FaithWorld

Iraq’s Arab neighbours wary of Shi’ite sway after vote

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Shi'ites mark the religious ceremony of Arbain at Imam Abbas shrine in Kerbala, 5 Feb 2010/Mushtaq Muhammed

Iraq’s Arab neighbours fear a split Iraqi election could further marginalise minority Sunnis and hope any coalition government formed by the Shi’ite frontrunner will resist Iran’s sway. Many Sunni Arabs had wanted a stronger showing by secularists, who they now hope will bring cross-sectarian balance to any coalition government that could be formed by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

“These election results show that there is a Shi’ite wave in the region which threatens Arab security in the region. Iran has a hidden role in the Arab region and it supports Shi’ite elements in the area, particularly in Iraq,” said Magid Mazloum from the Centre for Gulf Studies in Cairo.

Early election results showed Maliki pulling ahead on Sunday in an election Iraqis hoped would end years of sectarian strife, but a divided vote suggested long and fraught talks to form a government are ahead. But the overall picture, reflecting a nation fragmented by decades of sectarian and ethnic conflict, was still incomplete a week after the vote.

Sunni-led Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf where there are significant and marginalised Shi’ite minorities, worry about the repercussions of Iranian influence in Iraq. They fear meddling by Shi’ite non-Arab Iran in Iraq, an Arab country with a Shi’ite Muslim majority, could incite their own Shi’ite populations and that sectarian instability in Iraq could spill over.

from UK News:

How chaplains find peace during wartime

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A British military chaplain prepares a Remembrance Day ceremony at the British cemetery in Kabul November 11, 2009/Jerry Lampen

Dozens of chaplains from the Church of England are serving with British armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are there when soldiers seek redemption around the time of battle, and they there are, standing in the operating theatre, waiting until the surgeon can do no more.

They serve the needs of soldiers sent to war, and they also serve God.

While they adminster balm on the battlefield, their peers preach peace from the pulpit. Which is the more important for the CoE at a time of war?

POLL: Do Bible citations belong on military gunscopes?

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Gen. Petraeus in Baghdad, 1 Jan 2010/Saad Shalash

U.S. General David Petraeus has criticised a company that embossed Bible citations on rifle scopes sent to forces fighting in Muslim countries. “This is of serious concern to me and to the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because, indeed, it conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what it is that we have sought to do,” Petraeus said. Read our news story and tell us what you think in the following poll. poll by twiigs.com  Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Those left behind: The legacy of Arlington’s Section 60

Larry Downing is a Reuters senior staff photographer assigned to the White House. He shares that duty with three other staff photographers. He has lived in Washington since 1977 and has been assigned to cover the White House, since 1978. President Barack Obama is the sixth president Larry has photographed.

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”  George Orwell

Veteran’s Day is a time to remember “All gave some....Some gave all.”

Before reaching the new gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery’s ‘Section 60’ it’s easy to recognize why a simple, quilted, patch of green grass and white stones buried alongside the quiet banks of the Potomac River troubles the heart.

Pew maps the Muslim world

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life just released a demographic study of the Muslim world it says is “the largest project of its kind to date.” Click here http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=450 to see the report ”Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population.”

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The report drew on data from 232 countries and territories and involved Pew researchers working with nearly 50 demographers and social scientists around the world. It is certainly a useful reference for anyone interested in the Islamic world. (PHOTO: Hundreds of thousands of Muslims pray inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca Sept. 15, 2009. REUTERS/Susan Baahil)

Among its highlights:

Baghdad church bombings leave tiny Christian minority trembling

baghdad-church-1A spate of bombs targeting churches in Baghdad this week has Iraq’s minority Christian community trembling at the prospect of being the next victim of militants trying to reignite war.

Iraqi Christians, one of the country’s weakest ethnic or  religious groups, have usually tried to steer clear of its many-sided conflict. For the most part, they manage.

While Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims killed each other by the dozen at the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, Christians were rarely targeted, although sometimes they were.

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.

French, U.S. imams talk about being Muslim military chaplains

imams-threeBoth are Muslims. Both are chaplains. Both are in the military. But one is French and one is American. That alone ensured there would be enough to talk about when Mohamed-Ali Bouharb and Abu- hena Saifulislam met in Paris to discuss their work with chaplains and academics from the United States.
(Photo: Bouharb (l) and Saifulislam with CIEE’s Hannah Taieb. Note the Islamic crescents on Bouharb’s cap and Saifulislam’s sleeves, 7 June 2009/Tom Heneghan)

