FaithWorld

from David Rohde:

For American-Muslims, dread

Louisville, Kentucky – Friday morning, four Pakistani-American doctors dressed in business suits and medical scrubs sat in one of this city’s most popular breakfast spots and fretted. At an adjacent table, a middle-aged woman grew visibly nervous when their native land was mentioned. One of the doctors, a 47-year-old cardiologist, was despondent.

“We were all praying this wouldn’t happen,” he told me. “No matter what you do in your community, that’s the label that is attached.”

Another doctor worried that years of outreach efforts by the city’s 10,000-strong Muslim community, a mix of Bosnians, Somalis and Iraqis, would be lost. Thursday, he sent a letter to the local newspaper condemning the Boston attack “no matter who committed it.” When news broke Friday that the two suspects were Chechen Muslims, his family grew nervous.

“Five minutes ago my mom called from Copenhagen to see if I was ok,” the 41-year-old geriatrician said. “It rattles all of us.”

Clearly, Bostonians have and will suffer the most from the marathon bombings. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people “sheltered in place” in and around Boston Friday. The injured now face months, if not years, of arduous recuperation. And the families of the dead will never recover.

U.S. religious publishers reap rewards with Justin Bieber and the Bible

(A woman reads her Bible during a weekly bible study meeting at the West Unity Methodist Church in Unity, New Hampshire July 5, 2011/Brian Snyder)

Religious publishers in the United States are busy these days, releasing such new books as a biography of pop music phenom and devout Christian Justin Bieber — entitled “Belieber!: Fame, Faith and The Heart of Justin Bieber.” Other tomes mix spirituality with memoir and self-help topics. New editions of the Bible have also been released recently,  as well as e-books and audio book downloads by popular religious authors.

“Both in dollars and units sold, the industry is back in line with its historical growth of the last decade,” since the recession, said Byron Williamson, head of Worthy Publishing in Nashville, a center  for religious publishing in the United States that some say is second only to New York City for book publishing.

As Vatican readies to recognise South Sudan, a look back at tense 1993 papal visit

(A man holds up South Sudan's new flag as South Sudanese children rehearse their dance routine, to be performed at half time during South Sudan's national soccer team's match with Kenya as part of the independence day celebrations, in Juba July 7, 2011/Paul Banks)

As predominantly Christian and animist South Sudan stands on the threshold of independence, one man who helped bring world attention to the suffering of believers there is no longer here to savour the day.

On Feb. 10, 1993, Pope John Paul made a tense visit to Khartoum and pulled no punches in a highly charged meeting with the country’s president, General Omar Hassan Ahmed al Bashir. In his meeting,  the outspoken pope left diplomacy at the door, as was often his custom when he wanted to speak from the heart. He bluntly compared the suffering of Sudan’s Catholics to the crucifixion of Christ and told the Islamic government that only guaranteeing the rights of  Christians and other minorities would bring peace.

Ethiopia jails hundreds in Muslim attacks on Christians over Koran rumour

(A destroyed Protestant church in Asendabo, 300 km (200 miles) west of the capital Addis Ababa, March 16, 2011, after Muslim youths attacked Christians/Aaron Maasho )

An Ethiopian court has sentenced 558 people to jail terms ranging from six months to 25 years for attacks on Christians that displaced thousands and led 69 churches to be burned to the ground. More than 4,000 members of local Protestant denominations were forced to flee near the town of Asendabo, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) west of the capital, in March during a rare bout of religious violence.

Mobs of Muslim youths carried out week-long attacks on Protestants after rumours that desecrated pages from the Koran had been found at a church construction site. Authorities reported a single death from the attacks.

Christians issue code of conduct for spreading faith without fanning tensions

(Evangelical pastor Marcos Pereira da Silva embraces a prisoner as his missionaries stand by at the 52nd Police Station jail in Nova Iguacu, near Rio de Janeiro, which they visited on October 29, 2009 to evangelize prisoners/Ricardo Moraes )

A coalition representing most Christian churches around the world launched a rule book on Tuesday for spreading their faith that aims to reduce tensions among themselves and with followers of other faiths. The pioneering code of conduct, under negotiation for five years, was unveiled by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), which together claim to represent over 90 percent of Christianity.

It reaffirms their right to seek converts but also urges them to abandon “inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means”, saying that such behaviour “betrays the Gospel and may cause suffering to others”. Click here for the PDF text of the guidelines.

South Korea’s religious harmony put to the test by Christian president

(South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the presidential Blue House in Seoul June 9, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak)

Many South Koreans concerned about the country’s increasing religious polarisation are haunted by a single image – their president on his knees. While attending a national prayer breakfast in March, President ??Lee Myung-bak knelt to pray at the urging of Christian leaders.

Footage of the event shocked many in this pluralist country, where about half the population professes no particular faith and the remainder is split between Buddhists, Christians and homegrown creeds. The main Buddhist Jogye Order called the scene “unforgiveable,” and even right-leaning media outlets generally supportive of the conservative leader expressed reservations.

Mideast Christians struggle to hope in Arab Spring, some see no spring at all

(A Muslim holding the Koran (top L) and a Coptic Christian holding a cross in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the period of interfaith unity on February 6, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

Middle East Christians are struggling to keep hope alive with Arab Spring democracy movements promising more political freedom but threatening religious strife that could decimate their dwindling ranks. Scenes of Egyptian Muslims and Christians protesting side by side in Cairo’s Tahrir Square five months ago marked the high point of the euphoric phase when a new era seemed possible for religious minorities chafing under Islamic majority rule.

Since then, violent attacks on churches by Salafists — a radical Islamist movement once held in check by the region’s now weakened or toppled authoritarian regimes — have convinced Christians their lot has not really improved and could get worse.

Pity the pandering U.S. candidate

Politicians pandering for votes on conservative family values issues may want to think again.

A survey of 3,000 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found 42 percent said the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” both described them well, illustrating the complexity of the abortion issue in the minds of many.

“The terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ does not reflect the complexity of Americans’ views on abortion,” said Robert Jones, head of the institute.

Egyptian Christians worry their country is being hijacked by Salafists

(An Egyptian Christian chants slogans as he protests against recent attacks in front of the state television building in Cairo May 15, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

Last January, Nazih Moussa Gerges locked up his downtown Cairo law office and joined hundreds of thousands of fellow Egyptians to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down. The 33-year-old Christian lawyer was back on the streets this month to press military rulers who took over after Mubarak stepped down to end a spate of sectarian attacks that have killed at least 28 people and left many afraid. Those who camped out in Tahrir Square side by side with Muslims to call for national renewal now fear their struggle is being hijacked by ultra-conservative Salafist Islamists with no one to stop them.

“We did not risk our lives to bring Mubarak down in order to have him replaced by Salafists,” Gerges said. “We want an Egypt that will be an example of democracy and freedom for the whole world.”

Muslims rush to restore torched Egyptian church

(A Coptic Christian boy looks out of the Saint Mary Church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Mohammed Fathi worked his brush gently over an icon of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, removing soot from its surface inside a church gutted in an attack by Islamist militants this month. “It takes a lot of careful work to do that,” Fathi said. “We have to do a lot of tests with chemicals to try to restore the icon to its original condition.”

The 26-year-old is one of a vast group of mostly Muslim craftsmen tasked with restoring St Mary’s Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba after militants set it on fire on May 7. Egypt’s military rulers have ordered its restoration at a time when tensions between Christians, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and Muslims are on the rise. The ground floor of the four-storey church was gutted in the fire, destroying 10 out of 27 old icons beyond repair.