PLEASE VISIT www.CenterforPluralism.com for all information


Monday, August 24, 2009

Synagogue - a part time Mosque

Abundant Faith, Shrinking Space
Mosques Turn to Synagogues, Ballrooms to Accommodate Growing Membership

Muslims Lose Breathing Room, Keep Faith
Muslims facing a lack of worship space lease a Jewish synagogue in Reston, prompting an unexpected cultural exchange.

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 22, 2009
They stream in through the doors every Friday -- a sea of Muslims pouring into a synagogue in Reston.

The men roll out long prayer rugs on the synagogue floor. An imam stands up front and praises Allah. And as the faithful begin whispering their prayers in flowing Arabic, their landlord, a rabbi, walks by to check whether they need anything.

This unlikely arrangement between a burgeoning Muslim congregation and a suburban synagogue is what happens when you combine the region's rapidly growing Muslim population with a serious shortage of worship space.

As area mosques prepare for the start of Ramadan this weekend, many are simply bursting at the seams. Every available inch -- even in lobbies and hallways -- is being used. Parking is impossible. Traffic afterward is worse than postgame gridlock at FedEx Field.

Nobody knows how many Muslims are in America -- estimates range from 2.35 million to 7 million -- but researchers say the population is growing rapidly, driven by conversions, immigration and the tendency for Muslims to have larger families. One study by Trinity College in Connecticut shows the percentage nationwide having doubled since 1990. In the Washington area, the increase might be even sharper, local Muslim leaders say.

A building boom has brought new mosques to suburbs such as Manassas and Ellicott City, but many have been full from the moment they opened. So, desperate for room, Muslim communities have started renting hotel ballrooms, office space and, yes, even synagogues to handle the overflow.

"We say our prayers, and a few hours later they meet for Sabbath and they say their prayers," said Rizwan Jaka, a leader at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque in Sterling, which added services at two synagogues last year. "People may think it's strange or odd, but we are simply grateful for the space."

The extra room will prove crucial this weekend with the beginning of Ramadan -- a month of fasting that often draws hundreds to mosques in addition to regular members. Anticipating the throngs, many mosques have hired off-duty police and rallied volunteers to handle the traffic.
"Just like you have Easter Christians, Hanukkah Jews, we have what we call Ramadan Muslims. They just come out of the woodwork on the holy days," said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church.

Last year at the height of Ramadan, Abdul-Malik had to turn many away to avoid violating occupancy rules, which limit his mosque to 2,000 worshipers. When asked how many he expects this year, the imam chooses his words carefully: "I'd rather not say because of the fire marshal."
Things weren't always so tight.

The ADAMS mosque -- which now rents space in two hotels and a wedding hall along with the two synagogues -- began in 1985 in a Herndon school cafeteria with a handful of Muslims. But since 2000, its numbers have swelled from 300 people to 4,000 attending services throughout Northern Virginia on Friday afternoons, a sacred time for prayer and sermons.

At first, leaders tried adding two Friday prayer times at the Sterling mosque. Then they created overflow rooms upstairs and downstairs. They designated choice parking spots "HOV-only" to encourage carpooling, expanded the parking lot and constructed a second entrance.

But none of it was enough.

As they looked for a place to expand in Reston, members of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation learned of their plight. Although some in the congregation had reservations about leasing space for Islamic services, longtime members recalled that a Catholic church opened its doors to them years before they had built their synagogue. Their rabbi weighed in with biblical support.

"The prophet Isaiah said our houses would be houses of prayer for all people," said Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk. "Now, I don't know if Isaiah could have imagined us hosting Ramadan in the synagogue, but the basic idea is there."

It turned out to be relatively easy. Their new Muslims friends didn't need much: wide-open space, carpet to cushion the floor and a place for their shoes. The synagogue's social hall suited them perfectly.

The arrangement has led to the unexpected benefit of cultural exchange. There have been pulpit swaps, with the imam and rabbi preaching to each other's congregation and interfaith visits as well.

David Fram, 72, who sings in the synagogue's choir, was recently invited to the Sterling mosque for daily prayers. It was an amazing, if somewhat awkward, experience. "I didn't know quite what to do; there was a lot of bending and kneeling in their prayers," he said.

Standing quietly in the back of the prayer hall, Fram decided to simply bow his head in reverence. He ate lunch ("some kind of spicy meat and rice") afterward. And a few weeks later, he found himself at Barnes & Noble buying a Koran, out of curiosity.

"It's not like the U.N. here. We're not looking to draft some final settlement agreement between Israel and Palestine," Nosanchuk said. "But we're learning from each other, and we're trying to give them the space they need and make them feel at home."

ADAMS and other congregations are unlikely to solve their space problems anytime soon because of the long lag time usually required for new mosques. Because the Koran prohibits borrowing money at interest, congregations don't use bank loans for construction. Instead, they fundraise over many years and then pay in cash.

The process can be excruciating.

It took Muslims in Prince William County 10 years before they accumulated enough money for a new home. While they waited, they crammed into a one-story house off Route 234. Each week, they somehow fit 50 cars into a space meant for 20. When services got too full, people knelt outside and prayed on the grass.

Women working minimum-wage jobs donated their family's jewelry to the new-mosque fund. When construction finally began in 2004, families often drove out to the site just to watch and dream about a future of plentiful parking and prayer space.

But it wasn't meant to be.

Almost as soon as the new mosque, Dar Al-Noor, opened three years ago during Ramadan, the building was packed with 1,200 people. So this year throughout Ramadan, members will continue praying and fundraising for further expansion, said the community's president, Mohammad Mehboob.

"We are a community with many people but not so much money," Mehboob said. "But Allah has always provided for us. It's amazing we have this mosque now, and, inshallah, we will continue to build and grow."

Maybe we can all just get along

Maybe we can all just get along
In the dark days after 9/11, a M

uslim vs. Christian/Jewish existence didn’t seem all that far-fetched — in essence, a religious war of the worlds. Yet now, it seems, the dominant forces of faith have other ideas.
By Tom Krattenmaker

Each month, Rabbi Brian Walt of West Tisbury, Mass., and dozens of other Jewish clergy abstain from eating for a day and funnel the monetary savings to Palestinian children in Gaza . With each monthly enactment of the rite, the rabbis suck just a little more life out of a never-quite-valid theory, and mindset, that have loomed over the post-9/11 world like a specter — the so-called clash of civilizations.

(Illustration by Web Bryant, USA TODAY)

"We believe Judaism is about compassion and justice for all people," Walt explains. "In much of the religious talk about the Middle East, it's about sides. You're on this side or that side. We're calling on all people of faith to say that not only Israelis deserve security, but that all people do."

