Sessions Regularly Held by the Bishops’ Conference

Catholic priests are getting educated about Islam, _in order to be able to distinguish between rumors and realities’. In my neighborhood, the church is empty and the mosque is packed; that’s a reality that compels me to learn about Islam. Candidness is not at odds with caution, and this priest making this statement asked to remain anonymous. Contacts between the catholic world and Islam might be frequent, they are still heavily biased by fear, clich_s, and lack of mutual knowledge.

Allah’s Mobile Information Point

Concerned about Islam’s image problem in much of the Western world, some Muslims in Germany have come up with a solution — The Islamobile. But the mobile information station also raises new questions. The Islamobile stands next to the local Catholic church. The stand is “a mobile multimedia information point in the form of a semi-trailer,” according to the information leaflet.

Greece: Athens Muslims To Get A Mosque

By Andrew Burroughs Plans for the first mosque in Athens since Turkish rule under the Ottoman empire have been given the go-ahead by the Greek parliament. Over recent years immigration has brought hundreds of thousands of Muslims to the Greek capital. But while freedom of worship is guaranteed by Greece’s constitution as a member of the European Union, proposals for a new mosque have proved controversial in a country whose population is 96% Greek Orthodox. There are mosques dating from Ottoman times in the old part of Athens known as Plaka. The Fethiye or victory mosque dates back to 1458. But today these buildings are for tourists not for Muslim prayers. One is now a museum of Greek folk art. Athens is the only EU capital without a purpose-built place of worship for its Muslim population. The city’s 200,000 or so Muslims have been meeting in disused basements and whatever space the community can find. Technically these buildings lack proper legal permission to function as places of worship, though the city authorities, aware of the problem, have allowed meetings to continue while a solution is sought. Demonstrations In the run-up to the Olympics, and under pressure to portray Greece as internationalist and conciliatory, the then socialist government chose a site for a Saudi-sponsored mosque and Islamic centre east of Athens to be visible from the international airport. That provoked demonstrations by nearby residents of the staunchly conservative town of Peannia. Today there’s a small Greek Orthodox chapel on site, built to commemorate the protests which thwarted the mosque proposal. On special occasions a bell is rung, and on the hilltop a cross now defiantly looks towards the airport. “We are Orthodox Christians here,” says Angelo Kouias, a Peannia resident, involved in the protests. “We believe that when you arrive at the frontier of Greece it would be better to see a church to symbolise our country rather than a mosque.” “We don’t want another Kosovo here close to Athens,” says Dr Athanasius Papagiorgiou, a surgeon and president of the group which opposed the plan, the religiously conservative Association of St John. “Kosovo used to be a centre for the orthodox faith, and today it’s nothing.” Lost privilege Professor George Moustakis represents a different face of orthodoxy – a campaigner for interfaith understanding who joined a petition in favour of a mosque 17 years ago. “I’ve always opposed the connection of church and state here in Greece, which has meant the church took the decision about other denominations and other faiths and their buildings for worship,” he says. “Parliament has now voted and the church lost that privilege. So there is no problem about the mosque, the government supports it, so does the Orthodox Church.” With the church veto gone and support from the current centre-right government, Naim El Ghandour – who in daily life imports high fashion fabric designs – is the man coordinating plans for a new mosque to be built in the north of Athens. “The Muslims of Athens are Greek tax-payers and we have a right to pray in a respectful building,” he says “We’re asking the government for financial help. We’re not looking for foreign sponsors, this will be a Greek mosque for Greek Muslims.” The saga of the Athens mosque finds echoes elsewhere in Europe. The city of Grenada in Spain has just witnessed the opening of its first new mosque since the 15th Century when the Spanish re-conquered the Iberian peninsula from the Moorish Islamic rulers who built the historic mosques and palaces of Andalusia. The new mosque opened for worship only after two decades of objections from the local authorities on planning grounds. And in Italy a mosque planned for seven years in Colle di Val d’Elsa in a picturesque corner of Tuscany has divided the local community. There the local authority supports the need for a mosque but there have been objections from residents. It is a scenario likely to be repeated around the EU as the need for immigrant labour draws into the community those of a different faith, who then naturally wish to take up their equal right to a place of worship.

