FaithWorld

“Obama was elected by God” — Bosnian Grand Mufti Ceric

The Grand Mufti of Bosnia thinks the election of Barack Obama as American president is a gift from God that could help foster greater international tolerance of Muslims. “I believe that Obama is a divine sign to humanity,” Mustafa Ceric told me in an interview in Sarajevo. Americans “think that they have elected him, but I believe that he was elected by God.” (Photo: Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, 27 Jan 2009/ Danilo Krstanovic)

“Barack Obama is one of these most noble goods of our time and our civilisation, that is why I think he is a gift of God,” he said. “At the moment we feel a trend to change. Whether this change will be really in practice and life, we need time to see.”

Sometimes called one of the world’s most liberal grand muftis, Ceric is considered a voice of moderation with an international reputation. He is active in dialogue with other faiths and discussions of how Islam can integrate into European societies.

Bosnia may be the European country where this integration is most evident. The call for prayer from Sarajevo’s hundreds of mosques wafts over cafes where alcohol is served in abundance and young couples cuddle in a mix of East and West traditions that has long characterised the capital. Women wearing headscaraves walk in the old quarter alongside others with revealing tank tops and uncovered flowing hair.

Yet the post-Sept. 11, 2001 atmosphere has impacted the image of Muslims everyone, from Bosnia to Indonesia. Ceric blames former U.S. President George W. Bush for fuelling further suspicions by using charged words such as a “crusade” against terrorism. The Republican president “will be remembered for creating a sort of Islamaphonia,” said Ceric, who was educated at Al-Azhar University in Cairo before receiving a doctorate at the University of Chicago.

GUESTVIEW: Amazing Grace — a rabbi’s view of the inaugural prayer service

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

By Burton L. Visotzky

On Wednesday, I went to church. It seemed right that on the morning after President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration as the 44th President of the United States I should pray for his and our success in the years ahead. We are a nation in crisis, depleted in so many ways by the last eight years. On the Tuesday of the inauguration, I stood with a million other Americans on the Mall in Washington, watching and cheering the transfer of power. The air was frigid, but filled with hope. We stood just behind the Capitol reflecting pool – far from the rostrum, but embedded in the great, diverse mass of people who make up America. Next to us were folks from Augusta, Georgia, who drawled their discomfort when George Bush was booed. On our other side were Washingtonians – African-Americans who proudly declared that on this day we were not black or white, but all of us were silver (the color of our tickets to the event). (Photo: National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington, 21 Jan 2009/Larry Downing)

Truth be told, the inaugural was better viewed in front of a television. But for the experience of being an American on this auspicious day, the Mall was the best place in the whole world. There is something extraordinary about standing among a million others, staring up at the jumbotron, striving to catch the words our new president was speaking. Sharing our food, our stories, ducking down so someone behind us could snap a photo, making sure that kids were in the sight-lines of their parents, breathing free; we huddled, massed against the cold, embodying the passions that Emma Lazarus’ poem emblazons on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Obama work week one: pleases some religious activists, angers others

U.S. President Barack Obama has pleased some religiously motivated activists in his first week in office and angered others, setting the stage for “culture war battles” to come.

Obama courted voters of faith during his election and several groups were pleased by his decision on Thursday to close Guantanamo prison and bar harsh interrogation techniques of terrorism suspects that critics said amounted to torture.

“The religious community has labored faithfully for three years to end U.S.-sponsored torture. We are grateful today for this important step,” said Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Evolution gets added boost in Texas schools

Social and religious conservatives in Texas suffered a setback on Thursday when the State Board of Education narrowly voted to ditch a requirement that high school science teachers cover the “strengths and weaknesses” of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which is more popularly known as the theory of evolution.

A final vote on the entire science curriculum is expected today. You can see reports here and here.

The rule to teach “both sides of the evolution debate” had been in place since the 1980s, but national interest has been rekindled in recent years by attempts to get Biblical creationism taught in U.S. schools in one form of another.

Should Obama address “Muslim world” as a bloc?

President Barack Obama has just pledged to make a new start for United States relations with the Muslim world: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said in his inaugural address. “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” (Photo: President Obama delivers his inaugural address, 20 Jan 2009/Jason Reed)

It’s not clear what he plans to do. One idea he’s mentioned is to deliver a major speech in a Muslim country in his first year in office. There’s already a lively discussion on the web about where he should go. During his speech, CNN showed a shot of the crowd with some people holding up signs urging him to deliver the speech in Morocco.

Before this train starts rolling, it might be useful to recall that some Islam experts don’t think it’s a good idea for him to deal with “the Muslim world” as a bloc opposed to the West. Two French experts on Islam, Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse, argued this in a New York Times op-ed piece last month. Here is the full text and below are excerpts.