Walt, of course, is talking about the humanitarian consequences of an Israeli blockade to prevent the re-arming of Hamas in the tense aftermath of last winter's clash between the Israelis and Palestinians. But the fasting rabbi's point could apply just as well to a larger trend that seems to be gaining steam.

To the frustration of conflict-mongers on both sides of the divide, open-minded Jews, Muslims and Christians are breaking clash-of-civilizations formation and extending hands of friendship toward those they're supposed to hate. This pattern is far from complete, with war-of-the-worlds field officers fighting tenaciously to keep the troops in line. Nonetheless, one gets the sense that the tides have shifted and begun moving, inexorably, toward inter-religious understanding and a less religiously fractured world. On these counts at least, the fast-approaching new decade might look a lot different from this one.

Moving away from 'clash'
The "clash of civilizations" theory dates to 1993, when Harvard professor Samuel Huntington published the famous essay that coined the term and described its ominous contours. In the absence of the ideological battle of the Cold War , Huntington argued, conflicts between "civilizations" would define the new age — civilizations defined by their cultures and, especially, their religions.

Coming out the same year as the first World Trade Center bombing , Huntington's essay seemed to explain something real and menacing taking shape in the world. This decade's battles appeared to put real flesh on his theory's bones. But recent months have brought acts of the highest profile that would appear all but impossible in a world cleanly divided by deep fissures between civilizations.

There was the American president — a Christian with an African surname and Muslims in his ancestry — traveling to Cairo and declaring to his Muslim audience: "America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam." There was Rick Warren , the leading figure in American evangelicalism, addressing the conference of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and proclaiming his love for Muslims (as well as Jews, Hindus and Buddhists) and his conviction that "al-Qaeda no more represents Islam than the Ku Klux Klan represents Christianity."

And there is the popular uprising by the Iranian people against an explicitly Islamist regime that had declared America the "Great Satan" and defined its country's identity as over and against all things Western. As foreign policy scholar Joshua Muravchik argued in an (Portland) Oregonian opinion piece in July, "Much as the hammers that leveled the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the end of the Cold War, so might the protests rocking Iran signal the death of radical Islam and the challenge it poses to the West."

In making sense of these and many similar stories, it's important to resist getting carried away on a wave of We Are the World sentimentality. Threats remain, and hard-headed realism still is essential. Yet practical reality is also on the side of quelling conflict — unless you cling to the fantastical belief that Christianity must and will conquer Islam, or vice versa, and that such an outcome could somehow be achieved at a cost worth paying.

Sadly, there are some in both "civilizations" who prefer to keep the battle lines drawn.
Those committing terrorism in the name of Islam provide some of the most glaring examples. As do laws in several Muslim countries that harshly forbid conversions from Islam to other religions, and chauvinist politicians like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who spew slurs against Jews and Israel. Here's longing for the day when headlines don't bring more tidings of Muslims attacking Christian minority populations, as happened in Pakistan in early August, and Islamist clerics twisting Quranic teachings into vendettas against any "infidel" who does not subscribe to their hateful strain of Islam.

Fanning the flames

Clash-of-civilizations fighters on this side of Huntington's fissure don't match their Middle Eastern counterparts when it comes to deliberate violence against innocents. Even so, they do much to fan the flames of conflict with their rhetoric and politics. Consider the war-of-words reaction to Warren's olive-branch appearance at this summer's Islamic conference. "Traitor," some Christians called him. "His being the keynote speaker (at the event) only validates a group that is anti-God and anti-America," wrote the conservative blogger at Don't Get Me Started. The promotional blurb for a propaganda video making the rounds this summer asserts: "Islam will overwhelm Christendom unless Christians recognize the demographic realities, begin reproducing again, and share the Gospel with Muslims."

Wouldn't it make more sense to try forming partnerships with Muslims — with those in the vast majority who, according to polling by World Public Opinion, reject al-Qaeda terrorism and have little interest in cataclysmic conflict with the West?

Rabbi Walt, a coordinator of Ta'anit Tzedek — the Jewish Fast for Gaza — flatly rejects the notion that his Jewish faith obliges him to fall in line with the Jews-vs.-Islam construct. "I don't believe in the 'clash of civilizations' " Walt says. "I believe there's a clash, but it's within each of the religious traditions. ... I have much more in common with a progressive Muslim than I do with a right-wing Jewish fundamentalist settler on the West Bank."

The more you listen, the more you hear a pattern in which the conflict-mongers on either side sound like echoes of each other. They hear only the worst from their opposite and trumpet their same-sounding conclusions —"They're evil! They're godless! They're out to get us!" — trying to get the rest of us scared and angry enough to enlist. But while they demonize the enemy, they also depend on the other side, feed off it, sustain it. In a certain sense, the two sides are allies in a shared quest for endless conflict and war.

But as the fast-for-Gaza rabbis show, there's a simple remedy the rest of us can apply: We can refuse to play along.

Tom Krattenmaker, a writer based in Portland, Ore., specializing in religion in public life, is a member of USA TODAY'S board of contributors. His book Onward Christian Athletes will be released in October.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Paryushan - a Jain festival of forgiveness

Michami Dukkadam (We ask for your forgiveness)

(Note to my Jewish friends; what appears to be the hateful swastika symbol here is not that symbol, this symbol has been in use in India for over a millennium, it symbolizes four directions, four seasosn of life )

Paryushan is an annual festival that Jains*** celebrate all around the Globe, it is either seven or nine days celebration depending on the sect; Swetambra or Digambra, they observe fasting for seven days or 9 days and conclude it on dus laxan. Through out the days the observe the fast, they abstain from ill-will, ill-thought and ill-actions, just as Muslims do for a month in Ramadan. It is a beautiful way of refreshing our souls on an annual basis.

There is a beauty and joy in forgiving and be forgiven. It brings Moksha, Mukti, Nirvana, Nijaat, salvation and true freedom to every soul. Indeed, the idea of forgiveness is central to every religion; that was Jesus's focus, the dearest person to God is one who forgives, says Mohammad the prophet and Sri Krishan reiterates that thought in Bhagvad Gita. If all the psychologists in the world were asked, what will bring the most freedom to the mankind, they may be tempted to say "Michami Dukkadam".

In the Jain tradition of humility and forgiveness; SAVVE JIVA KHAMANTU MEMETTI ME SAVVE BHUYESU,VERAM MAJAHAM NA KENAI"

"I forgive (without any reservation) all living beings (who may have caused me any pain and suffering either in this or previous lives), and I beg for the forgiveness from all living beings (no matter how small or big) to whom I may have, knowingly or unknowingly, caused pain and suffering (in thoughts, speech or action, in this or previous lives, or if I have asked, or encouraged someone else, to carry out such activities). (Let all creatures know that) I have friendship with everybody and have no revenge (animosity or enmity) toward anybody."