Latinos Turning To Islam

M. Elizabeth Roman, Telegram & Gazette WORCESTER – On the door outside Juan Perez’s home, a hand-written sign asks visitors to respect the Islamic custom of removing shoes before entering. The sign is one of the only indicators that this young Latino father, his wife and four small children tend an Islamic household. Inside, a person is likely to see the Hispanic cartoon character “Dora the Explorer” on the television, hear the sound of a rhythmic salsa band on the radio, or smell the aroma of adobo cooking in the kitchen. “As Latinos, we are a passionate people,” Mr. Perez says as he cradles his 1-1/2-year-old baby while his 3-year-old daughter, Mia, lightly kisses the child on the cheek. “Islam covers every aspect of your life; it’s not just going to church and praying. It deals with marriage, divorce, wills, orphans, what to eat, what not to eat. As Latinos, when we do something, we go full-fledged into it.” The Perez family is among an estimated 150 Latino converts to Islam in Worcester, reflecting a trend that researchers have taken note of in recent years. A 2001 study on faith communities, coordinated by Hartford Institute for Religious Research and conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, indicated Latinos made up 6 percent of all converts, which at approximately 60,000, made them the third-largest segment. The growth of this population can also be seen by the creation of bilingual Islamic centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, California’s San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, Florida, New York and Atlanta. Each site reports having hundreds of members and offers publications translated into Spanish. In addition, chapters of the Hispanic Muslim organization Latino Dawah are located in Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas and Arizona. “It is easy to accept once they found out what it is,” said Jason Perez, who, like his brother Juan, converted to Islam. “It is almost impossible to find a Latino that is an atheist because of our struggle. Being poor, we know it is the miracle of God when we get food. We know that it is not just our own work that helps us survive; we survive with the help of God.” In addition, many Latino converts profess that they do not give up any of their heritage to convert to Islam, but in fact learn more about their cultural roots. “Islam connected me with the struggle for self-determination and the struggles with the natives of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Perez says, adding that many Latino expressions and surnames originate in Islamic culture. “It’s not an Arabic culture thing,” said Adolfo Arrastia, executive director of the Worcester Youth Center for 10 years. “Only 15 percent of the Islamic population around the world is Arab. It’s amazing the amount of people that are Muslim, including people from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Mexico.” Mr. Arrastia converted 31 years ago in New York City. “It fit me like a hand in a glove,” he said. “Islam tells you to be a part of the community; to stand up against injustice. It gives me guidelines in how to be an activist without hurting and causing injury.” Juan and Jason Perez grew up down the street from the mosque in Plumley Village with a group of close friends, most of whom have also converted to Islam. Some of the friends, including Jason, now live in Pennsylvania, where they are learning how to translate ancient African manuscripts at the Sankore Institute. They were raised Catholic and even attended Catholic school, but when they had questions about the Holy Trinity and other Catholic doctrine, the brothers say, they were admonished, which made them move away from the church. “But I was involved in the street life and it wasn’t bringing me happiness,” Jason Perez said in a telephone interview from the institute. So despite the fact that neighborhood friends used to think the mosque was a satanic church, Jason decided to visit after his Islamic roommate encouraged him. “I jumped in and loved it,” he said. He said his mother was not opposed to him converting to Islam because he stopped smoking marijuana and began respecting and helping her any way he could, as instructed by the religion. “Latinos love Jesus and Mary – the Muslims do too,” Juan Perez said when describing the similarities between Islam and Christianity.

Chirac, Prime Minister Say No To State Support For Mosques In France

MARSEILLE, France (AFP) – In a major broadside, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin rejected a senior government minister’s idea of using state funds to build mosques and train Islamic religious leaders. Chirac obliquely accused his arch rival – Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to seek his job in the 2007 presidential election – of trying to “open up a new and pointless debate in France on topics that enjoy consensus.” Raffarin said for the government to get mixed up in religion in any way would undermine the very foundations of the French republic, which is based on a strict separation of church and state.

Vatican Rebuff To Spanish Muslims

The Vatican will not allow Muslims to pray once more in the Mezquita, the former mosque that is now the cathedral of Cordoba, telling them they must “accept history” and not try to “take revenge” on the Catholic church. “We, too, want to live in peace with persons of other religions,” Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, told the Vatican’s AsiaNews agency. “However, we don’t want to be pushed, manipulated and go against the very rules of our faith.” Mgr Fitzgerald criticised the authorities of the southern Spanish city for lobbying to have the building, once one of the world’s biggest mosques, opened to Muslim prayer. “[They] have not the necessary theological sensitivity to understand the church’s position,” he said. He claimed Spanish Muslims who had been publicly lobbying for the right to pray had yet to make a formal request to the Vatican. The archbishop said the Vatican had been careful not to demand similar rights at mosques which were once Catholic churches – though he acknowledged that Pope John Paul II had prayed at a mosque at Damascus in Syria.

Cathedral May See Return Of Muslims

Centuries after Christian building was put at the centre of C_rdoba’s mosque, Vatican hears Spanish appeal to allow Islamic worship there. Muslims across Spain are lobbying the Roman Catholic church in the southern city of C_rdoba to make a symbolic gesture of reconciliation between faiths by allowing them to pray in the city’s cathedral. C_rdoba’s renaissance cathedral sits in the centre of an ancient mosque complex, and local Muslims want to be allowed to pray there again. They have appealed to the Vatican to intercede on their behalf.