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American Muslim Leaders Condemn Attacks

Photo from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA): ISNA Condemns Violence in Egypt and Libya and Mourns the Death of U.S. Ambassador Stevens and other Americans; Denounces the Creation of a Profane Video of the Prophet Muhammad (“peace be upon him,” as Muslims say after his name). Imam Mohamed Magid is pictured in the center of the image. Photo from ISNA website.

by Laurie Goodstein
from New York Times

American Muslim leaders and organizations rushed on Wednesday to condemn the attacks on American diplomatic outposts in Libya and Egypt, issuing news releases and giving interviews that seemed aimed as much at an American audience as at Muslims overseas.

Referring to the anti-Muslim video at the center of the attacks that is believed to be American-made, they said that no matter how offensive the film, violence was unjustified and even un-Islamic. They stressed repeatedly that the film did not represent Americans’ attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. And they said they were appalled that a film that they said was so clearly intended to incite hatred and anger toward the United States had succeeded in doing so.

Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group of American mosques, denounced the violence at a news conference in Washington, appearing alongside a rabbi, a Baptist minister and the Libyan ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali.

Mr. Magid said in a telephone interview that he and other American Muslim leaders had been contacting Muslim scholars in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania to tell them that those who made the film “do not represent the American people.”

He said, “Those who did this act of violence fall into the trap of the people who want them to act that way.”

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September 23rd, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Muslims From Abroad Are Thriving in Catholic Colleges

From left, Hadil Issa and Nada and Marwa Alsaif at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic university. Photo by Ty William Wright for the NYT

by Richard Perez-Pena
from The New York Times

Arriving from Kuwait to attend college here, Mai Alhamad wondered how Americans would receive a Muslim, especially one whose head scarf broadcasts her religious identity.

At any of the countless secular universities she might have chosen, religion — at least in theory — would be beside the point.But she picked one that would seem to underline her status as a member of a religious minority. She enrolled at the University of Dayton, a Roman Catholic school, and she says it suits her well.

“Here, people are more religious, even if they’re not Muslim, and I am comfortable with that,” said Ms. Alhamad, an undergraduate in civil engineering, as several other Muslim women gathered in the student center nodded in agreement. “I’m more comfortable talking to a Christian than an atheist.”

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September 4th, 2012 at 10:55 am

A Confucian Constitution for China

The Dacheng Hall, the main hall of the Temple of Confucius in Qufu. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

by Jiang Qing and Daniel A. Bell
from the New York Times

Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a speech in Mongolia denouncing Asian governments that seek “to restrict people’s access to ideas and information, to imprison them for expressing their views, to usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders.” It was a swipe at China’s authoritarian political system. The view that China should become more democratic is widely held in the West. But framing the debate in terms of democracy versus authoritarianism overlooks better possibilities.

The political future of China is far likelier to be determined by the longstanding Confucian tradition of “humane authority” than by Western-style multiparty elections. After all, democracy is flawed as an ideal. Political legitimacy is based solely on the sovereignty of the people — more specifically, a government that grants power to democratically elected representatives. But there is no compelling reason for a government to have only one source of legitimacy.

Democracy is also flawed in practice. Political choices come down to the desires and interests of the electorate. This leads to two problems. First, the will of the majority may not be moral: it may favor racism, imperialism or fascism. Second, when there is a clash between the short-term interests of the populace and the long-term interests of mankind, as is the case with global warming, the people’s short-term interests become the political priority. As a result, democratically elected governments in America and elsewhere are finding it nearly impossible to implement policies that curb energy usage in the interests of humanity and of future generations.

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Dressing With Faith, Not Heat, in Mind

Photo Credit Michael Nagle for the New York Times

A Traditional Hasidic Jewish Outfit

by Joseph Berger
from The New York Times

When the mercury passes 90, most New Yorkers start to wilt. Many resort to shorts and tank tops, even in the office. More than a few bankers and lawyers reach for their seersuckers.

Yet amid all the casual summer wear, in some neighborhoods more than others, Hasidic men wear dark three-piece suits crowned by black hats made of rabbit fur, and Hasidic women outfit themselves in long-sleeved blouses and nearly ankle-length skirts. To visibly cooler New Yorkers, they can look painfully overdressed.

Some New Yorkers who are not Hasidic surely ask themselves: How on earth do they stay cool?

The answer is a mix of the spiritual and, yes, the creatively physical. The Hasidim will tell you they have learned to live comfortably in all seasons with their daily attire.

