Interfaith movement struggles to adapt to changing religious landscape

The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington is known as one of the country’s early multi-faith groups, and its executive director’s nickname is the “dean of American interfaith.” Yet as it approaches its 35th anniversary in November, the group is fighting for survival, down to two full-time staff members and facing more than $100,000 in debt.

 

The conference, which has a major fundraiser planned this fall and aims to restructure the organization and sharpen its mission, is hardly alone. Some of the oldest and best-known names in interfaith, including the National Council of Churches and the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World Religions, have slashed staff as their revenue shriveled.

Since the Interfaith Conference was founded in 1978, religious minorities have grown significantly in size and stature, and Americans now interact more easily with people of other faiths in their schools, offices, neighborhoods and even immediate families. Younger interfaith types today are more interested in activism and often focus on particular policy issues. For example, some of the newer, small groups in Washington are Interfaith Youth for Climate Justice and Shoulder to Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims.

When these new, more activist groups are taken into account, the interfaith movement as a whole appears to be thriving. The Rev. Bud Heckman, who has been a leader of several key interfaith groups, said his research shows there are twice as many interfaith groups nationally as there were a decade ago. A recent Hartford Institute survey showed congregations are twice as likely to engage in interfaith worship today as they were 10 years ago.

 

Interfaith Conference leaders say they believe there is still a need for the group’s unique strength — it connects local leaders from 11 different faiths, including Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims.

Boston Bombing Suspect Indicted on 30 Counts

BOSTON — A federal grand jury here issued a 30-count indictment on Thursday against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, charging him with using a weapon of mass destruction that killed 3 people and injured more than 260.

 

The grand jury also charged him in the killing of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, from whom he and his brother, Tamerlan, tried to steal a firearm, the authorities said, before they led police officers on a wild night of terror and a shootout that shut down the city of Boston and its suburbs for a day.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, faces life in prison or the death penalty on 17 of the federal charges and is scheduled to be arraigned on July 10. His brother was killed by injuries sustained in the shootout with police and when Dzhokhar accidentally drove over him, the indictment said.

In addition to the federal indictment, Mr. Tsarnaev was indicted by a Middlesex County grand jury on more than a dozen criminal charges, including murder in the shooting death of Sean Collier, the M.I.T. police officer. The county indictment covers a carjacking, chase and shootout that occurred in the Boston suburbs beginning the night of April 18; the federal indictment, which runs 74 pages, covers events that led up to the bombings on April 15 as well as the bombings and the subsequent chase and shootout.

 

District Attorney Marian T. Ryan of Middlesex County said at an afternoon news conference that no date had been set for Mr. Tsarnaev to appear in court on the county charges and that any trial would not run concurrently with a federal trial.

 

Carmen J. Ortiz, the United States attorney who outlined the charges for the news media, said she had met with relatives of the victims and with those who were wounded.

Islamist nasheeds embrace modern technology while staying true to ideals

In his head shot, he’s posed like Leonardo DiCaprio for Tag Heuer, eyes upward in a pensive stare with a giant watch beside his cheek. Photos on Facebook show him in a production studio, the creative home base for the songs and videos he has become famous for. Muhammed Abu ‘Azrael al-Karbalai seems boyish and accessible — the singer even lists his mobile number on his Facebook page. But the 23 year-old Iraqi’s latest track, which surfaced online sometime between April and May, contains Arabic lyrics that translate roughly to:

Do not cross the line. . . We will silence you

Oh Syrian army, focus and show them what you can do

“This one is complex,” said Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland, who recently posted the video and translated lyrics on Jihadology.net, a Web site that tracks digital material released by jihadist organizations. “The groups out of Iraq are sophisticated. Some of them even have their own production companies.”

With easy access to home production studios and widespread social media presence, jihadist nasheeds are becoming ubiquitous, employed by both Sunni and Shia groups. Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been chronicling the nasheeds since 2010, when he created Jihadology.net. He has found Auto-Tuned nasheeds that date back to the 1990s, and he isn’t surprised by high-quality production.

“Jihadists are some of the earliest adopters of technologies,” Zelin said. “Every top level group uses HD-quality production, Photoshop, voice-overs. It’s all top shelf.”

Muslim college carves niche in USA

Until Zaytuna opened its doors three years ago, American Muslims who wanted to study and grow in their faith mostly had to look overseas for a college education. That left students unprepared to engage with the U.S. culture to which they would return, say Zaytuna’s founders, well-known Islam scholars Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir and Hatem Bazian.

The college grew out of the non-profit Zaytuna Institute, founded in 1996 as a local community organization.

Courses include Islamic theology and law, and they also cover the classic liberal arts, such as logic, rhetoric and astronomy. Students learn Arabic and study the Koran. And they read Western authors such as Aristotle, Einstein and Robert Frost.

The school, which raised $7 million last year, is funded by individual Muslim donors and tuition revenue. Tuition last year was $11,000, slightly less than the $12,192 UC campuses charged California-resident undergraduates.

Zaytuna is “trying to participate in this bigger story, this bigger historical narrative of religious minorities having a place here,” says Scott Korb, a New York-based religious studies and writing professor and author of Light Without Fire: The Making of America’s First Muslim College, which chronicles the school’s first years.

Zaytuna is not America’s first Muslim college. The Chicago-based American Islamic College was established in 1981 as a private, not-for-profit, four-year school but stopped offering classes more than a decade ago. A few years ago, it began offering non-credit courses and hopes to again offer bachelor’s degrees, says spokeswoman Hind Makki.