Michhami Dukkadam
(We ask for your forgiveness)

Indeed, that phrase resonates with me. I had talked about the meaning of Michami Dukadam in several congregations, including the one celebrating Najma's eternal journey and again at the funeral prayer at the mosque in Richardson. It was a perfect Michami Dukadam between me and my late wife Najma. Thanks to the Jain tradition.

The Jains have been practicing this tradition for thousands of years and I join them in the Jain tradition of humility and forgiveness I say Michami Dukadam. I am pleased to share the perfect message from Dr. Vastupal Parikh.

I just wrote an article about Ramadan - which is similar in meaning at:
Please mark your calendars for the 5th Annual Unity Day on Sunday, september 6th at 5:00 PM - Details at www.UnitydayUSA.com

***** Jainism is a full fledged religion like Hinduism and Buddhism and none is an offshoot of the other as it is often mis-understood. Jainism is contemporary of Buddhism. Both the faiths are life centered where one's deeds (Karma) determine his or her spiritual, physical and mental well being. Although Mahavira is referred to as God in common parlance, in the system, he is the 24th tirthankara- the enlightened one, ( an equivalent of a messenger or a prophet in the abrahimic traditions) who wrapped up the entire philosophy of the 23 earlier tirthankaras. Jainism dates back to the Mohenjadaro civilization some 5000 years ago. In Dallas, oops, it is in Fort Worth, we had an exhibition of the artifacts from that period at Kimbell Art Museum several years ago, it was a fascinating experience.

Mahatma Gandhi's non-violence approach emanates from Jainism and the idea of validity of multiple paths of the foundation for pluralism ( www.foundationforPluralism.com) has its origin in the idea of Anekant Vaad from Jainism. We have a Jain Temple in Richardson, a suburb of Dallas, and if you want to enjoy the best vegetarian food, go to the temple on Sunday Mornings!

Thank you.

Mike Ghouse
# #

Pluralism in Governance - Singapore

I am pleased to include the speech of Prime Minister of Singapore with a note urging you to read - this is a model governance in Pluralism.

The Foundation is committed to providing the media and world leaders with insights, and policy solutions to effectively managing the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural societies. Dr. Abusaleh Shariff and Mike Ghouse are committed to developing solutions for pluralistic governance of diverse people.

In democratic politics, pluralism is a guiding principle which permits the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles. Unlike totalitarianism or particularism, pluralism acknowledges the diversity of interests and considers it legitimate for members of society to work for their realization, to represent them and to articulate them in a process of conflict and dialogue. In political philosophy, those who embrace pluralism are often described as liberals, while those who take up a more critical attitude towards the diversity of modern societies are often called communitarians. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Mike Ghouse
What will take us forward

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the four challenges facing Singapore in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday. Here is an edited version

SO WHAT are these risks? Let me just highlight three of them.

'To live peacefully together, we need good sense and tolerance on all sides, and a willingness to give and take. Otherwise, whatever the rules there will be no end of possible causes of friction.'

PM Lee, on how fragile religious and racial harmony is in Singapore and how crucial it is to be tolerant

'We've totally transformed Singapore over the last half century. 1959 was a moment of great change but nobody at the Padang in June 1959 imagined the change in today's Singapore.'

Aggressive preaching - proselytisation. You push your own religion on others, you cause nuisance and offence. You have read in the papers recently about a couple who surreptitiously distributed Christian tracts which were offensive of other faiths, not just of non-Christians but even of Catholics. They were charged and sentenced to jail.

But there are less extreme cases too which can cause problems. We hear, from time to time, complaints about groups trying to convert very ill patients in our hospitals, who don't want to be converted, and who don't want to have the private difficult moments in their lives intruded upon.

Intolerance is another problem - not respecting the beliefs of others or not accommodating others who belong to different religions. You think of this one group versus another group, but sometimes it happens within the same family.

Sometimes we have parents from traditional religions whose children have converted.

The parents have asked to be buried according to traditional rites and their children stay away from the funeral or the wake. It's very sad. From a traditional point of view, it's the ultimate unfilial act but it does happen occasionally.

Exclusiveness is a third problem - segregating into separate exclusive circles, not integrating with other faiths. That means you mix with your own people. You'll end up as separate communities.

We foresaw these dangers 20 years ago. We passed the Bill, Maintenance of Religious Harmony, in 1989/1990.

Before we did that, then PM Lee Kuan Yew and the key ministers met all the religious leaders. We had a closed-door session at MCYS. We spoke candidly. We explained our concerns, why we wanted to move this Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. The religious leaders spoke up candidly, they gave us their support. We moved with their support.

We continue to keep in close touch with them, to meet regularly. I do that personally, exchange views, keep the line warm and the confidence on both sides so that I know you, you know me. If there is a problem, we are not dealing with strangers but with somebody we know and trust.

Once or twice, I've had to meet them over specific difficult cases. No publicity, relying on mutual trust and the wisdom of our religious leaders to defuse tensions.

I'm very grateful for their wisdom and for their support. Because of this active work behind the scenes, we've not needed to invoke the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act for 20 years. But it's something which is important to us which we must keep for a long time.

Four basic rules

WE can never take our racial and religious harmony for granted. We must observe some basic principles to keep it the way it is.

First, all groups have to exercise tolerance and restraint. Christians cannot expect this to be a Christian society, Muslims cannot expect this to be a Muslim society. Ditto the Buddhists, the Hindus and the other groups.

Many faiths share this island. Each has different teachings, different practices.

Rules which only apply to one group cannot become laws which are enforced on everyone. So Muslims don't drink alcohol but alcohol is not banned. Ditto gambling, which many religions disapprove of, but gambling is not banned. All have to adopt 'live and let live' as our principle.

Secondly, we have to keep religion separate from politics. Religion in Singapore cannot be the same as religion in America, or religion in an Islamic country.

Take Iran, an Islamic country. Nearly everybody is Shia Muslim. Recently, they had a presidential election which was fiercely contested between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, and the outcome was disputed. Both sides invoked Islam. So Mousavi's supporters had a battle cry - Allahu Akbar (God is Great).

In Singapore, if one group invokes religion this way, other groups are bound to say: 'I also need powerful support. We'll also push back invoking our faith.' One side insists: 'I'm doing God's work.' The other side says: 'I'm doing my God's work.' Both sides say: 'I cannot compromise. These are absolute imperatives.' The result will be a clash between different religious groups which will tear us apart. We take this very seriously. The People's Action Party reminds our candidates, don't bring all the friends from your own religious group. Don't mobilise your church or your temple or your mosque to campaign for you. Bring a multi-racial, multi-religious group of supporters. When you are elected, represent the interest of all your constituents, not just your religious group in Parliament. Speak for all your constituents.

