FaithWorld

Muslims seek to add Islamic holidays to New York school calendar

new york (Photo:  New York City skyline, December 12, 2009/Jessica Rinaldi)

Muslim parents, students and civic groups are campaigning to add two of their religious holidays to the New York City public school calendar, pinning their hopes on state lawmakers after failing to win over Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the idea. Supporters say there are more than 100,000 Muslim students in the public schools, or about 12 percent of the enrollment.

Putting Eid Ul-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, celebrating the end of

the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on the list of official school holidays will help ease suspicion and reduce anti-Muslim sentiment nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks, they say.

The school calendar currently has 13 observed holidays, including Jewish ones such as Rosh Hashana and Christian holidays such as Good Friday, but no Muslim holidays. Bloomberg has rejected the proposal, arguing city students cannot afford more days off. Just four in 10 students graduate on time and one in 10 drops out, according to statistics.

Supporters now are looking to a bill that calls for instituting the Muslim holidays as days off in city schools. It is pending in the state Senate and Assembly and if it becomes law, it would supersede Bloomberg’s decision despite his control of New York City schools.

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.”

Burmese monks who fled to the U.S. are a vanishing breed

buddhist burma

Monks sit in protest as riot policemen and troops block access to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on 26 Sept 2007/Adrees Latif

Burmese monks were beaten, jailed and killed while protesting Myanmar’s military regime in 2007, and dozens found refuge in America.  But now most have been forced to swap their saffron-colored robes for blue-collar workwear and abandon their monkhood out of a need to scratch out a living in their adopted land.

The few remaining monks are clinging to their vocation in the rundown former textile mill town of Utica some 240 miles (380 km) north of New York City, trying to adapt.

How does a rabbi get involved in dialogue with Muslims?

abdullah-and-visotzky-2

--- Rabbi Visotzky and King Abdullah in Madrid, July 2008 ---

How does a rabbi get involved in dialogue with Muslims? On this blog, we often write about interfaith dialogue, for which personal contact is crucial, without talking much about the background of the personalities involved.

Given the constraints of journalism, that’s not surprising. But it does leave out some of the insights I gain from talking at length with rabbis and imams about themselves and their work.

One of these rabbis, Burton Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, has now filled in part of this gap for me by giving a video interview to the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. Vistozky is an occasional blogger for our GUESTVIEW series of outside contributions.

U.S. Jesuits honour ABC Williams with prize named after English martyr

williams preaching

Archbishop Rowan Williams leads Christmas carol service at Canterbury Cathedral, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

Poor Rowan Williams. Only a few weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion was caught offguard by a Vatican offer of a new Roman home for Anglicans who cannot accept the idea of women bishops. At a joint news conference with London’s Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols, he did his ecumenical best to present this as a quite normal gesture among friendly Christian churches and not — as some media presented it — a Roman strategy to poach wandering sheep from the divided Anglican flock. It was proof of his sharp intellect and deep commitment to the ecumenical cause that Williams found a way to finesse this very trying situation. america mag

America magazine

Now another challenge has come not from across the Tiber, but across the Atlantic. The New York-based Jesuit weekly magazine America has just said it is proud to announce that The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is the 2009 recipient of the Campion Award. The award is given on a regular basis to a noted Christian person of letters. It is named after St. Edmund Campion, S.J., who is patron of America’s communications ministry.”

GUESTVIEW: Buddhist peace lanterns on Hudson to mark 9/11

lanterns-hudson (Photo: Lanterns floating on the Hudson, 11 Sept 2007)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Matthew Weiner

Everyone has a September 11th story, especially those living in New York, and just about every religious community has a way of commemorating it. Most religious leaders include the topic in their weekly sermons. Others hold prayer services on the day itself. Do different religions do so differently?

Some Buddhists do. On Friday, September 11th, Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, a Japanese Buddhist priest, hosts his annual Lantern Lighting Ceremony at Pier 40 on the Hudson River. He has done so every year on the day of anniversary. Hundreds of people attend- many of them Buddhists, but mostly they are just New Yorkers who have made this the way that they pass the evening of 9/11 as the sun sets.

GUESTVIEW: Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Engagement

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

sheikh-and-rabbi-2 (Photo: Muslim sheikh and Jewish rabbi address interfaith meeting in Brussels, 4 Jan 2005/Thierry Roge)

By Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky

Jewish-Muslim engagement in an international context is inevitably more than interreligious dialogue. Muslim representatives, for the most part, do not come from countries that have a separation of mosque and state. Practically speaking, these dialogues are a form of second-tier diplomacy. In the United States, this is made apparent by fact the State Department sponsors Muslim visitors through its Foreign Leadership Visitor Program.

GUESTVIEW: Finding and defining the religious pluralism within

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace and editor of InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook (SkyLight, 2008).

By Matthew Weiner and Rev. Bud Heckman

Mary Rosenblatt grew up Jewish, she married a Catholic and her children are “exposed to both faiths.” In her adult life, she has become particularly drawn to meditation as practiced by a local Buddhist circle. If she participated in a survey about religious identity, how might she be portrayed?  And what about her kids?

pew-logoThe Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released a survey entitled “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” that attempts to map changes in religious affiliation in the U.S.  It follows on the coattails of the important “U.S Religious Landscape Survey” conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007.  If read in cross-tension with the “American Religious Identification Survey 2008″ released by Trinity College in Hartford, one can begin to see a complex and diverse picture of faith affiliation for Americans, as well as some patterns of change.

NY Archbishop Dolan is a joker

USA/The new Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan lived up to his reputation as an extrovert at his first news conference in New York, cracking a string of jokes at his own expense and telling reporters “You’re going to have to shut me up.” 

Even before he took the podium, while chatting to a monsignor about a visit to a New York food pantry later in the day, he glanced at his own moderate paunch and quipped: “I’m an expert in alleviating hunger.” 

When a reporter asked a question about overworked priests, Dolan said he thought he’d heard “overweight priests.” 

GUESTVIEW: Interfaith encounter at a Catholic school in Brooklyn

brooklyn (Photo: Brooklyn, with Manhattan in the background, 21 Sept 2008/Ray Stubblebine)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York and Raffaele Timarchi is the Interfaith Center‘s education director.

By Matthew Weiner and Raffaele Timarchi

Why should students in urban high schools learn about religion?

The Interfaith Center of New York recently received a call from Penny Kapanika, a social studies teacher at Nazareth Regional High School in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Canarsie lies on the eastern edge of Brooklyn, next to Jamaica Bay. To get to the school, you take the number 4 subway train to the end of the line, hop on a bus down Utica Avenue and finally walk to a sparsely populated neighborhood that was once an Italian and Jewish hold out against white flight.

Nazareth, a Roman Catholic school, is now ethnically African American and Caribbean. In the old days, students came from the neighborhood, but now most of them take the bus from Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant. Only 51% of the kids are Catholic, but most are Christian. The kids, though, live amongst Hasidic Jews  in Crown Heights, where a history of racial conflict still looms large, and Muslims in “Bed Stuy,” one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.