue attack, and that same wave of disgust was creeping up as strong as ever.


Conservative Muslims join forces with Christian right on Michigan book bans

‘This has nothing to do with Trump,’ a parent says, as people pressure officials to censor books with LGBTQ+ themes

Demonstrators who support banning books gather during a protest outside of the Henry Ford Centennial library in Dearborn, Michigan, on 25 September. Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

A recent school board meeting at which about 1,000 people gathered in Dearborn, Michigan, to pressure district officials to censor books with LGBTQ+ themes was in most ways similar to hundreds of other recent book ban hearings across the US.

Speakers alleged the books “promote mental health issues” and “self harm”, while the school district and liberals were seeking to “indoctrinate children”. Gay people, they said, were “creeps and pedohiles”, and gay lifestyles were equated with zoophilia.

“American values and the American way is not child pornography,” one angry parent told the Dearborn public school board.

But the speakers were not the white, rightwing conservative Christians usually behind efforts to censor literature in public schools. Instead, the heated audience was almost all Muslim Arab Americans.

In Dearborn, a city that’s 47% Arab American and reliably Democratic at the polls, some conservative Muslim residents have joined forces with the Christian right to censor literature in the city’s public schools.

Although the right wing in America has frequently vilified Muslims and Islam, the alliance highlights how some deeply socially conservative Arab Americans are willing to put that aside and join in the culture wars. Several parents who spoke with the Guardian insisted the effort had nothing to do with politics and did not answer questions about why they would campaign alongside Donald Trump supporters.

“This has nothing to do with Trump,” Hassan Anoun, a Dearborn schools parent, said, adding that he is a Republican. “We don’t want our kids to be exposed to this. These books should be banned.”

Book ban campaigns have proliferated across the US in part because they reliably stoke conservatives anger toward liberals. A recent American Library Association (ALA) report documented about 1,650 challenges to books made this year through September. The nine-month tally already exceeded the 2021 total.


At new Minnesota facility, Amazon takes small steps to welcome Muslim workers

Despite the progress, the demands of some Muslim employees remain unanswered, a representative of the local Muslim community said.

(RNS) — A new Amazon sorting facility in Woodbury, Minnesota, is taking its employees’ religious needs seriously, adding new “ablution stations” for ritual hand and foot washing and three rooms that people of any faith may use for prayer or meditation.

The 550,000-square-foot facility, which opened this month, employs about 300 Somalis and Somali Americans, many of them refugees from the generation-long civil war in the east African nation. Minnesota is home to as many as 80,000 Somali immigrants, more than half of those living in the United States. More than 99% of Somalians are Muslim.

A stop for packages moving between Amazon warehouses and their shipping destinations, the Woodbury center includes signs in Somali as well as translation services. Other accommodations for all employees include lactation rooms for nursing mothers and soundproof booths for phone calls.


In Qatar, a Museum Looks Back at the Breadth of Islam

As the World Cup draws visitors to present-day Doha, the Museum of Islamic Art reopens with an expanded vision and presentation of Islamic history.

David Belcher

Oct. 14, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET

DOHA, Qatar — As the world’s attention shifts to present-day Qatar for the World Cup in late November, the country’s pre-eminent museum is hoping to direct interest to the region’s past.

Besides the addition of eight brand-new soccer stadiums, the reopening of the history-steeped Museum of Islamic Art represents a bit of national moxie as Qatar, the first Arab state to host the World Cup, prepares for the global spotlight.

The museum, known as MIA (or “MEE-uh,” as the locals pronounce it), is poised to emerge again after a major reassessment of its focus.

“MIA is the main museum of Islamic art outside of the West, and we cover all of the Islamic world, so we were conscious of that when we looked at our story line,” said Julia Gonnella, director of the museum, during an early summer tour as dozens of construction workers tromped through, moving display cases and installation walls. The sound of hand drills and hammers echoed through the five-story atrium, and the balconies, where visitors can enjoy views of the Doha skyline through a soaring glass window, were thronged with workers.

A mixture of past and present has been part of the 376,740-square-foot museum’s mission since it opened in 2008
A mixture of past and present has been part of the 376,740-square-foot museum’s mission since it opened in 2008Credit…Mustafa Abumunes/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The local audience learns about the history of Islam with an eye toward the future,” she said. “But for the international audience, this is where they learn about the Islamic world, past and present.”


In Indonesia, a Rising Tide of Religious Intolerance

Despite its official motto of “unity in diversity,” the country is becoming increasingly inhospitable for members of religious minorities.

In June, Indonesian authorities charged six employees of the nightlife chain Holywings for blasphemy after the chain announced an online promotion offering free alcoholic drinks for men named Muhammad and women named Maria. The promotion’s use of the name of the Prophet Muhammad – Islam’s last prophet – sparked outrage in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The pressure forced one of the chain’s shareholders, Hotman Paris, to visit the house of the Cholil Nafis, the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, to apologize for “offending the Muslim community.” The six staff members now await trial for blasphemy and for breaching Indonesia’s internet law; if found guilty, they face up to 15 years in prison.