Thirdly, the Government has to remain secular. The Government's authority comes from the people. The laws are passed by Parliament which is elected by the people. They don't come from a sacred book. The Government has to be neutral, fair. We are not against religion. We uphold sound moral values. We hold the ring so that all groups can practise their faiths freely without colliding. That's the way Singapore has to be.

You may ask: Does this mean that religious groups have no views, cannot have views on national issues? Or that religious individuals cannot participate in politics? Obviously not.

Religious groups are free to propagate their teachings on social and moral issues. They have done so on the IRs, organ transplants, 377A, homosexuality. And obviously many Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists participate in politics. In Parliament, we have people of all faiths. In the Cabinet too. People who have a religion will often have views which are informed by their religious beliefs. It's natural because it's part of you, it's part of your personality. But you must accept that other groups may have different views informed by different beliefs and you have to accept that and respect that.

The public debate cannot be on whose religion is right and whose religion is wrong. It has to be on secular, rational considerations of public interest - what makes sense for Singapore. The final requirement for us to live peacefully together is to maintain our common space that all Singaporeans share. It has to be neutral and secular because that's the only way all of us can feel at home in Singapore and at ease.

Common spaces

LET me explain to you with specific examples.

Sharing meals. We have different food requirements. Muslims need halal food. Hindus don't eat beef. Buddhists sometimes are vegetarian. So if we must serve everybody food which is halal, no beef and vegetarian, I think we will have a problem. We will never eat meals together. So there will be halal food on one side, vegetarian food for those who need it, no beef for those who don't eat beef.

Let's share a meal together, acknowledging that we are not the same. Don't discourage people from interacting. Don't make it difficult for us to be one people.

Our schools are another example of common space where all races and religions interact. Even in mission schools run by religious groups, the Ministry of Education has set clear rules, so students of all faiths will feel comfortable.

You might ask: Why not allow mission schools to introduce prayers or Bible studies as compulsory parts of the school activity or as part of school assembly? Why not? Then why not let those who are not Christian, or don't want a Christian environment, go to a government school or go to a Buddhist school? Well, if they do that, we'll have Christians in Christian schools, Buddhists in Buddhist schools, Muslims in schools with only Muslim children and so on. I think that is not good for Singapore.

Therefore, we have rules to keep all our schools secular and the religious groups understand and accept this.

For example, St Joseph's Institution is a Catholic brother school but it has many non-Catholic students, including quite a number of Malay students. The Josephian of the Year in 2003 was a Malay student - Salman Mohamed Khair.

He told Berita Harian that initially his family was somewhat worried about admitting him to a Catholic school. He himself was afraid because he didn't know what to expect. But he still went because of SJI's good record. He said: 'Now I feel fortunate to be in SJI. Although I was educated in a Catholic environment, religion never became an issue.'

Indeed that's how it should work. I know it works because I understand that Malay students in SJI often attend Friday prayers at Baalwie Mosque nearby, still wearing their school uniforms. SJI thinks it's fine, the mosque thinks it's fine, the students think it's fine, and I think it's fine too. That's the way it should be.

Another example of common space - work. The office environment should be one which all groups feel comfortable with. Staff have to be confident that they will get equal treatment even if they belong to a different faith from their managers - especially in government departments, but in the private sector too.

I think it can be done because even religious community service organisations often have people who don't belong to that religion working comfortably and happily together. This is one very important aspect of our meritocratic society.

Thus we maintain these principles: exercise tolerance, keep religion separate from politics, keep a secular government, maintain our common space. This is the only way all groups can live in peace and harmony in Singapore.

Aware and responsible church leaders

THIS is the background to the way the Government looked at one recent issue: Aware.

We were not concerned about who would control Aware because it's just one of so many NGOs in Singapore. On homosexuality policy or sexuality education in schools, there can be strong differences in view but the Government's position was quite clear.

But what worried us was that this was an attempt by a religiously motivated group who shared a strong religious fervour to enter civil space, take over an NGO it disapproved of, and impose their agenda. It was bound to provoke a push back from groups that held the opposite view, which indeed happened vociferously and stridently.

The media coverage got caught up and I think the amplifier was turned up a bit high.

This was hardly the way to conduct a mature discussion of a sensitive matter where views are deeply divided. But most critically of all, this risked a broader spillover into relations between different religions.

I know many Singaporeans were worried about this, including many Christians. They may not have spoken aloud but they raised one eyebrow. Therefore, I'm very grateful for the very responsible stand which was taken by the church leaders. The National Council of Churches of Singapore issued a statement that it didn't support churches getting involved. There was also the statement by the Catholic Archbishop. Had these statements not been made, we would have had a very serious problem.

The Government stayed out of this but after the dust had settled, I spoke to the religious leaders, first the Christians and then the religious leaders of all faiths, so that everybody understood where we stood and what our concerns were. So we can continue to work together to strengthen our racial and religious harmony.

Unusually serious subject

THIS is an unusually serious and heavy subject for a National Day Rally. Normally, you talk about babies, hongbaos, bonuses.

No bonuses tonight but a bonus lecture on a serious subject. We discussed this in Cabinet at length and decided that I should talk about this. I crafted the points carefully, circulated them many times. Different presentations in Mandarin, Malay and English, because different groups have different concerns, but a consistent message so that there's no misunderstanding.

I also invited the religious leaders to come and spend the evening with us tonight.

They can help us to help their flocks understand our limitations, to guide them to practise their faiths, taking into account the context of our society. Please teach them accommodation, which is what all faiths teach. I look forward to all the religious groups continuing to do a lot of good work for Singapore for many years to come.

Finally, let me share with you one true story which was published recently in an Indian newspaper, The Asian Age, and picked up by The Straits Times. It was about a young man from Gujarat, a Muslim, who migrated to Singapore after the Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.

A train carrying Hindu pilgrims was stopped in Ahmadebad and set on fire. The circumstances were unclear but 50-odd men, women and children burnt to death, trapped in the train. The Hindus rioted. They had no doubt what the cause was. One thousand people died, mostly Muslims because Ahmadebad has a large Muslim community.

So this young Muslim decided to come to Singapore after the riots. We call him Mohammed Sheikh. It's not his real name because he still has family there. The article said: 'During the bloody riots, he watched three of his family members, including his father, getting butchered. His family had to pay for being Muslim. 'Besides losing his family and home, Mohammed lost confidence and faith in the civil society. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life cursing his destiny. He wanted to move on.'

So seven years ago, Mohammed came to Singapore and got a diploma in hospitality management. Now he is working in an eatery and he hopes to open his own business one day. He told the interviewer, had he stayed in Gujarat, 'I would have been hating all Hindus and baying for their blood, perhaps.'

Now 'he loves it when his children bring home Hindu friends and share snacks'. He told the interviewer proudly, 'My children have Christian, Buddhist, Hindu friends.'

