FaithWorld

Preaching good sex, Muslim-inspired Obedient Wives Club spreads in Asia

(Newly-wed Ummu Honey Lokman Hakim, 19, a member of "The Obedient Wife Club", bows to her 23-year-old husband Mohd Syurahbil Amran, during a mass wedding ceremony in conjunction with the club's launch in Kuala Lumpur June 4, 2011/Samsul Said )

Indonesian Gina Puspita traded a career in aircraft engineering for a mission to preach Islam and help young women build happy marriages through good sex. The French-educated mother of three hosts religious programmes through the Obedient Wives Club which is based on the belief that a fulfilling sex life is the cure for “Western-style” social problems such as divorce and abuse.

“Wives must obey the husbands in all aspect of life, such as serving food and drinks, giving calm and support for the husband, as well as in sex relations,” Pusipita, who shares her spouse with three other women, told Reuters.

A Muslim group which espouses good sex as a foundation for healthy marriages and a strong society, the Obedient Wives Club is gaining converts in the world’s most populous Muslim country after setting up in Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Founded by Global Ikhwan, a Malaysian firm involved in businesses ranging from laundromats to pharmacies, the club was initially intended to help the company’s female staff to be good wives as well as productive employees. Global Ikhwan’s officials have been linked to the now-defunct Malaysia-based Al-Arqam religious sect which was banned by the government in 1994. Before the Obedient Wives Club, Global Ikhwan had earlier established the Polygamy Club which encourages polygamy among Muslims.

Church of England to wash some Bible imagery from baptism rite

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(Sistine Chapel fresco The Baptism of Christ c. 1482 by Pietro Perugino)

The Church of England has voted to use more accessible language during baptisms to help it connect better with congregations, especially non church-goers.  Members attending the Church’s General Synod, or parliament, in London, agreed that the Liturgical Commission should provide supplementary material to help prevent the eyes of  worshippers “glazing over” during important parts of the service.

The Reverend Tim Stratford, from Liverpool, said on Wednesday his motion was “not a request for christenings without Christianity.” Quite the opposite.  “I am not asking for the language of Steven Gerrard,” he said, referring to the Liverpool and England  soccer star. “Just references that could be understood by the majority.”

Parts of the service were difficult to use “without seeming inappropriately schoolmaster-like”, he said.  Stratford said he did not disagree with the words currently being used, such as “I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, and I renounce evil.”

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.

Feeble, choked River Jordan struggles for salvation

baptism (Photo: Orthodox Christian nuns stand in the muddy Jordan River with two pilgrims at the Qasir al-Yahud baptismal site near the West Bank city of Jericho, March 31, 2010/Darren Whiteside)

Christian pilgrims alarmed by claims that baptism in the River Jordan could make them sick are being urgently reassured by Israeli officials that the water poses no health risk.

Water quality tests published this week counter allegations by environmentalist group Friends of the Earth that the level of coliform bacteria from sewage in the river is too high for safe bathing, Eli Dror of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority said.

“There’s absolutely no problem with the quality of the water. People can come and baptise here as much as they want,” Dror told Reuters. “I can guarantee it.”

Russian Orthodox take icy plunges to celebrate Epiphany

Russian Orthodox believers washed away their sins by taking a plunge into icy waters on the feast of the Epiphany, which fell on Monday according to the Orthodox calendar.  The traditional triple dip commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.  Here are several Reuters photographs and a Reuters video of Russians braving the winter cold to perform the ritual. dip 1

A man prepares to dip in icy waters during an Orthodox Epiphany celebration, with the air temperature at about -26 degrees Celsius ( -14.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pereslavl-Zalessky, some 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Moscow January 19, 2010/Sergei Karpukhin dip 2

A man gets out of the water during an Orthodox Epiphany celebration, with air temperature at about -24 degrees Celsius (-11.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in Suzdal, some 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Moscow January 19, 2010/Denis Sinyakov dip 3

A man helps a woman out of the Bazaikha river during Orthodox Epiphany celebrations, with air temperature at about -28 degrees Celsius (-18.4 degrees Fahrenheit), in the suburbs of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk January 19, 2010/Ilya Naymushin

Israel rejects Jordanian bid to claim Dead Sea Scrolls

dead sea scrolls

Section of Dead Sea scrolls at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, 14 May 2008/Baz Ratner

Israel has rejected a Jordanian claim that the historic Dead Sea Scrolls belong to them. Jordan has asked Canada to seize sections of the 2,000-year-old scrolls that were recently exhibited in Toronto and hand them over to Amman.  It said Israel took the scrolls illegally when it won control over the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war .