Scotland: First Islamic Secondary School to be Established in Glasgow

1 April 2013

 

The Glasgow Community Education Association (GCEA) is a step closer to establishing Scotland’s first Islamic secondary school after it completed the £400,000 purchase of Abbotsford House, a B-listed Victorian building in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. If the project is successful, the building will be renamed The Islamic Institute and will offer secondary education to boys and girls in addition to housing a nursery. The GCEA currently has no plans to pursue public funding for the project.

 

This is not the GCEA’s first attempt to found an Islamic secondary school in Glasgow. Last year, the group failed to complete the purchase of the abandoned Holmlea Primary School in Cathcart for the same purpose. The successful purchase of Abbotsford House has prompted some to question the need for an Islamic school and to warn of the possible community divisions such a project might engender.

Twitter-loving American jihadi faces death threat from Somali militants after fallout

JOHANNESBURG — An Alabama native who moved to Somalia to wage jihad alongside al-Shabab militants faces a Saturday deadline to surrender to the insurgents or be killed, according to his Internet posting.

Omar Hammami — whom the FBI named as one of its most-wanted terrorists in November — has engaged in a public fight with al-Shabab over the last year, and a Twitter account that terrorism analysts believe is run by Hammami or his associates announced Jan. 4 that al-Shabab fighters had given him 15 days to surrender, or else.

“Shabab make (an) announcement in front of amriki: drop ur weapon b4 15 days or be killed. Its on,” the tweet from the Twitter handle (at)abumamerican said. Hammami’s nom de guerre is Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, or “the American.”

The killing of an American foreign fighter would likely harm al-Shabab’s efforts to recruit Westerners, but Hammami has felt in danger for many months. Hammami first expressed fear for his life in an extraordinary web video last March that publicized his rift with the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab slapped Hammami publicly in an Internet statement last month, saying his video releases are the result of personal grievances that stem from a “narcissistic pursuit of fame.” The statement said al-Shabab was morally obligated to out his “obstinacy.”

Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who runs the website jihadology.net, thinks Hammami’s recent outbursts — on Twitter, and a short Arabic-language video — have been a way for the American to rally protective support for himself. Hammami has sought out al-Qaida central, the al-Qaida branch in Yemen and Islamic scholars to take his side, but he has largely been given the cold shoulder.

Muslims are trying to coming to terms with Evolution Theory

9 January 2013

 

The Deen Institute held a major event in London to bring together the views of various Muslims on the theory of evolution. Muslim scholars and scientists asserted their own opinions on the theory in order reach an agreement regarding compatibility of the theory with Islam. The participants also debated on Islam’s compatibility with science.

Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill evolving

November 13, 2012

It’s one thing to get out of the blocks quickly in a race, it’s quite another to stay ahead of the pack… for 60 years. But that’s exactly what the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) has been doing since it was founded in 1952. The Islamic Studies Library, which started off as a modest departmental collection, is now considered one of the most important in the field, boasting more than 150,000 volumes of print and digital material.

From the outset, the IIS tried to maintain a balance between faculty from the Muslim world and from the West. The idea was simple; to gain the fullest possible understanding of the Muslim world required the best of both Western and Islamic scholarly traditions – perhaps not such a revolutionary concept today, but entirely unheard of in the 1950s. Those same scholars went back and became influential in Indonesia. Among other things, they established the State Institutes of Islamic Studies, an archipelago-wide system of education basically modeled on the IIS.

Muslim associations and Green Party in Lower Saxony criticize Minister of Interior

November 26

 

Muslim associations in Lower Saxony have criticized Minster of Interior Uwe  Schünemann (CDU) for defining Muslims as a marginal group. The associations did not accept to dialogue with the Ministry of Interior in July, after Minister Schünemann had refused to withdraw his “checklist” for the recognition of Islamists. Emine Oguz, a lawyer of the Islamic Union Institute for Religion – Ditib said, Schünemann would continue the checklist and keep controlling the mosques.

 

The migration policy speaker of the Green party Filiz Polat, criticized the government of Lower Saxony for ignoring the situation of Muslims. The Green party claims to record criminal offences against Muslims. Also, the Greens plan to include the situation of Muslims as an issue for the upcoming elections in Lower Saxony. The share of the Muslim population in Lower Saxony is about 6,2%.

Hamburg State signs treaty with Muslim community

November 13

The State of Hamburg, Muslim associations and the Alawite community have signed a treaty. They agree to implement and recognize religious-related holidays, including school holidays, religious education and burial rituals for Muslims.

The State of Hamburg guarantees three official holidays: Eid ad-Adha, Ramadan and Ashura. Muslim teachers will be allowed to teach religious education, once they have passed the state exam and given that the course is cross-confessional. The equality of men and women is a premise.

The involved parts, other than the State of Hamburg, are: the Turkish-Islamic Union Institute for Religion (Ditib), the Council of Islamic communities (Schura), the association for Islamic Culture centers (VIKZ) and as the Alawites community of Germany. The three associations represent approximately 130 000 Muslims in Hamburg. Approximately, 50 000 Alawites live in Hamburg.

The chairman of the Turkish-Islamic Union Institute for Religion in Hamburg Dr. Zekeriya Altuğ emphasized the importance of the treaty as a historical day for Muslims in Hamburg and Germany. The Muslim community would be hopeful to receive the full support of all political institutions. This treaty would express the diversity of Muslim life in Hamburg.
The Federal chairman of the Alawite community Hüseyin Mat emphasized the importance of this treaty in recognizing the Alawite community. Germany should be dignified for recognizing the Alawite community and their rights as a religious minority. In contrast to Germany, the Turkish government should be ashamed. Turkey would still repress Alawites and force them to assimilate.