FaithWorld

Planned mosque near New York’s Ground Zero sparks debate

ground zero (Photo: Visitors to Ground Zero in New York, September 11, 2009/Gary Hershorn)

Plans to build a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks have touched off a firestorm among New Yorkers nearly a decade after Muslim extremists linked to al Qaeda slammed planes into the World Trade Center. The Cordoba House mosque, part of a Muslim center to be built two blocks from what is now known as Ground Zero proposed as a conciliatory move, was overwhelmingly approved by a local community board in May.

But the plans are being resisted by some New Yorkers who say a mosque would be inappropriate so close to the place where nearly 3,000 people were killed. “I’m certainly not against religious expression, but I feel it’s an insensitive place to do that,” said Paul Sipos, a member of the community board who did not vote on the issue.

The center is a project of the Cordoba Initiative, a New York group aiming to improve relations between Muslims and the West. It would feature a 13-story structure with a 500-person auditorium, swimming pool, bookstores and a prayer space. Its chairman, Islamic scholar Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, said the center would be open to everyone and would help foster better understanding. “My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists,” Rauf wrote in an editorial in the New York Daily News. “We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric.”

Read the whole story by Karina Ioffee here.

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French mosque reopens after protest disruptions

drancy map

Drancy on a map of greater Paris

A French mosque, whose imam says he has received death threats over his promotion of dialogue with Jews, reopened for Friday prayers after it was forced to close down this week due to disruptive protests.  The mosque in Drancy, a suburb to the north of Paris, has been the focus of tension for weeks with a small group of protesters keeping up a noisy barrage of criticism against the imam Hassen Chalghoumi.

“We’ve been facing really enormous pressure for five or six weeks now,” Chalghoumi told reporters before Friday prayers. “We want peace, we want calm. These people aren’t welcome here.”

As Chalghoumi spoke, a group of around 30 protesters from a group named after Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of  the Palestinian Hamas movement, gathered outside the fence of the mosque, facing off with fluorescent-vested security staff preventing them from entering.

Mosque-synagogue twinning drive crosses the Atlantic

Schneier & Imams

Rabbi Marc Schneier with French imams, 8 Dec 2009/Rafi Fischer

An innovative campaign to build grass-roots dialogue between Jews and Muslims in North America has crossed the Atlantic and taken off in Europe. The “Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues,” which began last year with about 100 houses of worship in North America, expanded this year to include events in eight European countries. The weekend meetings, which have been taking place in November and December, bring together mosque and synagogue congregations to discuss ways of overcoming anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their own communities.

To get an idea of how these meetings go, here are reports on twinning events in … New YorkNew OrleansBuffaloTorontoMinneapolisParis

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding who initiated this outreach to Muslims, met with his European partners at a dinner in Paris on Tuesday evening. The twinning drive took off most successfully in France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities. The Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France (AJMF), whose leader Rabbi Michel Serfaty had already created a Muslim-Jewish  network with a “Friendship Bus” that tours France promoting dialogue, brought together 30 synagogues and 30 mosques. There isn’t any comparable network elsewhere in Europe, but several congregations organised similar twinnings this year  in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland.

GUESTVIEW:When it comes to clergy misconduct, take off those stained-glass specs

eee2 (Photo: Protest against clergy sex abuse at the Catholic cathedral in Sydney, 18 July 2008/Tim Wimborne)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is an American freelance journalist living in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania who writes about religion.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

Two large scale American studies of clergy gone off the rails raise a host of troubling and baffling questions, not solely about clergy sexual misconduct, but about how and why parishioners either tolerate or ignore signals that something is wrong. One sad but perhaps inescapable conclusion from them is that it may be time to start taking a more skeptical look at those who exercise power in our congregations.

garlandThis fall, Baylor University’s School of Social Work released the results of a national study of clergy sexual misconduct with adults. Roughly three percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been the target of inappropriate sexual behavior by pastors, researchers found . That’s a startling number. But even more eye-popping were the number of congregants — eight percent — who knew about clergy sexual misconduct in their faith community.

Saudi cleric says don’t pray for downfall of “infidels”

mosque-sermonMuslims should avoid prayers that call for the destruction of non-Muslims, an influential Saudi cleric has said.

“Praying for the ruin and the destruction of all infidels is not permitted because it goes against God’s law to call upon them … to take the righteous path,” Sheikh Salman al Awdah told Dubai-based MBC Television channel.

Many mosque imams and preachers in some Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, close their Friday sermons with prayers that call for the destruction of Islam’s enemies, especially Israel and its allies.

Turkish TV gameshow looks to convert atheists

game-showGiven the popularity of glitzy television gameshows of all sorts, it was probably inevitable that some secular channel somewhere one would come up with one about religion. Turkey’s Kanal T television station now has.

Its show, entitled “Penitents Compete,” will bring together spiritual guides from Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism who try to convert a group of non-believers. Those who get religion win a pilgrimage to a holy site of the faith they’ve chosen — Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists.

But the show, due to debut in September, has run into some unexpected trouble. The religious authorities in Muslim but secular Turkey have refused to provide an imam for the show, which they say will cheapen religion. Read the whole story here.