Obama, the inaugural prayer and U.S. culture war

President-elect Barack Obama hopes to reach across the political divide, but the uproar over the preachers at his inauguration celebrations show just how wide some of those divisions are in America, our Dallas correspondent Ed Stoddard writes in a pre-inaugural analysis. (Photo: Obama in Philadelphia at the start of his train voyage to Washington, 17 Jan 2009/Brian Snyder)

Some gay rights activists have expressed anger at Obama’s choice of California pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation prayer at his inauguration on Tuesday because of Warren’s opposition to gay marriage. And some conservatives are up in arms over openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson’s role in an earlier part of the celebrations.

But political analysts and activists say many Americans appear weary of the “culture war” battles over issues like gay marriage, and Obama may find some safe ground in the middle.

GUESTVIEW: Obama inauguration: An interfaith invocation to answer the critics

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. He is writing a book about Interfaith and Civil Society.

By Matthew Weiner

The choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation, and the drama surrounding it, was President-elect Barack Obama’s latest carefully planned move to prove that he is not a far out liberal, but instead mainstream. Obama is good at the art of compromise, but also at improvisation. The liberal outcry that followed, and his addition of the openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to join the party, continues to demonstrate his skill as political tai chi master. (Photo: Obama and Warren at Saddleback Church,17 Aug 2008/Mark Avery)

But Obama would be more in keeping with his own sense of diversity if he had the first ever interfaith invocation. Instead of a single speaker from a single religion, why not have many from a diversity of faiths and political positions? Instead of a liberal Christian or an evangelical Christian, he could have a conservative Christian, a liberal Jew, and a Muslim, a Buddhist  and a Hindu (or any such combination).

Lots of advice for Obama on dealing with Muslims and Islam

President-elect Barack Obama has been getting a lot of advice these days on how to deal with Muslims and Islam. He invited it by saying during his campaign that he either wanted to convene a conference with leaders of Muslim countries or deliver a major speech in a Muslim country “to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”. But where? when? why? how? Early this month, I chimed in with a pitch for a speech in Turkey or Indonesia.  Some quite interesting comments have come in since then. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

Two French academics, Islam expert Olivier Roy and political scientist Justin Vaisse argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday that Obama’s premise of trying to reconcile the West and Islam is flawed:

Such an initiative would reinforce the all-too-accepted but false notion that “Islam” and “the West” are distinct entities with utterly different values. Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between “civilizations” or “cultures” concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.

When it’s better to lead with the economy than with the innuendo

President-elect Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging interview to the Chicago Tribune , offering his hometown daily a scoop that forced other journalists to choose which angle to highlight in their reports on it. Reuters chose to lead  with his comment that the most pressing problem right now was to “stabilize the patient” and save the U.S. economy from losing millions of jobs. I agree this is the key message he sent in this interview and deserved to take top billing. So I was surprised to see how many news organisations went with a different angle. (Photo: Obama in Chicago, 9 Dec 2008/Jeff Haynes)

“Obama to take the oath of office using his middle name”“At inauguration, it will be Barack Hussein Obama: interview” “I, Barack Hussein Obama” — several news organisations led off with the fact that Obama would be sworn in under his full name. What did they expect? That he would kowtow to his campaign critics who pointedly called him Barack Hussein Obama but didn’t have the courage to say what they were hinting at, i.e. that this self-confessed Christian was a “covert Muslim” or “Muslim apostate” and therefore unreliable?

Given the context of the campaign, the fact that Obama has not been cowed is interesting. We mentioned it in the third paragraph, the Chicago Tribune in the second. But let’s ask if making this the lead, putting it at the top of the whole story, gives the whispering campaign against him much more importance than it is due?

The irrelevant and the interesting in Obama’s religious views

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few months on this and other blogs about Barack Obama and religion. Looking back at it now that the campaign is over and he is starting to shape his administration, it’s interesting to see how many of those discussions shed little light on what he would actually do. There were comments about him being a hidden Muslim, for example, or not a real Christian. That speculation seemed based on thin evidence and the assumption he was running for preacher and cleric-in-chief rather than president and commander-in-chief. As a journalist covering religion in public life, after learning whether a candidate professes a certain faith, I want to know how that faith will really influence his or her decisions in office. This is not necessarily the same as listing the soundbite positions used on the campaign trail. (Photo: Barack Obama at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, 15 June 2008/John Gress)

Seen from this point of view, probably the most interesting fact about Barack Obama’s religious views is one that rarely gets mentioned. It’s that he’s an admirer of the late American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The President-elect has clearly named “America’s leading public theologian” as a major influence on his thinking. It comes out less in specific positions than in the way he looks at problems and discusses policies in terms with a ”Niebuhrian” ring about them.

In April 2007, Obama told David Brooks of the New York Times that Niebuhr was one of his favourite thinkers.  So I asked, What do you take away from him? Brooks asked: