FaithWorld

Muslim Americans encouraged, hopeful with Obama at the helm

alqaisiIraqi Americans Wasan Alqaisi and Sumer Majid made a Fourth of July family picnic of kebab — served on hamburger buns with slices of American cheese.

Celebrating Independence Day in Washington D.C., the two Muslim women were doing what generations of Americans have done before them: blending their faith and lifestyle with a U.S. national identity.

Eight years after Middle East militants carried out the September 11 attacks, Muslim Americans are raising their profile, encouraged by the election of Barack Obama, a U.S. president proud of his Kenyan father’s Muslim heritage.

“We are more optimistic about the future for us here,” said Alqaisi, an accountant. “They changed the way they communicate with the Muslim countries. We feel like we have more value here now. We hope that will continue in the future.”

Read the whole feature here. (Photo:Wasan Alqaisi (R) prepares kebabs on hamburger buns for Sumer Majid (L) and Sabaa Sabeeh (C) during a Fourth of July picnic in Washington, 4 July 2009/Wendell Marsh)

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U.S. faith groups push for healthcare reform

A coalition of progressive U.S. faith groups and pastors has launched a push for affordable health care reform, an effort they say is rooted in a “scriptural call to act.”OBAMA/Radio ads will appear from today until July 4th in five states: Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska and North Carolina. The ads urge those states’ Senators, whose votes could ultimately decide the fate of President Barack Obama’s drive to transform America’s health care system, to back legislation “that makes quality coverage truly affordable for every American family.” You can see the ad script and audio here.Organizers also say that more than 600 clergy from 41 states and 39 denominations have said they will deliver sermons in coming weeks on the issue and urge their flocks to act. A pastors’ guide to health care will also be distributed to 4,250 religious leaders along with a shorter version to wider church members.PICO National Network, Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, Sojourners, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good are the main religious advocacy groups behind the campaign.If this all sounds familiar, it should. The tactics being adopted by these liberal and centrist groups and activists are a carbon copy of the successful ones employed in the past by the U.S. religious right. The distribution of pastors’ guides, the call for public policy to be guided by scripture (in this case compassion for the poor and the ill), the preaching of sermons on looming legislation — it’s all taken from the loose network of conservative Christians which has delivered many a vote for the Republican Party.Conservative Christians remain a key base for the Republicans and they have also been decrying “Obama-care” on talk radio, the blogosphere and other outlets.Photo credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing.  Members of the audience shake hands with U.S. President Barack Obama after his speech about reforming America’s health care system in Green Bay, Wisconsin, June 11, 2009.

Almost two million vanish from Obama’s estimate of U.S. Muslims

dawn-front-page002 (Dawn front page for Sunday, 21 June 2009)

Almost two million people have inexplicably disappeared from the estimates of the U.S. Muslim population that President Barack Obama has given recently. In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, he spoke about “nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today.” On Sunday, the Karachi daily Dawn published an interview with him where he said “we have five million Muslims.”

There was no explanation for the change, but his reason for citing the figure seemed to be the same. Shortly before his Cairo speech, Obama told the French television channel Canal Plus that “one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” He cited no figure there but mentioned seven million in Cairo three days later.

Many blogs, FaithWorld included, questioned that figure and noted that estimates of the U.S. Muslim population range from 1.8 to 7-8 million. The U.S. Census Bureau cannot ask about religion on a mandatory basis but refers on its website to a Pew Forum study pegging Muslims at 0.6% of the population. The CIA World Factbook uses the same percentage figure. It translates into about 1.8 million.

New on-line forum seeks “common ground” on abortion

A new on-line forum launched on Tuesday seeks to spark discussion among faith and secular leaders and activists about ways to find some elusive common ground on the divisive issue of abortion.

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It’s being rolled out by RH Reality Check, which focuses on reproductive health and rights issues, and can be seen here.

The initial posts include contributions from David Gushee of Mercer University, a leading intellectual figure in the emerging “evangelical center movement,” Katie Paris of Faith in Public Life, and Steven Waldman of Beliefnet.

Can non-Muslims join an Islamist party – and why would they?

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By Razak Ahmad

Should non-Muslims be allowed to join an Islamist party? Would the Islamists want them to join? This is the issue facing the Pan Malaysian Islamist Party (PAS) at its annual assembly this week. Photo: Women’s wing of PAS prays at its national convention on 3 June, 2009/Bazuki Mujammad

For decades, PAS dreamed of a rigid theocratic state, even to the extent of issuing an edict in 1987 declaring the ruling Malay-Muslim nationalist ruling party as infidel. The ethnic minority Chinese and Indians who make up a combined 35% of the Southeast Asian country’s 27 million population were rarely in the Islamist party’s political equation.

