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What Is Scripture: Muslims and Mormons

The Qur'an. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Compilation of Latter-Day Saints's Standard Works. Image from Wikimedia Commons

by James Faulconer
from Patheos.com

Because of the alliterative relationship between the words “Mormon” and “Muslim” and because of widespread ignorance among Americans about both groups, it isn’t at all unusual for people to confuse Mormons with Muslims. Given events of the last ten or fifteen years and the current political campaign, that ignorance is abating for both groups.

Most people know that Mormons are not Muslims. And, probably partly because of Mitt Romney’s campaign, they fear Mormons less than Muslims. Sixty percent of those polled are comfortable or somewhat comfortable with a Mormon presidential candidate. Only 38 percent feel that way about a hypothetical Muslim candidate. So Mormons have less work to do explaining themselves than Muslims, but both share the need to do that explaining.

It isn’t unusual to have Muslim visitors come to Brigham Young University, and because of my work at the university, I’m sometimes asked to help host them. When I first started doing this, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t afraid of Muslims, but I was ignorant of them. As a result I was nervous about how to talk with them. Everything I knew about Islam was merely factual, stuff I learned in school and from books, and from reading the Quran about fifteen years ago. To my knowledge, I had visited and talked with a Muslim face-to-face only once in my life before four years ago.

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Securing Indigenous Rights to Sacred Places with the UN Declaration

Photo from Collaborative Journeys blog

by Karla E.General
from Indian Country Today Media Network.Com

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents a new opportunity and a new kind of legal authority that could help Native peoples to secure rights to sacred places, and to preserve and protect cultural, religious, and spiritual practices.

The Declaration recognizes and affirms the rights of indigenous peoples to their cultural, religious, and spiritual practices, to have private access to sacred sites (Arts. 12(1), 11(1)), as well as to maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship with their traditionally held lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources (Art. 25). With the Declaration, Native peoples have rights acknowledged by the international community of nations, including rights to sacred places both within existing reservation or territorial boundaries and beyond.

As rights-holders, Native nations and individuals have the right to cultural, religious, and spiritual practices. As duty-bearer, the U.S. has the responsibility to prevent infringement of these rights. For instance, the Declaration provides that the U.S. must consult with indigenous peoples to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent when considering projects affecting their lands, territories, and resources (Art. 32(2)) or when adopting any legislative or administrative measures that may affect them (Art. 19), and to provide redress for takings of cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property (Art. 11(2)). Generally, in implementing the Declaration, the U.S. is also obligated to, “in conjunction and cooperation with indigenous peoples … take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to achieve the ends of this Declaration” (Art. 38).

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Northern Irish Young ‘Friendly Across Religions’

More and more Northern Irish teenagers have friendships with people from a different religious background, a new report has found. Photo from Google News

from Google News and the UK Press Association

An increasing number of teenagers in Northern Ireland have friendships across the religious divide, a research study has said.

Only a minority of young people have no acquaintances from other religious or ethnic backgrounds, added the university Young Life and Times Survey (YLT).

Dr Paula Devine, from Queen’s University, said: “The YLT survey found that friendship patterns among 16-year-olds are wider than ever before, encompassing both religious and ethnic diversity.”

They found 12% of young people never socialise with those from a different community and 16% do not associate with other ethnicities.

Dr Devine added: “The comments made by young people in the survey suggest a blurring of the traditional us and them categories. Whether someone is like us or them is not purely based on their religious or ethnic background but on other factors such as personality.”

Key findings in the report, No More Us And Them For 16-18-year-olds?, include that cross-community friendship was more common in 2011 than in 2003. In 2011, 22% of YLT respondents had no friends from the other main religious community, compared with 33% in 2003.

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Obama Pays Tribute To First Sikh-American Congressman

Dalip Singh Saund (C), the first Asian-American elected to the Congress, flanked by US President John F. Kennedy (L) and Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson.

from The Link, Leading Indo-Canadian Newspaper

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama on Tuesday heaped praise on Punjab-born Dalip Singh Saund, the country’s first Indian-American member of the Congress. In his address at the annual gala of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, the US President described the late Saund as a “trailblazer”.

“They were trailblazers like Dalip Singh Saund, a young man from India who came to study agriculture in 1920, stayed to become a farmer, and took on the cause of citizenship for all people of South Asian descent,” the President said to applause.

“And once Dalip earned his own citizenship, he stepped up to serve the country he loved-and became the first Asian-American elected to the Congress,” he added.

Saund was born in 1899 in Chhajalwadi village of Punjab. He came to the US in 1920 to study food preservation at the University of California at Berkeley. He eventually switched to mathematics and earned a master degree and a PhD in the subject.

Despite his educational qualifications, Saund took a job as a lettuce farmer since farm labour was the only work South Asians were permitted to do in the US in the 1920s. Indians were also not eligible for US citizenship at that time.

