FaithWorld

Tunis march against Islamists, for harmony after Polish priest murdered

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(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

About 15,000 demonstrators have protested in Tunis against the country’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish Catholic priest had been murdered by an extremist group.

“We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans on Saturday including “Terrorism is not Tunisian” and “Religion is Personal”.

Tunisia’s Islamist movement has shown signs of organising since the overthrow of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had surpressed them during his more than two decades of rule, and have pressured authorities to shut at least three brothels in recent weeks. tunis funeral

(Tunis Catholic Archbishop Maroun Lahham blesses a photograph of Fr. Marek Rybinski during Mass at the cathedral of Tunis February 20, 2011/Anis Mili)

Muslims honor Jewish Holocaust victims at Auschwitz

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(Israeli Grand Rabbi Meir Lau speaks at the Victims Monument at Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland, February 1, 2011/Michal Lepecki)

Prominent Muslims joined Jews and Christians at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz on Tuesday in a gesture of interfaith solidarity designed to refute deniers of the Holocaust such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 200 dignitaries from across the Islamic world, from Israel, European countries and international organizations such as UNESCO took part in the visit, which included a tour of the site and prayers in Arabic, Yiddish, English and French.

“We must teach our young people in mosques, churches and synagogues about what happened here,” Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric told Reuters. “This awful place should stand as a reminder to all people that intolerance and lack of understanding between people can result in… such places as Auschwitz.”

Top Sunni Islam authority al-Azhar halts dialogue with Vatican

al-azharThe highest authority of Sunni Islam, the Islamic University of al-Azhar in Cairo, has frozen all dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church over what it called Pope Benedict’s repeated insults towards Islam. Benedict this month condemned attacks on churches that killed dozens of people in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, saying they showed the need to adopt effective measures to protect religious minorities. (Photo: Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, July 13, 2006/Suhaib Salem)

His remarks followed a New Year bombing outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that left 23 people dead and dozens injured and prompted demonstrations by both Christians and Muslims against sectarian violence. The pope urged Christian communities to persevere in a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as “a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target”.

Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council “reviewed in an emergency meeting on Thursday the repeatedly insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope towards Islam and his statement that Muslims are discriminating against others who live with them in the Middle East,” al-Azhar said in a statement. “The council decided to freeze dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican for an indefinite period,” it added.

Why did the U.N. proclaim World Interfaith Harmony Week?

unga 1 (Photo: United Nations General Assembly hall, 23 Nov 2006/Jérôme Blum)

The United Nations General Assembly passes a stack of resolutions every year and many of them go all but unnoticed.  One such document just approved in New York established a new World Interfaith Harmony Week. High-minded resolutions put most news junkies to sleep, so it’s probably no surprise this one got such scant media coverage (see here and here). But there’s more to this one than meets the glazed-over eye.

muslims at synodThe resolution, accepted by consensus on Wednesday, urged all member states to designate the first week of February every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week. It asked them to “support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week based on Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or based on Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.” (Photo: Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, addresses Vatican synod of bishops, 14 )ct 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Amid the standard legal wording of U.N. resolutions, that phrase “Love of God and Love of the Neighbour” stands out both as a rare example of religious belief in an official document like this and an unmistakable hint at the authorship of this text. Readers of this blog will recognise it as a trademark phrase of the Common Word group, the Muslim scholars who have been pursuing better interfaith understanding through dialogue with Christian churches. They’ve held a number of conferences with different churches and two of the manifesto’s signatories last week became the first Muslims to address a Vatican synod of bishops. Now the group is pursuing its mission on the diplomatic stage with an appeal to governments to help foster interfaith contacts.

Islam part of Germany, Christianity part of Turkey – Wulff

wulff 1 (Photo: Presidents Christian Wulff (R) and Abdullah Gül, followed by wives Bettina (R) and Hayrünnisa, during official welcome in Ankara October 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)

When German President Christian Wulff recently declared that Islam “belongs to Germany,” Christian Democratic  politicians there howled and Muslims living in Germany and Turkey cheered. Now Wulff, on an official visit to Turkey, has told the Turkish parliament that “Christianity too, undoubtedly, belongs to Turkey.” This time there was applause in Germany, and  silence from the Turkish deputies listening to him in Ankara on Tuesday.

wulff 3In both cases, Wulff’s words could not have come at a better time. (Photo: President Wulff address the Turkish parliament, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bagis (L) in the background/Umit Bektas)

Germany is in the grip of an emotional debate about Islam and Muslim integration. When Wulff said in his Oct. 3 German Unity Day address that Islam was now part of German society, given the large number (about 4 million) of Muslims living there, it was demographically obvious and politically risky. Several of his fellow Christian Democrats have challenged his view and insisted Germany had a “Judeo-Christian heritage” that Islam did not share. But Wulff, who was considered something of a lightweight for the ceremonial role when he was elected last July,  has taken a clear stand on a political and moral issue — just like Germans want their head of state to do. He is, as the Financial Times Deutschland entitled its editorial on Wednesday, “Finally A President.”