He even hopes to bring his mother to Singapore so she can see for herself that people of different races, different faiths can be friends. The interviewer asked him what Muslim sect he belonged to and which mosque he went to in India. He said: 'I don't want to get into all that. Now I am just a Singaporean. And I am proud of it.'

This story reminds us that while we must not neglect to strengthen our harmonious society, we are in a good position.

So let us rejoice in our harmony but let us never forget what being a Singaporean means. It's not just tolerating other groups but opening our hearts to all our fellow citizens.


IF WE stay cohesive, then we can overcome our economic challenges and continue to grow.
This is how we've transformed Singapore over the last half century - solving problems together, growing together, improving our lives.

'To live peacefully together, we need good sense and tolerance on all sides, and a willingness to give and take. Otherwise, whatever the rules there will be no end of possible causes of friction.'

PM Lee, on how fragile religious and racial harmony is in Singapore and how crucial it is to be tolerant

From the Singapore River to Marina Bay, we've totally transformed Singapore over the last half century. 1959 was a moment of great change but nobody at the Padang in June 1959 imagined the change in today's Singapore.

We will continue to improve our lives, provided we work together and remain a harmonious and a cohesive society so that in another 50 years, we would have built another Singapore, which is equally unimaginable today.

The key is to stay united through rain or shine.

Courtesy - Strait times

Ganesh Chaturthi


The Hindu community around the world celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi between August 23 and September 3rd, a ten day festival.

Among Hindus there is beautiful tradition of invoking that aspect of God which removes barriers and paves the way for a smoother life. The icon that represents this aspect of God is known as Ganesh, Ganesha, or Vinayak depending on the region, most Hindus around the world invoke Ganesh before they start any thing in life from starting their day, to opening a new business or wearing new clothes or starting a social ceremony.

I see the essence in a ritual, rather than the ritual itself. The act of invoking the creator sets oneself on a positive path. One starts out with a good feeling that God is with him or her and will remove the barriers for him. That is the power of positive thinking that Napoleon Hill has talked about; it is psyching oneself up to do the right thing and succeed.

Every faith finds value in rituals, indeed the rituals are pathways to spiritual attainment. From the moment we are born to the last rites of our life and every moment in between is loaded with rituals whether we admit or not. Whether we go to the gym, eat our food; go to sleep, wake up, wear our clothes, drive some place or in our intimate moments; we follow rituals.

The great Hindu sage Sri Ramakrishna shares this, "There can be as many spiritual paths as there are spiritual aspirants, and as many Gods as there are devotees." One of the hallmarks of Hindu spirituality is the worship of this infinite diversity of the One Unknowable God in a multiplicity of forms. To this I am pleased to add that as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, faith is in the heart of the believer.

Ganesh Chaturthi is a ten day festival commencing on August 23rd and ending on September 3rd Every evening people gather around the Icon of Ganesh made out of clay and celebrate it with devotion, entertainment and community gatherings.

I grew up in Yelahanka my mother town, a suburb of Bangalore. Every year the Ganesha Chaturthi was celebrated for nearly ten days. A huge tent was set up on the main street across my home, and big clay Icon of Ganesha was placed in the tent. For ten nights different music bands came and sang the most popular Kannada and Bollywood songs, or a learned Hindu scholar would share the wisdom of Hinduism known as Hari Katha. I remember a Hari Krishn Pahwal, the Qawwali singer from North India who would sing Qawwali in Urdu in praise of Ganesh at least one of the 9 nights. It was quite a treat for us kids.

On the tenth day, the Ganesh Icon is carried on a chariot with pomp and gaiety to the lake and immersed in the water to dissolve.

On the culinary side it was a delightful time, as kids we looked forward to it every year. We visited many homes in that month; particularly my father’s buddy Bellur Muniyappa’s home. They fixed the “obbattu” the pancake like item with sweet and sour soup called “saaru” and the “Kanola’s” the dumpling made out of Jaggery, coconut and flour. I fondly remember my Grandmother making delicious Obbattu, Saar and Kanola’s. Heck, I long for it.

Ganesh Chaturthi has its origins at the beginning of Sanatana Dharma, usually known as Hinduism. However, the festival took its present form in 1893 when Lokmanya Tilak, the Hindu Social reformer initiated it.

Tilak wanted to build bridges between different Hindu communities and saw the commonality of worshiping Ganesh among different sects. “Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesh as "the god for everybody", and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order "to bridge the gap between Brahmins and 'non-Brahmins' and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them", and generate nationalistic fervor among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule”.

Tilak encouraged installation of large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.

Under Tilak's encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British Rule discouraged social and political gatherings.

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!

If you are in Dallas, please attend the UnityDay USA – details at http://www.unitydayusa.com/ on Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Mike Ghouse is a thinker, writer speaker and an activist of pluralism, interfaith, co-existence, peace, Islam and India. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions to issues of the day. His websites and Blogs are listed on http://www.mikeghouse.net/


Friday, August 21, 2009

Spirit of Ramadan

Ramadan's Spiritual Discipline
By Mike Ghouse

From the moment we are born to the last rites of our life and every moment in between is laden with rituals, though some of us may deny it. Whether we go to the gym, eat our food; go to sleep, wear clothes, drive some place, in our intimate moments, or picking that phone up, we follow rituals.

Discipline is necessary to do things on time, managing personal relationships, driving to a destination or keeping within budget to achieve the goals; the result is worth the discipline to most people. When joyous, whether we are a theist or not, we have to express that sentiment, otherwise a sense of incompleteness lingers in our hearts.

Every faith is composed of a set of unique rituals to bring discipline and peace to human life. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five key rituals that Muslims around the world observe.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is generally observed with a ritual precision; it is an annual training or a refresher. It requires one to abstain from food, drink, intimacy, ill will, ill talk, ill actions or any temptations from dawn to dusk, every day for a month. One has to rise above his or her baser desires. Islam gifts this month to its followers to inculcate discipline to bring moderation in their daily lives. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Buddha, the enlightened one taught that human suffering is caused by unrestrained desire to own and had recommended a middle path, and the same recommendation was made by Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago.

Although Ramadan is popularly known in the West for its culinary delicacies and fancy Iftaar (ceremonial breaking of fast at sundown), the spirit and intent of Ramadan lies in a human transformation in a month-long inner spiritual journey of finding oneself in tune with spirituality.
God has no need for the hunger or thirst of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity or usurps their rights, said Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The fasting of the stomach must be matched by the fasting of the limbs. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet all have their respective fasts to undergo. The tongue's temptations, for example - lies, backbiting, slander, vulgarity and senseless argumentation - must be challenged and curbed to maintain the integrity of the fast.