Funeral may show if Michael Jackson converted to Islam

jackson-niqab

One of the many rumours that swirled around Michael Jackson in the final years of his life was that he had secretly converted to Islam and taken the name Mikaeel. The “King of Pop” does not seem to have spoken about this publicly himself, and that scene in Bahrain when he went shopping badly disguised in an Arab woman’s abaya could be put down to his well-known penchant for dressing up. So unless there is some statement in his will or documentary evidence in his estate, his funeral expected this week may be the last time to test whether this rumour has any basis in fact. (Photo: Veiled Jackson greets security guard as he enters shopping mall in Manama, Bahrain with veiled child, 25 Jan 2006/Hamad Mohammed)

The Jacksons are Jehovah’s Witnesses and could be expected to bury Michael in the tradition of that faith. When he announced the death, his brother Jermaine — a Muslim — ended with the words: “May Allah be with you, Michael, always.” Jermaine said in 2007 he was trying to convince Michael to convert.

The post-mortem period hasn’t looked very Muslim so far. Traditions vary, but in Islamic funeral practices in general, autopsies and cremation are out and the body should be buried quickly, usually in a day or two. Jackson is reported to have asked for cremation in his will and his family has asked for a second autopsy after the first one failed to pinpoint the cause of death without long toxicology tests.

Italy’s Muslims divided over Gaza prayer protests at cathedrals

Many Italians were shocked to find pictures in their daily newspapers recently of Muslims kneeling in prayer on the piazzas in front of the cathedrals in Milan and Bologna during demonstrations in support of Palestinians in Gaza.
Predictably, politicians in the centre-right government criticised the protests with some, including the ministers for defence and European affairs, calling them a blasphemous provocation. (Photo: Il Giornale says Milan square “transformed into a mosque”)

The government ministers noted that it would be impossible for Christians to pray in Mecca and one called on the Roman Catholic Church to take a harder stand and be less tolerant.

Critics of the demonstrations have found an unlikely ally in Yahya Pallavicini, the vice-president of CO.RE.IS, Italy’s Islamic Religiuos Community. The demonstrations were organised by another Islamic group, the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII) and Pallavicini thinks they went over the top.

Imams and rabbis work for peace, even if debating it can get tense

There’s one thing you have to say about the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace — when they disagree about something, they don’t mind saying so. The final session of their third conference in Paris on Wednesday was the stage for an exchange of dramatic charges and counter-charges abut the perennial problem of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The atmosphere was tense in the UNESCO conference room where the 3-day session took place and several participants spoke up to calm down their more agitated colleagues. Since this was the only session the media was allowed to witness, it would have been easy to conclude that the imams and rabbis needed to seek peace among themselves first before preaching it to others. (Photo: An imam in Berlin, 3 Aug 2007/Fabrizio Bensch)

But there were actions that spoke louder than words in the hall. Several participants were frowning as the finger-pointing progressed. Others turned to the nearest participant of the other faith to chat. At one point, a rabbi in his Hasidic black hat and coat walked over to an imam wearing a karakul hat, embraced him warmly and sat down for a lively talk. A television camera would have had a field day contrasting the words and the deeds in evidence there. (Photo: A rabbi in Debent, Russia, 17 Sept 2007/Thomas Peter)

At the news conference ending the session, the organiser Alain Michel announced there had not been enough time to agree on a final resolution — a sign of a serious disagreement, as any reporter who has covered summit meetings could tell you. But he proceeded to say the meeting had agreed to set up a steering committee that would work out joint statements whenever there were major acts of violence in the name of religion. Names of the committee members were read out and all seemed to be satisfied that this was progress. Here is my news report about the meeting and here’s the official programme.

New, younger leaders for France’s Muslims and Jews

This is such a coincidence that some might suspect it wasn’t one. France’s Muslim and Jewish minorities, both the largest of their kind in Europe, elected new leaders on Sunday. In both cases, they opted for younger leaders who promised to play a more active role in their communities. We may see and hear more from these two groups than in the past.

Mohammed Moussaoui, 22 June 2008/Gonzalo FuentesThe French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) chose Mohammed Moussaoui, 44, of the Moroccan-backed Rally of French Muslims group as its new president. Its outgoing president, Dalil Boubakeur, 67, boycotted the election. This is a secular post, so Moussaoui is the top Muslim representative in France, not a theological authority. Although he is an imam, his “day job” is mathematics lecturer at the University of Avignon. After five years of paralysis at the CFCM, it was a breath of fresh air to see him publish an action programme in advance and pledge to reform the council. We covered his election here and the first round of the voting on June 8 here. There are about five million Muslims in France, around 8 percent of the population, and Islam is the second-largest religion here after Roman Catholicism. Moussaoui was born in Morocco and came to France for university studies.

The Rabbi and The Cardinal — Bernheim (l) and Barbarin (r)Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, 56, won election as the new grand rabbi of France, replacing Joseph Sitruk, 63, who had held the post for 21 years and sought reelection. Bernheim is an orthodox rabbi who has frequently spoken out in public on a wide range of issues. A former university chaplain, he is rabbi of the largest Paris synagogue, the Synagogue de la Victoire, and has been active in dialogue with Christians. He recently published “Le rabbin et le cardinal” (The Rabbi and The Cardinal), a long conversation with Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. This commitment to dialogue earned him some criticism during the election campaign from more traditionalist voices in an unusually lively campaign (see this pre-poll article in The Forward). In French, check out reports in Le Monde and RTL radio (audio and text). There are about 600,000 Jews in France.