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July 5th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Jewish Life in Shanghai’s Ghetto

Much of Shanghai’s Jewish Quarter has disappeared, but visitors still can see some of the buildings, like this one, where thousands of refugees lived alongside the city’s residents. Photo from NYTimes.com

by Casey Hall
from the New York Times

Shanghai–While much of the city’s Jewish Quarter has disappeared in the years since the end of World War II, the Ohel Moshe Synagogue is a constant reminder of how this Chinese city saved tens of thousands of Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

Built by Russian Jews in 1927 in the Hongkou district in northern Shanghai, the synagogue was the primary religious destination for the Jewish refugees who flooded into the city.

And while its facade has not changed, the building now is the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. It is the first stop for many visitors seeking information about what the Holocaust scholar David Kranzler called the “Miracle of Shanghai.”

About 20,000 refugees settled around the synagogue, in an area called the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees but more commonly known as the Jewish Ghetto. The 2.68 square kilometers, or about a square mile, which was cordoned off by the Japanese who controlled the city, also was home to 100,000 Shanghaiese, who were welcoming to their new neighbors, according to Jian Chen, the museum’s director.

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June 25th, 2012 at 10:55 am

A Better Way to Talk About Faith

Students at an Interfaith Youth Core event in Washington, DC in 2011. Photo from NYTimes

by David Bornstein
from the New York Times

Is there a way to overcome religious intolerance?

Given global demographic changes, it’s a vital question. “The most certain prediction that we can make about almost any modern society is that it will be more diverse a generation from now than it is today,” the political scientist Robert D. Putnam has written. “This is true from Sweden to the United States and from New Zealand to Ireland.”

In the United States, the question holds special significance for the simple reason that American society is highly religious and highly diverse and — on matters concerning faith — considerably more politically polarized than a quarter-century ago.

The United States prides itself on welcoming people of different faiths. The Bill of Rights begins with a guarantee of freedom of worship. In 1790, George Washington sent a letter to a Jewish congregation in which he expressed his wish that they “continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants,” and declared that the government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg’s impassioned and courageous defense of the Cordoba House — the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” — became an important addition to a long and noble tradition of inclusion. (It’s a speech worth reading.)

But while there have been widespread efforts over the past generation to promote and celebrate ethnic and racial diversity — everything from “Sesame Street” to multicultural studies to work force sensitivity training — the one topic that has often been kept off the table is faith. Americans have grown more comfortable talking about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but not faith. It’s too personal, too divisive, too explosive. How do you conduct a productive conversation among people whose cherished beliefs — exclusive God-given truths — cannot be reconciled?

That’s a process that a Chicago-based organization called the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) has refined into something between an art and a science, demonstrating how to bring college students together across faith and belief lines so that they develop greater respect, comfort and appreciation for one another and their traditions.

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Buddhist Monk Brings Authentic Tibetan Influence to Texas

Lama Lobtsul, the resident lama at Palri Pema Od Ling in Austin, with the Buddhist center’s statue of Guru Rinpoche.

by Michael Hoinski
from the New York Times

Each morning Lama Lobtsul, the lama in residence at the Buddhist center Palri Pema Od Ling in Austin, enters the temple and performs the important task of arranging offerings of water, candles and incense in front of the rare statue of Guru Rinpoche.

This 13-foot-tall, 2,500-pound brass representation of the India Buddhist master who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century radiates like a beacon from behind picture windows overlooking busy 45th Street, across from the Hyde Park Christian Church, in a mostly residential area.

“If you make aspirations in front of the statue,” said Lama Lobtsul via Ila Reitz, his translator, “then it will be of great benefit to you in this life and future lives — just as if you were in front of Guru Rinpoche.”

There is more to the statue than meets the eye. It is filled with medicines, mantra prayers and approximately 1,000 books, including the canonical text and teachings of the Buddha. It is also heavy with flashy adornments, among them a trident with a staff made of three heads representing the three kayas, or expressions of the Buddha. In Guru Rinpoche’s lap sits a blue, white and gold kapala, or skull cup, filled with a nectar that represents spiritual awakening.

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May 8th, 2012 at 4:39 pm

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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Learning to Respect Religion

by Nicholas Kristof
from the New York Times

A few years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

Sisters of St. Francis, the Quiet Shareholder Activists

By Kevin Roose
From The New York Times

Not long ago, an unusual visitor arrived at the sleek headquarters of Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan.

It wasn’t some C.E.O., or a pol from Athens or Washington, or even a sign-waving occupier from Zuccotti Park.

It was Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. And the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.

Way up on the 41st floor, in a conference room overlooking the World Trade Center site, Sister Nora and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility laid out their advice for three Goldman executives. The Wall Street bank, they said, should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency and remember the poor.

In short, Goldman should do God’s work— something that its chairman and chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, once remarked that he did. (The joke bombed.)

Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.

The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.

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