Consciousness of behavior and vigilance over action are the most profound dimensions of fasting: the fasting of the heart focuses on the attachment to the divine. That is when Ramadan really becomes a source of peace and solace, just as Christmas goes beyond the rituals to bring forth kindness, charity and caring.

True fasting is self-purification; and from this, a rich inner life that bring about values such as justice, generosity, patience, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy - values that are indispensable for the success of the community.

Knowing about hunger is different from knowing hunger. Empathy is not an intellectual equation; it is a human experience. Our hardness of heart often springs from our distance from the human condition of others. The poor, sick, disenfranchised, oppressed - we rarely walk a mile in their shoes, not even a few steps. "Rest assured," cautioned one teacher, "if you do not taste what it feels like to be hungry, you will not care for those who are."

For fasting to be truly universal, its benefits must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims and must extend to forging a common humanity with others. Fasting is meant to impart a sense of what it means to be truly human, and its universality is reflected by its observance in Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Zoroastrian and other faiths.

Ramadan will come and go with such stealth that we cannot but be reminded of our mortality. What is it that we value and why? Habits, customs, even obsessive behavior like smoking can be curtailed with relative ease in the face of a higher calling.

The article: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/08/ramadans_spiritual_discipline.html

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism interfaith, political and civic issues. He presides the Foundation for Pluralism and is a founder of the World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at Ghousemike@gmail.com

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Prophet Muhammad, a Pluralist and initiator of interfaith dialogue

Prophet Muhammad is perhaps the first religious person to initiate interfaith dialogue, he not only invited people of other faiths to dialogue, but he also offered them to pray, their own prayers in his mosque. Didn't Prophet Muhammad accept the otherness of other faiths? He sure did! He did not believe what others believed but he certainly did not denigrate any one of them. That is the confidence we must develop in our faith, whatever faith we follow.

Prophet Muhammad was not only a Pluralist religiously, but he believed in co-existence and living in harmony with life and environment. He initiated the pluralistic form of governance, again perhaps first of its kind where he invited the Jews, Christian and others to sign along with him an agreement called “Madinah pact”. The pact honored signatories to practice their faith the way they deem it fit. There was an instance where the people of other faiths objected to his signature which added the phrase messenger of God to his name; he revised it as he was not a messenger to them.

Prophet Muhammad would have invited Darwin, were Darwin lived in his time to have a dialogue. Perhaps he would have seen the value in creation through evolution. Muhammad (pbuh) knew God's wisdom is boundless and not containable in words that we read in the holy books, he would have meditated to understand the enormity of God's words instead of confining the meaning to the words.

I am blessed to have taken the initiative on Pluralism that began with my Radio show in 1994, in the 700+ hours of talk radio on Wisdom of Religion I did between 2004 and 2005, we learned the essence of every faith (or no faith) from Atheism to Zoroastrianism and every tradition in between. What is the wisdom? God wants his creation to live in harmony; each one of the religions is a formula to live in peace and balance with self and with others who surround. Those faiths that are life centered like Buddhism, Jainism, Atheism, Wicca and the African, American and other native traditions believe in living a life of balance; self balancing act is built into every piece of existence that struggles to keep the equilibrium through pleasures and pain. All faiths are either God centered or life centered and serve the same purpose; to bring peace and tranquility to one.

HH Aga Khan has made great strides in bringing back the tradition of Prophet Muhammad and has opened a Pluralism Center in Toronto. An overwhelming majority of the Muslims are in tune with the idea of co-existence, they want to get along and live a peaceful life with their families and friends.

Dallasites got to hear for the first time about Ismaili Muslims on my talk show radio, when I spoke about Ismaili traditions on the Imamat day. My Mentors are Muhammad (pbuh), Jesus, Krishna, Bahaullah, Nanak, Gandhi, MLK and Aga Khan among others. Obama is very close to becoming my mentor. Every thing I write gets articulated by him within a week. He is a shining example of Pluralism, a person who truly follows Jesus who embraced every human as fellow being without any distinction; he submits to the will of God as in Islam where God does not discriminate one soul from the other, or surrenders to Krishna and treats the whole world as one family. I am inspired by the models of co-existence they have created for us to emulate.

Personally I am committed to dust off layers of ignorance on the Islamic values of co-existence; aka Pluralism. God wants his creation to live in harmony and you find beautiful guidance in Qur'aan to create that abode. God willing I will do my share of work and you do yours. We are all in it together to create the world we would love to live.

A few among us are still clamoring to see Islam's value of Pluralism and about 1/10th of 1% of Muslims are far from getting it. In my reach out of about 24,000 Muslims across the world, my formula approximates about 240 individuals to be abhorrent to this idea... again thank God, you will find less than 24 people among the 24,000 who are obdurate to the idea, i.e., about 1/100th of 1% of Muslims. Are they significant statistically? You will find similar ratios in every faith group. A majority of all of us are good people.

A list of the Blogs on Islam and Pluralism are on my personal site www.MikeGhouse.net, if you wish to read about them. Please read the Qur’aanic model for a civil dialogue at item # 21 at http://quraan-today.blogspot.com/2008/08/all-articles-listed.html

Pluralism is not a religion, it is not an ideology, it is simply an attitude of accepting the otherness of other and respecting the God (or creation) given uniqueness of each one of us. I believe if we can learn to do that, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. The conflict is real when some one were to mess with your space, food and loved ones, all other conflicts are imaginary as they can be resolved through a dialogue.

To be a Muslim is to be a peacemaker, one who seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; that is indeed the purpose of religion, any religion.

Mike Ghouse is a thinker, writer speaker and an activist of pluralism, interfaith, co-existence, peace, Islam and India. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions to issues of the day. His websites and Blogs are listed on http://www.mikeghouse.net/

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Losing my religion - President Carter

Illustration: Dyson

Dear President Carter,

We applaud you for speaking up.

“This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”

You have not lost your religion; the politicians of religion have lost you. Religion is yours and will always remain with you.

The purpose of religion, any religion is to bring a balance and peace to an individual and a balance with what surround him/her; life and matter. Every religion has spelled out in their scriptures to achieve that. Most people get it and a few don’t, those who don’t are the ones who turn the scriptures around to benefit their insecure “man” ego.

An overwhelming majority of men talk, feel and act equal, their conscience does not even permit them to think some one is less than them. However, you will find men bigots in every faith, culture, race and ethnicity. These men need to uplift themselves to be equal with the women to feel secure about their manhood, and then the life would be easier for them.

Mike Ghouse
# # #

Losing my religion for equality
Jimmy Carter, July 15, 2009


Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

# #

Monday, August 10, 2009

We believe in evolution and God


I believe in evolution and God as well. Creation is a transition from evolution.

I am pleased to append the article "We believe in evolution and God" below appeared in USA Today. I have written the following on the same subject.