This is not the first time that Indonesia has used blasphemy laws to put people behind bars. Although the country promotes itself as a bastion of tolerance in the Muslim world, religious minorities remain on edge and vigilant in an attempt to avoid the sorts of conflicts that befell the employees of Holywings.

In the current climate, any wrongdoings – intentional or otherwise, by Muslims or non-Muslims – can be interpreted as acts aimed at disturbing religious harmony. At times, these actions have also been used as a pretext for political Islamists to promote divisive regulations.



Meet Rashad Hussain, the first Muslim to serve as America’s religious freedom ambassador

Rashad Hussain, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, was in Utah last week to speak at the International Law and Religion Symposium at BYU. He spoke about the government’s efforts to help persecuted people of faith around the world and the importance of interfaith and bipartisan cooperation.

While out West, Hussain was kind enough to meet with me and discuss how the world of religious freedom work has changed since I last spoke with his predecessor, Sam Brownback. He shared what keeps him up at night, what gives him hope and what has surprised him about the ambassador role.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Kelsey DallasWhat led you to be interested in religious freedom work? Can you point to specific experiences in your life?

Rashad Hussain: I’ve always felt strongly about standing up for the rights of everyone, particularly those facing any form of discrimination. My parents emphasized the importance of fairness and justice and treating every single person with dignity and respect. Even when I was a young student in school, I remember trying to speak up and support kids who I thought were being mistreated.

During my professional career, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to take on roles to protect the rights of people here in the United States and around the world, including religious minorities.

When I came into the Obama administration, I started as an attorney. And shortly after I began working in the White House counsel’s office, the president, as you may recall, gave a major address to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt. I was fortunate enough to be on the team that was working on the speech and some of the initiatives coming out of the speech.

Shortly after we returned, I began serving as Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. And as part of that work, we were focused on the protection of religious minorities, particularly in Muslim-majority countries.


Pope Francis to meet Muslim leaders, small Christian community in Bahrain

By Hannah Brockhaus

Rome Newsroom, Oct 6, 2022 / 05:40 am

On the first-ever papal visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain, Pope Francis will close a forum on dialogue, meet with the grand imam of al-Azhar, and pray at a new Catholic cathedral.

The Vatican released the full itinerary for the pope’s Nov. 3–6 trip to the Muslim island nation in the Persian Gulf.

The theme of the visit is “Peace on earth to people of goodwill,” inspired by Luke 2:14. The logo is a stylized image of two hands open toward God: one in the colors of the Vatican flag and one with the flag of Bahrain. An olive branch represents peace, while the text “Pope Francis” is in the color blue to represent the visit’s entrustment to the Virgin Mary.

The logo and motto of the papal trip to Bahrain. Screenshot via Vatican Media
The logo and motto of the papal trip to Bahrain. Screenshot via Vatican Media

Pope Francis will land in Awali, a small municipality about 12 miles south of Manama, Bahrain’s capital city, on Thursday, Nov. 3. After a private meeting with the king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Francis will address members of the government and civil society.

On the second day of the visit, the pope will give the closing speech at the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence. 


A Marine who hated Muslims went to a mosque to plant a bomb. His intended victims ended up saving his life

Editor’s Note: This article is part of CNN’s Undivided series, which chronicles how Americans of very different backgrounds have found common ground. In this series, which runs through the midterm elections, we profile unlikely friendships between people of differing ages, races, religions and cultures.CNN — 

As soon as some members of the Islamic Center of Muncie saw the man coming toward them, they knew he was trouble.

He was a big guy with broad shoulders, marching toward their mosque with his head down and his face flushed red from what looked like anger. It was Friday at Muncie Islamic Center in Muncie, Indiana, and the mosque was filling with people who had come for afternoon prayers. As an outsider with a USMC tattoo on his right forearm and a skull tattoo on his left hand, he stood out.

His name was Richard “Mac” McKinney, and he was there not to worship but to destroy. He was a former US Marine who had developed a hatred toward Islam during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. His fury deepened when he returned home to Muncie to see how Muslims had settled into what he called his city, and even sent their children to sit next to his daughter at her elementary school.

Unable to contain his anger, he went to the Islamic center that day in 2009 on what he saw as his final mission. He was going to plant a bomb at the mosque in hopes of killing or wounding hundreds of Muslims. He was on a scouting mission to pick a location to hide his bomb and to gather intelligence that would validate his assumption that Islam was a murderous ideology.

“I told people that Islam was a cancer; and I was the surgeon to cure it,” he says.

But when McKinney entered the mosque, he encountered a form of resistance that he had not planned for. Something happened that day that would change him in a way he never expected.