Muslim chaplaincies are relatively new additions to the armed forces in Europe and North America. Establishing their place alongside the traditional Catholic, Protestant and Jewish offices of religious services has not always been easy, even though both imams reported the top brass in their countries strongly supported the effort. While they tend to the spiritual needs of their co-religionists in the ranks, as other chaplains do, these imams also spend much time explaining their religion and its practices to their non-Muslim superiors.Both spoke of the obvious issues such as getting halal food or having time and space for Muslim prayers. Both had encountered questions from both within the forces and outside in the Muslim community asking why they had agreed to work as imams in the military. Their presentations were part of a seminar entitled “Religious Diversity in Everyday Life in France” organised by the U.S.-based Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and the Institute for the Study of Islam and the Societies of the Muslim World in Paris.Bouharb, 32, is a French-born Muslim with Tunisian roots who studied Islam at a private Muslim institute in Paris and graduated from a special training course for imams at the Catholic Institute here. He is chaplain to the National Gendarmerie, which comes under the Defence Ministry. France only launched its Muslim chaplain corps in 2005 and it is still finding its way. “I first got a two-year contract. It’s just been extended by four years. Nothing is certain. We’ll see the results in 20 years,” he told the meeting on Sunday. Bouhard stressed how tricky the issues he faces can be as he discussed the delicate bridge function he has to play with the example of five French Muslim soldiers who refused to go to Afghanistan:

“If a Muslim soldier doesn’t want to go to Afghanistan for religious reasons, that’s his right. My role is not to convince him. But if he doesn’t want to go, he shouldn’t be in the army. That’s not a religious opinion. Sometimes the Muslim chaplain has to put aside his religious role and deconstruct what is religious and what is not. What I do is go see the soldier and ask him about his vision of Islam. I can help him to understand things better, but not to make a decision… If a soldier’s not clear in his mind (about shooting at Taliban), he might hesitate for a moment. That could endanger the troops around him…“To the commanders, I say I’m not the representative of a Muslim soldiers’ trade union. When those five refused to go, people said the Muslim chaplains weren’t doing their jobs. It was all over the media. But the chaplain’s duty is not to ensure the cohesion of the troops. (The doubting soldier) could endanger others. My religious duty is not to put those others in danger… We Muslim chaplains asked for a right to reply to the media but the Defence Ministry press office said it was not worth the effort… They were right. A few weeks later, all was forgotten.”

Another issue was whether Muslim soldiers due for commando training had to fast if the session occurred during Ramadan. “They get up at 3 a.m. and march for 25 kms with backpacks weighing 25 kilos. It’s very difficult to fast,” he said. Muslim soldiers asked him what to do. “I told them that, if you signed up to do this training, you have to respect that contract. You can stop your fast and catch up on those days after Ramadan is over.” Ten Qatari soldiers in France for advanced training could not understand why the session was not rescheduled, as it would be in their majority Muslim society, but Bouharb said it could not be and the Muslim soldiers had to adjust. “There is only one Islam, but there are many ways of expressing it,” he said.imams-twoSaifulislam, who emigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1989 and became a U.S. Navy imam 10 years later, had a slightly different approach. “If there is special training during Ramadan, I ask the commander if it can be moved to another date,” he said, stressing he was giving his personal opinion and not speaking in an official capacity. “I tell the Muslims that they’re away from home while on training so they can not fast and make it up later. It’s his or her call. I provide the counsel.”
(Photo: Bouharb and Saifulislam, 7 June 2009/Tom Heneghan)

He said there were about a dozen imams in the U.S. armed forces, which appointed their first Muslim chaplain in 1993. That compares to over 800 Christian and Jewish chaplains in the Navy alone, he said. “They don’t necessarily need us for the number of Muslim soldiers but to advise them on religious inclusiveness, like about how Islamic practices can affect a mission, before they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. They get training in cultural sensitivity.”Possibly because imams have served in the U.S. military for longer than in the French, the American Muslim chaplains seemed more integrated into the overall chaplain corps. Saifulislam said:

Ninety-nine percent of the people who come to me for counselling are from another faith. They come to you with issues, it could be about family, stress or violence. People can get more religious in boot camp, also in prison. I’ve also been trained in suicide prevention, PTSD recognition and crisis management. We also do grief counselling, regardless of the religion. Of course, we don’t perform services for other religions. You’re not going to see me baptise a baby! But we facilitate things. If someone comes to me as a Wiccan and asks for a place to pray, I help them. The Department of Defense recognises over 290 different religions and denominations. If a Muslim asks one of the other chaplains to help him get a copy of the Koran, he has to help him.”

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.

War: is it the ultimate test of faith?

faithThere are many things that will test a person’s religious faith and war is among the strongest. “Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain’s Memoir”, which will be published this week, is Roger Benimoff’s moving account of his battle with the demons of war that almost cost him his faith and his family. He did two tours in Iraq and you can read my interview with him here.

The Iraq war of course remains fraught with religious overtones. Former U.S. President George W. Bush saw many of his policies as driven by his Christian faith (and aimed at his conservative evangelical base); Iraq itself has been riven by religious and sectarian conflict; and many people of faith question the morality of the U.S.-led war there, now six years old.

When I asked Benimoff if the Iraq war has been worth all of the sacrifice, he became very emotional and found that it was a question he is still wrestling with. As he describes in his book, asking such hard questions lead him to question his own faith and made him angry at times with God (while he also battled with post-tramautic stress disorder or PTSD).