Here’s a Reuters video report by Basmah Fahim interviewing Israeli and Jordanian officials on the issue:

POLL: The world’s top 500 Muslims? Read and vote

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If you’ve ever been confused by Muslim names you read in the news or unsure who’s important in the Islamic world, help is near. A new book entitled “The 500 Most Influential Muslims – 2009″ lists prominent Muslims from different fields — politics, religion, women, media, even radicals — with informative short biographies explaining who they are. It starts with an overall “top 50″ list and then surveys the most prominent Muslims in their fields. Here it is in PDF.

The book, edited by Professors John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin at Georgetown University in Washington, is the first in what is planned to be an annual survey of the top Muslim personalities around the world. It’s a joint effort by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Esposito is director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center and Kalin is spokesman for the Common Word dialogue initiative we’ve written about on this blog before.

As the editors say in their introduction: “Influence in the Muslim world is particular to its context. There is not a clear hierarchy or organised clergy for Muslims to identify a leader, such as a patriarch for Orthodox Christians or a pope for Catholics.” They took a mix of factors into account in working out their top 50 list and have even asked readers to send in suggestions for next year’s list. You can vote for your candidate for “most influential Muslim” in the poll at the bottom of this post.

GUESTVIEW: Missing dimension in Middle East peace process

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace (New York) and Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Rev. Bud Heckman and Matthew Weiner

obama-and-muslim-womenIn the foreshadow of President Obama’s much anticipated speech to the Muslim world and on peace this week, there is new hope for peace in the Middle East. Its source is the opposite of what many may think: religion, and the extraordinary promise of principled inclusion of religions in seeking solutions for peace and justice.

Of course, in one sense this is nothing new. Think of the Peace of Westphalia and the political virtue of tolerance developed in response to bloody religious civil wars, which were no less serious than any religious conflict we face today. One difference now — to some degree the result of secularization — is the assumption that the political and public is more frequently separate from the religious. That is to say, an assumption arises that we can do without religion in the public sphere to solve public problems. With this secular mind set, when making a political peace, it is assumed that religion should be sidelined or asked to join only in some superficial way.

Palestinians & Israelis like Jesus, int’l community like Apostles?

It’s not often you hear the Palestinians and Israelis compared to Jesus or the international community likened to Christ’s closest disciples. But the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, did just that in his address at Pope Benedict’s Mass in the Valley of Josephat today. This is the valley just east of the old city of Jerusalem, close to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in agony before he was arrested by the Romans led by Judas. The Apostles Peter, James and John had accompanied him but they stayed a short distance away and fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Twal used this image to make a link between that Gospel episode and current day Middle East politics:

pope-gethsemane-2Just a few yards from here, Jesus said to his most favored disciples “Remain here, and watch with me” (Mt. 26:39). But these same disciples closed their eyes, not losing sleep over Jesus’ agony, only a short distance away in the Garden of Gethsemane.” (Photo: Pope arrives for Mass with the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s old city is visible in the background, 12 May 2009/Yannis Behrakis)

Holy Father, today, in many ways, the situation has not changed: around us, we have the agony of the Palestinian people, who dream of living in a free and independent Palestinian State, but have not found its realization; and the agony of the Israeli people, who dream of a normal life in peace and security and, despite all their military and mass media might, have not found its realization.

PAPA DIXIT: Sermon at Amman Mass, at Jesus baptism site

Sunday was a lighter program, with Pope Benedict celebrating an open-air Mass at Amman’s International Stadium in the morning and then visiting the Bethany beyond the Jordan site where Jesus was said to have been baptised. Here are excerpts from his speeches.

SERMON AT MASS IN AMMAN:

pope-jordanians-mass (Photo: Jordanian Catholics at pope’s Mass in Amman, 10 May 2009/Jamal Saidi)

MEETING JORDANIAN CATHOLICS: “As the Successor of Saint Peter, …I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the Risen Savior, and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love, in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history of Christian witness which you trace back to the age of the Apostles. The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East. May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world!”

CHRISTIAN FAMILIES: “May every Christian family grow in fidelity to its lofty vocation to be a true school of prayer, where children learn a sincere love of God, where they mature in selfdiscipline and concern for the needs of others, and where, shaped by the wisdom born of faith, they contribute to the building of an ever more just and fraternal society. The strong Christian families of these lands are a great legacy handed down from earlier generations. May today’s families be faithful to that impressive heritage, and never lack the material and moral assistance they need to carry out their irreplaceable role in service to society.”