Several Abrahamic Religious leaders 'assume' that evolution is in conflict with creationism. It frightens them about the unknown; which is human. They have an unquestionable need to believe that what they know is the final word of God; a different point of view is anathema to them. The non-Abrahamic faith followers need not gloat; a new idea is usually an abomination to someone or the other including some of them. Whether you are a believer in a God, or several or no God, you would still find a new idea bring insecurity, like some one has pulled the rug from under you and you are out of your comfort zone.

We need to give God a lot more credit than we have given him (her or it) now. Let's give him the benefit of doubt that his word (or wisdom) perhaps includes evolution and every one of us needs to push the refresh button of our thinking, and find meaning in it. Let's make Good look good. Religion is about what we believe.

Full Story - http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2009/02/evolutionary-creation.html

Mike Ghouse - believes in the transition of evolution into creation. His blogs and sites are listed at http://www.mikeghouse.net/


We believe in evolution — and God

Nearly half of Americans still dispute the indisputable: that humans evolved to our current form over millions of years. We’re scientists and Christians. Our message to the faithful: Fear not.
By Karl Giberson and Darrel Falk

The "conflict" between science and religion in America today is not only unfortunate, but unnecessary.

We are scientists, grateful for the freedom to earn Ph.D.s and become members of the scientific community. And we are religious believers, grateful for the freedom to celebrate our religion, without censorship. Like most scientists who believe in God, we find no contradiction between the scientific understanding of the world, and the belief that God created that world. And that includes

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
(Illustration by Keith Simmons, USA TODAY)

Many of our fellow Americans, however, don't quite see it this way, and this is where the real conflict seems to rest.

Almost everyone in the scientific community, including its many religious believers, now accepts that life has evolved over the past 4 billion years. The concept unifies the entire science of biology. Evolution is as well-established within biology as heliocentricity is established within astronomy. So you would think that everyone would accept it. Alas, a 2008 Gallup Poll showed that 44% of Americans reject evolution, believing instead that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."

The "science" undergirding this "young earth creationism" comes from a narrow, literalistic and relatively recent interpretation of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. This "science" is on display in the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where friendly dinosaurs — one with a saddle! — cavort with humans in the Garden of Eden. Every week these ideas spread from pulpits and Sunday School classrooms across America. On weekdays, creationism is taught in fundamentalist Christian high schools and colleges. Science faculty at schools such as Bryan College in Tennessee and Liberty University in Virginia work on "models" to shoehorn the 15 billion year history of the universe into the past 10,000 years.

Evolution continues to disturb, threatening the faith of many in a deeply religious America, especially those who read the Bible as a scientific text. But it does not have to be this way.

Paradoxical challenges

Such challenges to evolutionary science are paradoxical. Challenging accepted ideas is how America churns out Nobel Prize-winning science and patents that will drive tomorrow's technology. But challenging authority can also undermine this country's leadership in science, when citizens reject it.

Darwin proposed the theory of evolution in 1859 in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This controversial text presented evidence that present-day life forms have descended from common ancestors via natural selection. Organisms better adapted to their environments had more offspring, and these fitness adaptations accumulated across the millennia. And this is how new species arose.

In 1859 the evidence convinced many people, but not without challenges. Paleontology, the study of fossils, was new; no reliable way existed to determine the age of the Earth, and the physicists said it was too young to accommodate evolution; and Darwin knew nothing of genes, so the mechanism of inheritance — central to his theory — was shrouded in mystery.

But the biggest problem was dismay that humans were related to primates: "Descended from the apes? Dear me, let us hope it is not true," allegedly exclaimed the wife of a

19th-century English bishop upon hearing of Darwin's new theory. "But if it is true, let us hope it does not become widely known." Uneasy Christians hoped the advance of science would undermine Darwin's novel theory, which threatened their understanding of traditional biblical stories such as Adam and Eve, and the six days of creation.

In the years since Darwin argued natural selection was the agent of creation, the evidence for evolution has become overwhelming. The fossil record has provided evidence of compelling transitional species such as whales with feet. The discovery of DNA now provides an irrefutable digital record of the relatedness of all living things. And even the physicists have cooperated by proving that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, providing plenty of time for evolution.

Evolution is not the enemy

We are trained scientists who believe in God, but we also believe that science provides reliable information about nature. We don't view evolution as sinister and atheistic. We think it is simply God's way of creating. Yet we can still sleep soundly at night, with Bibles on our nightstands, resting atop the latest copy of

Scientific American
. Are we crazy?

Evolution is not a chaotic and wasteful process, as the critics charge. Evolution occurs in an orderly universe, on a foundation of natural laws and faithful processes. The narrative of cosmic history preceding the origin of life is remarkable; the laws enabling life appear finely tuned for that possibility. The ability of organisms to evolve empowers them to adapt to changing environments. Our belief that God creates through evolution is a satisfying claim uniting our faith and our science. This is good news.

We have launched a website to spread this good news (www.biologos.org) and — we hope — to answer the many questions those of faith might have. BioLogos is a term coined by

Francis Collins in his best seller The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Collins, the Christian scientist who led the

Human Genome Project, joined "bios," or life, with "logos," or word, from the first verse in the book of John in the New Testament.

The project aims to counter the voices coming from places such as the website
Answers in Genesis, which touts creation scientists, and the

Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle, that calls on Christians to essentially choose between science and faith.

We understand science as a gift from God to explore the creation, a companion revelation enriching the understanding of God we get from other sources, such as the Bible.

Many do not realize that making the Bible into a textbook of modern science is a recent development.

Many biblical scholars across the centuries have not seen it that way, concluding instead that the biblical creation story is a rich and complex text with many interpretations. Putting modern scientific ideas into this ancient story distorts the meaning of the text, which is clearly about God's faithful and caring relation to the world, not the details of how that world came to be.

What we learn from science cannot threaten our belief in God as the creator. If God created the universe in a Big Bang 15 billion years ago, guided its development with elegant mathematical laws so that eventually there would be big-brained mammals exploring things such as beauty, morality and truth, then let us celebrate that idea, not reject it.

Karl Giberson is a professor at Eastern Nazarene College, co-president of the BioLogos Foundation and author of Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Darrel Falk is a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, co-president of the Biologos Foundation and author of Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology.


Please post your comment at the end of this article: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2009/02/evolutionary-creation.html


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fundamentalism - the oldest folly

God's will for his creation is to co-exist in harmony. Indeed that is the goal of every civil society; to create an environment for people to live securely. All the rituals in the religions and all the laws of the society are built on achieving that goal.