The overwhelmingly Muslim but officially secular state of Turkey is slowly reconsidering the tight restrictions it has long imposed on its tiny Christian minority. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government has made a small and cautious opening to Christians, allowing religious services at a historic Greek Orthodox monastery and Armenian Orthodox church, allowing an art show at a forcibly closed Orthodox seminary and helping the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch’s succession problem with citizenship for foreign prelates.

Excerpts from pope speech at London interfaith meeting

pope and rabbi (Photo: Pope Benedict and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, September 17, 2010/Toby Melville)

Pope Benedict met leaders of non-Christian faiths in London on Friday and stressed the need for dialogue among religions to foster peace. Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Khaled Azzam, director of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, also spoke.

Here are some excerpts from the pope’s speech:

“I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated. The presence of committed believers in various fields of social and I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated. The presence of committed believers in various fields of social and economic life speaks eloquently of the fact that the spiritual dimension of our lives is fundamental to our identity as human beings, that man, in other words, does not live by bread alone. As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this “side by side” dimension of our cooperation, which complements the “face to face” aspect of our continuing dialogue…

“Your presence and witness in the world points towards the fundamental importance for human life of this spiritual quest in which we are engaged. Within their own spheres of competence, the human and natural sciences provide us with an invaluable understanding of aspects of our existence and they deepen our grasp of the workings of the physical universe, which can then be harnessed in order to bring great benefit to the human family. Yet these disciplines do not and cannot answer the fundamental question, because they operate on another level altogether. They cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, they cannot fully explain to us our origin and our destiny, why and for what purpose we exist, nor indeed can they provide us with an exhaustive answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

NYPD interfaith Holy Land tour, a different kind of New York religion story

nypd 5 croppedThere used to be a television series about the New York Police Department that ended with the voiced-over sign-off: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” We’ve been hearing mostly about only one of the religion stories in New York these days, the controversy surrounding the planned Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. On a recent visit to New York, I had the pleasure of hearing a very different type of New York story when I interviewed the NYPD officers who led the unusual interfaith tour of the Holy Land described in my feature here. (Photo: From left – Miller, Nasser, Wein and Reilly at interfaith center in Israel)

I met Sgt. Brian Reilly, Detective Ahmed Nasser and Detective Sam Miller at Reilly’s Lower East Side office and spoke to Detective Larry Wein by phone because he was out investigating a case. The Lower East Side has traditionally been so diverse that it’s almost tailor-made for the kind of interfaith cooperation they highlighted with this trip. “I’ve worked here in the Lower East Side and East Village for 29 years and been exposed to people from all over the world,” said Miller, who is Jewish. “It’s just a melting pot of every race, religion and ethnicity.” The NYPD reflects the city’s diversity, he said:  “This is the most diversified police department in the world. I’m an investigator. When we need a translator, I don’t have to go outside. We have members of the service who can speak any language in the world.”

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Reilly is commanding officer of the NYPD chaplains’ unit (4 Catholics, 2 Protestants, 1 Jewish and 1 Muslim) but these men are not chaplains themselves. Instead, they are leaders in faith-based fraternal organizations for NYPD officers. The Holy Land tour was a completely private initiative. “We weren’t working on somebody’s suggestion,” explained Reilly, a Roman Catholic. “We paid it all ourselves. There was a price for the tour and people decided to go or not. We’re fraternal organizations and we decide how to run our yearly trip.”

New York mosque opponents react, mayor defends religious freedom

nyc mosque 1A planned mosque and Muslim cultural center near the site of the September 11 attacks, which has triggered national debate, faces a new hurdle after a lawsuit was filed aiming to block the controversial project. (Photo: Demonstrator holds a sign in support of the proposed Cordoba Mosque to be built in New York, July 13, 2010/Keith Bedford)

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday by the American Center for Law & Justice in Washington whose mission is defending religious freedom, challenges Tuesday’s decision by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission not to grant landmark status to the 1857 Italianate building currently on the site.

“This issue has nothing to do with religious freedom,” said Brett Joshpe, a lawyer for ACLJ. “Given what the (planned new) building represents, the placement of the project at that location is inappropriate and inflammatory.”

In season of optimism, Kashmiri Hindus dream of returning home

kashmirTwo decades after they were forced to flee Kashmir, thousands of Hindu Pandits seek to return to their ancestral homeland, their hopes lifted by a fall in Islamist rebel attacks against New Delhi’s rule. (Photo: Kashmiri Pandits perform prayers during an annual Hindu festival at a shrine in Khirbhawani, June 19, 2010/Danish Ismail)

Exiled Pandits gathered Saturday by the green chinar trees and sparkling streams at the Khirbhawani shrine for an annual festival, chanting hymns to the goddess of peace who is the deity in this holy spot 30 km east of Srinagar.

“My motherland is regaining its peace and beauty, I can feel it. I feel the time has come to return and live here with Muslim brethren,” 52-year-old Ravinder Sadhu, a migrant who lives with his family in the western Indian city of Pune, told Reuters.

In Indonesia, keeping the religious status quo

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Youths read the Koran in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province September 5, 2008/Yusuf Ahmad

 Even though Indonesia is officially secular, belonging to a religious group is part of your national identity — to the point of being listed on your identity card.

But don’t try to spread a religion that isn’t one of six recognised by the constitution or you could be accused of blasphemy.