Following an amendment to the law, Saund became a citizen in 1949 and in 1956 was elected as a lawmaker representing California in the Congress, where he served three terms.

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Irish Bill Proposes Full Legal Status for Humanist Weddings

by Deaglan de Breadun
from The Irish Times

The government is expected to agree today to back legislation giving humanists the same status as organised religions and civil registrars in conducting marriage ceremonies.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is due to ask her ministerial colleagues to support the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

The legislation was introduced in the Seanad as a Private Members’ Bill by Trinity College Senator Ivana Bacik and is due to pass final stages in the Upper House tomorrow.

The Bill proposes to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004, which regulates the registration of civil marriages.

The 2004 Act stipulates that, apart from Health Service Executive registrars, only a member of a “religious body” may celebrate legal marriages.

This is defined as “an organised group of people, members of which meet regularly for common religious worship”.

This includes organisations such as the Pagan Federation Ireland and the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, which have obtained registration under the Act.

But the definition excludes members of the Humanist Association of Ireland, who currently conduct humanist wedding ceremonies even though these are not legally recognised.

The Bill proposes to extend the right to conduct civil marriages to nonreligious groups such as the HAI. A group of this nature must be a “philosophical and nonconfessional body”, have been performing marriage ceremonies for at least five years, and at least 20 couples must have participated in the ceremony.

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May 12th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Arts and Culture Bring Peace and Reconciliation To Multi-Religious and Multi-Ethnic Communities in Sri Lanka

Traditional Sri Lankan harvesting dance. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

by Iromi Dharmawardhane
from Lankaweb.com

The arts and culture can be powerful catalysts in bringing about reconciliation within the hearts of individuals as well as between communities, changing who we are and how we relate to each other.  Reconciliation through the arts and other cultural mediums can occur in two ways: firstly, a victim of war may find it easier to express one’s pain – including one’s remorse – through aesthetic mediums, and secondly, artistic and cultural projects and performances which are a fruit of collaboration between individuals belonging to different communities would lead to the regaining of each other’s trust and respect, understanding each other’s different but equally painful war-time experiences, learning about what is common and valuing what is unique in each other’s cultural heritage, and at last recognizing each other’s interdependence.

The arts, whether it is through music, painting, poetry, prose, song, dance, film, photography, theater, or puppetry, can be a vehicle for truth, dialogue, and inter-cultural understanding for communities who speak different languages in nations where communal relations have been battered by the circumstances of war. Sri Lanka has seen several outstanding examples of how the arts have a great part to play in the national reconciliation process. An extraordinary concert was organized and directed by Mrs. Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan on March 6, 2012 in Sri Lanka where an orchestra comprising 100 young musicians from all districts of Sri Lanka performed in unison, playing a variety of Oriental and Western instruments. This talented and large assembly of musicians from diverse backgrounds conveyed a convincing and memorable message of “unity in diversity”.

The Aru Sri Art Theatre troupe founded by Mrs. Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan to promote inter-ethnic harmony rendered a captivating performance of the dance drama Sri Ram at the International Ramayana Festival in Bintaan, Indonesia on April 12 – 13, 2012 and in Singapore on April 14. They also presented scintillating performances of classical compositions on Hindu themes such as Bharathanatyam and the Cosmic Dance of Shiva which were performed by Sri Lankan dancers of different ethnicities and religions. The conciliatory power of the performing arts in drawing different ethnic groups together was never so vividly and vibrantly depicted. Aru Sri Art Theatre offers audiences across Sri Lanka and overseas contemporary interpretations and innovative productions of rich historical and cultural lore, while retaining the purity of the traditional performing arts. Sri Lankan theater and dance companies and associations, in this way, can organize dance symposiums to celebrate and bring together the different dance types in the Sinhalese tradition (such as Upcountry dances, Low Country dances, Sabaragamuwa dances, and folk dances) and the Tamil tradition (such as bharatanatyam, kathakali, and naddu koothu and other folk dances).

Sri Lanka held the Interfaith Music Festival (a first in Asia) in February 2012 which was organized and created by the Mother Sri Lanka Trust and The Art of Living Foundation. Children from across the island came together to perform Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Islamic chants and songs on one stage. The highly-praised Jaffna Music Festival was held in March 2011 where hundreds of local folk artists from all over Sri Lanka as well as international folk artists performed in Jaffna in celebration of the unique and diverse traditional musical heritage of Sri Lanka and the world. This event was organized by the Sewalanka Foundation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Aru Sri Art Theatre, and Concerts Norway.

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Using the Talmud as a Model for Interfaith Dialogue

A page of the Talmud

by David Meyer
from Ha’aretz

BRUSSELS – A few years ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks used an interesting metaphor to describe the interfaith reality of Europe’s pluralistic society. Living with multiculturalism, he argued, we must ask ourselves whether we intend to be together in the same shared house, or whether we are just guests in the same hotel.