But now PAS is part of Malaysia’s three-party opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim. It claims that 20,000 non-Muslims have joined the party’s supporters club, which will be recognised as an official party wing if a proposal on the matter is endorsed. This would in turn pave the way for non-Muslim members of the supporters club to become card carrying PAS members.

Islamic tone, interfaith touch in Obama’s speech to Muslim world

obama-speech-baghdadIt started with “assalaamu alaykum” and ended with “may God’s peace be upon you.” Inbetween, President Barack Obama dotted his speech to the Muslim world with Islamic terms and references meant to resonate with his audience. The real substance in the speech were his policy statements and his call for a “new beginning” in U.S. relations with Muslims, as outlined in our trunk news story. But the new tone was also important and it struck a chord with many Muslims who heard the speech, as our Middle East Special Correspondent Alistair Lyon found. Not all, of course — you can find positive and negative reactions here. (Photo: Iraqi in Baghdad watches Obama’s speech, 4 June 2009/Mohammed Ameen)

Among Obama’s Islamic touches were four references to the Koran (which he always called the Holy Koran), his approving mention of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical achievements of the medieval Islamic world and his citing of multi-faith life in Andalusia. These are standard elements that many Islam experts — Muslims and non-Muslims — mention in speeches at learned conferences, but it’s not often that you hear an American president talking about them.

Two religious references particularly caught my attention because they weren’t the usual conference circuit clichés. One was his comment about being in “the region where (Islam) was first revealed” – a choice of past participle showing respect for the religion.

Will Obama address the Muslim world or the Arab world?

obama-faceWhen President Barack Obama delivers his long-awaited speech in Cairo on Thursday, will he address the Muslim world or the Arab world? In the pre-speech build-up, it’s being called a speech “to the Muslim world” or “to the world’s 1.x billion Muslims” (the estimated total mentioned in different articles fluctuates between 1and 1.5 billion). But the venue he’s chosen — Cairo — and all the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict make it sound like a speech to and about the Middle East. (Photo: President Barack Obama, 21 May 2009/Kevin Lamarque)

The Middle East is the heartland of Islam, but Arabs make up only about 20 percent of the world’s Muslims. Not all Arabs are Muslims. And non-Arab Iran is a major part of the Middle Eastern political scene. So is it correct to call this a speech to the Muslim world? Would it be better to call it a speech to the Middle East?

There is such an important overlap between the Arab and the Muslim worlds that it is hard to disentangle them. The Palestinian issue concerns Muslims around the world, but with varying intensity depending partly on whether it figures in regional politics or stands as a more distant symbol of oppression against Muslims. Politics can also poison Muslim relations with Jews, which can range from bitter enmity to interfaith cooperation depending on where, when and how one looks. The U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq may be justified in Washington as operations against international terrorism, but in Muslim countries they are often seen as attacks on Muslims and Islam.

GUESTVIEW: Missing dimension in Middle East peace process

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace (New York) and Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Rev. Bud Heckman and Matthew Weiner

obama-and-muslim-womenIn the foreshadow of President Obama’s much anticipated speech to the Muslim world and on peace this week, there is new hope for peace in the Middle East. Its source is the opposite of what many may think: religion, and the extraordinary promise of principled inclusion of religions in seeking solutions for peace and justice.

Of course, in one sense this is nothing new. Think of the Peace of Westphalia and the political virtue of tolerance developed in response to bloody religious civil wars, which were no less serious than any religious conflict we face today. One difference now — to some degree the result of secularization — is the assumption that the political and public is more frequently separate from the religious. That is to say, an assumption arises that we can do without religion in the public sphere to solve public problems. With this secular mind set, when making a political peace, it is assumed that religion should be sidelined or asked to join only in some superficial way.

Americans mark National Day of Prayer

Americans who are so inclined are marking their National Day of Prayer on Thursday — and, as with any event that evokes church and state in this country, it is not without controvesy.

President Barack Obama, who is a practicing Christian, signed a proclamation to declare the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, but unlike his predecessor George W. Bush did not hold an official service at the White House.

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This has predicatably angered and disappointed some of the country’s leading conservative Christians.

U.S. troop conversion allegations diplomatic minefield

U.S. President Barack Obama may face a new minefield on the battlefields of Afghanistan — one that combines a potent mix of religion and culture.

Explosive allegations have emerged that U.S. soldiers have been attempting to convert Afghanis to Christianity, a scenario sure to stir passions and even anger in the overwhelming Islamic country. You can see our story on the issue here by my colleague Peter Graff in Kabul.

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The U.S. military denied Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages.