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Christians, Muslims Unite At Nigeria Protest

by Jon Gambrell
from The Huffington Post

Christians and Muslims protesting together in Nigeria. Photo by Getty Images.

LAGOS, Nigeria — A human wave of more than 20,000 surrounded the Muslim faithful as they prayed toward Mecca Friday, as anti-government demonstrations over spiraling fuel prices and corruption showed unity among protesters despite growing sectarian tensions in Africa’s most populous nation.

While violence sparked by religious and ethnic divisions left about 1,500 people dead last year alone in Nigeria, some hope the ongoing protests gripping the oil-rich nation will bring together a country that already suffered through a bloody civil war.

“It shows that Nigeria is now coming together as one family,” said Abdullahi Idowu, 27, as he prepared to wash himself before Friday prayers.

Click here to read full article

June 28th, 2012 at 10:55 am

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.

Click here to read the full article

May 12th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Are We There Yet? The $100,000 Question in the Interfaith Movement.

by Bud Heckman

How do we know when we have arrived in the interfaith movement?  When religious pluralism is normative?  When religious differences don’t cause conflict or even concern?

Things have been changing rapidly in the expanding field of interfaith relations. Therefore, it may be worth measuring our progress by some milestones of our achievement rather than by an elusive final destination.  I want to suggest six different markers of hope which I see, and I want to invite you to share your own markers of hope and stories of success.

I see great progress in: academic legitimization, institutional development, research expansion, intra-field cooperation, government partnerships, and specialization of work.  A brief example on each milepost:

Academy – When Diana Eck addressed the American Academy of Religion (AAR) as President five years ago, I glumly noted to her that, out of the hundreds and hundreds of workshops at the AAR, only two referenced “interfaith.”  Through the Pluralism Project, Diana built an entire industry out of the study of religious pluralism with dozens of scholars and researchers in her network. Yet the academy was largely stuck in the dry approaches of comparative religion and history of religion. This year’s AAR program, however, is so chock full of practical “interfaith” things that a person could go to just such workshops for the full five days.

At the same time, seminaries are re-inventing their approaches to the religious “other,” following the groundbreaking lead of the folks at Hartford, Auburn, and Claremont Lincoln.

Colleges and universities are similarly signing up wholesale for the array of services of the Interfaith Youth Core to transform their campuses and tomorrow’s leaders.

Institution Building – Interfaith organizations are growing like spring grass.  In 2003, I started research with a team of interns at Religions for Peace USA to count and categorize interfaith organizations.  We took Chris Coble’s earlier research and expanded it to find 17 different kinds and more than 1,000 interfaith organizations in the US.  Eight years later, a new breed of taxonomers is telling me they have more than 25 categories.  With my colleagues at Coexist Foundation USA, we just catalogued nearly 2,000 interfaith entities.

Research – The Coexist Foundation has invested a great deal in research through Gallup on perceptions of Muslims and the global success of interfaith relations.  But our research is just one of dozens of efforts.  The researchers at Hartford Institute for Religion Research have had a decade-long look at interfaith relations and are showing from 2 to 4 fold growth in shared experiences of “worship” and common action across faith lines.  ARDA, Glenmary Research Center, Public Religion Research Institute, and many others are producing equally important data.

Cooperation – In response to the public relations disaster of Park51 last summer, six New York-based interfaith organizations worked together this year under the umbrella of Prepare NY.  This first-ever multi-organizational interfaith effort has resulted in hundreds of dialogues and in a more peaceful, constructive, and meaningful celebration for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.  Religions for Peace USA joined with Groundswell, Hebrew College and other institutions to release a statement together about our shared focus after 9/11.

Government PartnershipsReligions for Peace has pioneered fostering government-religious community partnerships, which hold much promise for scaling interfaith relations.  Recently , I had the pleasure of serving on the Interreligious Cooperation Task Force of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and had the pleasure of seeing the new ways in which government is becoming responsive to religious communities. The US Government is just one among many governments who have taken a unique interest in advancing interfaith relations.   Qatar, Norway, Indonesia, Finland, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia are but a few of the countries doing creative new things to foster multifaith cooperation.

Specialization – The waters were much murkier twenty years ago, before the resurgence of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and even ten years ago, before the 9/11-inspired surge of interfaith growth.  Organizations were less clear about their niches, their unique value added.  With today’s clarity and specialization of mission comes better funding, cooperation, and focused impact.

No longer the infant, the interfaith movement is more like the awkward teenager, showing signs of becoming a promising adult, but not there yet.  What is next?  We have room to grow.

Funding is one of the most critical areas that must come along further, if we can say we have succeeded.  My recent research shows an array of new funders starting to test the waters of supporting interfaith relations.  While the continued down global economy and shifts in focus for a handful of the original funders for the movement may give some pause, The Coexist Foundation has been working hard to be one of many in a hopeful countercurrent of support at this critical hour.

The Coexist Foundation is awarding an endowed annual US$100,000 Coexist Prize for an unsung hero/heroine in interfaith relations, and we wish to celebrate the stories of your success that are worthy of being told.  Video stories will be made of the finalists and shared at the announcement of winners next Spring.

We have to continue to progress along the above lines and make advancements in other areas.  For instance, we have to: more effectively engage traditional and new media, articulate standards and measurable outcomes, and help a new, forward-looking generation come into mid-life leadership roles in the movement.

With our common efforts, religious pluralism can become the norm.



Rev. Bud Heckman is the Director of External Relations at the Coexist Foundation and the Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA.  Your comments are welcome:


What not to wear: outlawing the face veil

From The Washington Post

Two weeks ago the French Senate passed a piece of legislation 246 votes to one to outlaw the face veil worn by a small number of the country’s Muslim women, with President Nicolas Sarkozy stating, in no uncertain terms, that the face veil is “not welcome” in France.

The law follows at the heels of the Belgian parliament’s ban on the full face veil–known as the burqa or niqab–in public places. “It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and enclose an individual,” said Daniel Bacquelaine, who proposed the bill, adding that he was not targeting the classic headscarf worn by many Muslim women. “Wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society,” he declared to the press.

Although the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights can challenge such a ban as a violation of international human rights laws, Italy and the Netherlands have not been dissuaded from considering joining the fray. The hostility towards Muslims, in particular Muslim women and their garb, appears ubiquitous in Europe these days and can only be described as a step backwards for Western society.

Click here to read the entire article.

October 9th, 2010 at 6:00 am