To be religious is to be a peacemaker, one who seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; that is indeed the purpose of religion, any religion. Mission statement

Mike Ghouse is a thinker, writer speaker and an activist of pluralism, interfaith, co-existence, peace, Islam and India. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions to issues of the day. His websites and Blogs are listed on http://www.mikeghouse.net/

# # #

The Oldest Folly
A Rishi

Dictionaries define a fundamentalist as 'one who believes in the literal interpretation and the infallibility of the Bible' as if fundamentalism were unique to Christianity alone. This definition may be modified someday, but, the problem of fundamentalism will continue to torment us. Even the rationalists and atheists are not free from its evil influence. The literal interpretation of the purpose of life as suggested by the religious books (pleasing god and striving for heaven etc.) does not appeal to them so they deny any purpose whatsoever.

Before we embark upon the purpose of life, it would be prudent to resolve the old dispute about god's existence. Believers say that god created the universe whereas the atheists say that it has come up by chance. Although logically, devoid of emotion, god and chance convey the same human ignorance about how this beautiful cosmos came about. But, what distinguishes the two, in practice, is the element of purpose. When an atheist discovers a deep purpose in life his chance becomes god. God or chance is, therefore, our choice depending upon our own mental states. We generally oscillate between them before maturity.

Now, for the sake of simplicity and immediacy, let us restrict our discussion to the purpose of human life. And even among us, it would be helpful to bear in mind, the purpose, as a member of species is different from the purpose as an individual. Since each human being is as unique as his/her genes and environment, it is reasonable to accept that his/her purpose as an individual, too, is unique. After these elementary reservations, self-actualization stands out as the general purpose for human life. Even the realization of self or enlightenment is merely the process of self-actualization for some of us.

Coming back to fundamentalism, after the hasty retreat of rationalists from the domain of religion, the priests of every shade were free to misinterpret the purpose of human life to the extent that it became one for all --a blind adherence to a particular creed. This period when religion was a fig leaf for moral fascism is known in history as the Dark Age.

If fundamentalism has been bread and butter for the clergy, it served as a shield against ignominy for the hypocrites who are generally rich and powerful through unfair means. Where religion is only ritual deep, they easily pass off as religious and attain respectability by erecting a place of worship. The simple minded believers have been the victims who, besides being exploited in numerous ways, fought wars against each other, in the name of god and religion, of course.

Thus we see that, due to fundamentalism or literal interpretation of our scriptures, we either deny any purpose to human life or we learn it rote or we only pretend to know it. All these attitudes are harmful for the moral well being of a society. Present moral stupor in the world may be directly attributed to the cumulative effect of unbridled fundamentalism down the ages. Industrialization has only exposed our incapacity to cope with technological and material progress.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Quraan on Pluralism

Quraan on Pluralism

Prophet Muhammad was a pluralist, his goal was not to wipe out any of God’s creation, it rather was to forge peace and co-existence. Look at his very first model where he forged cooperation by mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill among the conflicting tribes to place the Aswad Stone in its place. There are several models for us to emulate including the one where he acknowledges the otherness of the other and brought together the Jews, Christians and others that lived under his leadership, he created the Madinah Pact giving all believers their rights to practice their faith freely. If prophet did not believe in the otherness of other, he would not have initiated that pact.
Prophet Muhammad invited people of other faiths to discuss the faith issues in his own mosque. Today, shamelessly a few Muslims who rule the Mosques around would not let an interfaith dialogue take place in the mosques.

Islam is about creating a just world and a world of co-existence through the Madinah Pacts and not bent on converting others to become Muslims.

The Quran teaches us the correct concept on pluralism:

[49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.

According to the Quran, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights:

[17:70] We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.

The Quran gives everyone the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion:

[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.

Continued: http://sharialaws.blogspot.com/2009/08/quraan-on-pluralism.html

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pluralism in Indonesia

Indonesian Pluralism and Politics Irfan Abubakar

6 August 2009 Muslims in Indonesia have long been accustomed to religious diversity. But such diversity is accepted merely as fact, not as a guiding principle. The future of pluralism in Indonesia is, unfortunately, still determined by political negotiations between religious and state elites, not by principles recognised by all religious followers. Consequently, religious tolerance in Indonesia stands on fragile ground.

As a country with more than 17,000 islands, its diversity is not only reflected in its natural resources, but also in the ethnicity, language and religion of its people. Before Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and other world religions arrived in the country, inhabitants 
had their own belief systems, which are still practiced in several tribal communities today.

To manage this diversity, Indonesia’s founding fathers in 1945 decided on a common platform: Pancasila, which comprises the five core principles of religiosity, humanity, unity, democracy and social justice. These principles govern public life. The significant role of religion in public life is recognised by the first principle, “belief in one supreme God”, but this principle does not uphold any particular religion, even Islam – the religion of the majority – as state ideology.

The Indonesian constitution (also written in 1945) ensures the freedom of every citizen to practice his or her faith. It declares that “the state guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion or belief” (Article 29).

However, in practice, the state only guarantees the freedom of certain religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and, more recently, Confucianism. Other religions and local belief systems are not acknowledged as legitimate religions.

Even currently recognised faiths were not always so. A ban on Confucianism, which began in 1967, was only lifted in 2000. During President Suharto’s 1965-1998 New Order administration – which was dominated by the military and characterised by a weakened civil society – followers of Confucius, and those adhering to local religions, were asked to identify with one of the religions recognised by the government on their national identity card.

Since 2006, however, those who follow religions that are not officially recognised by the state are no longer obliged to list one of the state-recognised religions on their identity cards, though they are not yet allowed to list their own particular faith either.

Responding to this crisis, the government released a Joint Ministerial Decree from the Minister of Religious Affairs, the General Attorney and the Minister of Home Affairs, prohibiting Ahmadis from spreading their teachings in order to “maintain religious harmony and public order”.

Another example of the absence of clear policy is when the government refrained from taking a position on a fatwa, or legal opinion, issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council in 2005 prohibiting Muslims from “following ideas of pluralism, liberalism and secularism”. According to this edict, Muslims are not allowed to acknowledge the truth of other religions, use reasoning to understand the Qur’an or relegate religion to only private affairs, clearly contradicting the principles of diversity that shape the foundation of Indonesia as a state.

These examples show that the management of diversity in Indonesia, based on the interest of keeping social harmony, has sacrificed religious freedom and civil rights.

Currently, the parliament is discussing the possibility of revising the criminal code. This is an opportunity for civil society to advocate amending the article allowing for investigation and punishment of groups suspected of violating religious doctrines to protect every citizen from intimidation or 
violence when it comes to their religious freedom.

Genuine social harmony will not be realised by silencing diversity; it can only be attained when the rights of every citizen are upheld and every group is free from religious discrimination. For this to happen, the state must be impartial to religious doctrines.

Irfan Abubakar is a programme coordinator for conflict resolution and peace studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture (CSRC) at Hidayatullah Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta. This article is part of a series on pluralism in Muslim-majority countries written for the Common Ground News Service.