The difference between the two images is striking. If we are indeed sharing a common home, even building it together, we need a common set of goals and frank give-and-take, lest our shared residence never get off the ground. Alternatively, if we are just guests who will pass one another occasionally in a hotel lobby, it will suffice if we can converse politely when we happen to meet.

As a European rabbi, I have made my choice. I am building the house. And the current multicultural nature of our society makes me want to find partners of other faiths with whom to share the effort.

But what sort of communal home are we aiming for? We each have identities and differences that we are just not willing to give up. So even though our common European house should indeed have solid foundations and a pleasant ground floor room for all to meet – it’s equally important that we have our own individual rooms one floor up, with doors we can safely leave unlocked. The challenge, then, is double: setting the foundations right so that we can customize our own rooms without endangering the building’s stability, and finding a way to share this vision in an exciting way with a wider audience.

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A Monk’s Earthly Mission: Easing North Koreans’ Pain

South Korean Buddhist monk Venerable Pomnyun in his office at Peace Foundation in Seoul, South Korea on April 4.

by Choe Sang-Hun
from the New York Times

Seoul, South Korea. In August 1996, the Venerable Pomnyun, a Buddhist monk from South Korea, was cruising down the Yalu River between China and North Korea when he saw a boy squatting alone at the North Korean edge of the water. The boy was in rags, his gaunt face covered in dirt.

Pomnyun shouted to him, but the boy did not respond. Pomnyun’s Chinese companion explained that North Korean children were instructed never to beg from foreigners. And when Pomnyun asked if the boat could be steered closer to the child to bring help, he was reminded that they could not enter North Korean territory.

“Never before had I realized the meaning of a border so painfully until that day,” said Pomnyun, 59. “Never before had I felt so acutely that Korea is a divided nation.”

The encounter led him to establish one of the first relief campaigns for North Korean refugees and to take on an unlikely role for a Buddhist monk. Today, rather than leading a secluded life of quiet contemplation, he is a well-known commentator on North Korea, his online newsletter an important source of information smuggled out of the isolated country.

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Bishops and Extractive Industries: A Human Face of Mining

Katherine Marshall

by Katherine Marshall
from the Huffington Post

In far flung corners of the world, religious leaders are protesting against mining companies and projects. What are their complaints? In Guatemala, they argue that gold mining poisons the water table, in Chad that painfully negotiated revenues that promised to ease the pain of poverty are nowhere in sight, in Ecuador that oil drilling devastates the landscape, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Nigeria that mining feeds devastating conflicts, in Ghana that mining in forest reserves threatens animal and plant species, in India that it strips indigenous people of their land rights, and in Peru that it pollutes lakes and rivers. The litany goes on and on but the underlying story told is one of broken promises, of powerful companies for whom profit is their God, and of a wounded planet whose land resources are despoiled with little to show, harming the people who live nearby.

It’s not that the church leaders are fighting a futile battle to stop all mining. As a statement of Catholic Bishops from Latin America who met last July in Chaclacayo, Peru began, “the church recognizes the importance of the extractive industries, the service they can provide to mankind and the economies of the world, and the progress they contribute to society as a whole.” But, there is a long list of “buts.” The bishops’ bottom line is that they see an irrational exploitation that leaves a trail of destruction, even death, throughout Latin America.

At the Washington National Cathedral an unlikely gathering of bishops, preachers, and advocates met on April 24 to explore how they might join forces both to draw attention to the harm that bad mining practices wreak on people and land, and to point to practical, positive ways to move forward. The prime movers behind the effort are the Bank Information Center, its indomitable leader, Chad Dobson and Father Seamus Finn, whose work with the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility has focused for years on nudging and cajoling companies towards responsibility in their corporate practice. Two large faith inspired organizations, Catholic Relief Services and Tearfund, have long campaigned for responsible mining and support the new coalition.

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Global Peace Initiative of Women Convenes Environmental Conference in Kenya

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner with some of the women religious leaders at the conference Religious and community leaders meet to discuss solutions for sustainable development.

from the United Nations Environmental Programme

Nairobi (Kenya) 2 March 2012. The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW), a non-governmental organization of contemplative leaders based in the United States, held today an environmental conference at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi.

The meeting, entitled Awakening the Healing Heart, focused on how civil society, especially women and religious leaders, can mobilize awareness and action to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

The challenges facing the environment today has created a new urgency within faith communities to build a global consciousness around sustainable development. An international delegation from the GPIW conference will form part of the inter-faith component attending the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in June 2012.

The meeting brought together over 300 women religious and community leaders, environmentalists and advocates from 28 countries and from all the major faith traditions, including among others H.H. Shinso Ito, head priest of Shinnyo-en, Japan; Reverand Dr. Celestin Musekura, founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Rwanda/USA; Ms. Wang Yongchen, founder of Green Earth Volunteers, China and Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning.

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