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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Interfaith effort to honor the deceased

Interfaith Center Spearheads Effort to Honor the Deceased

This is a beautiful story of valuing the otherness of other, in this case, Muslims, Buddhist and Jews valuing the Hindu traditions.

It is time to plant the seeds for a new paradigm and embark on bold initiatives to do our share of repairing the world. The faith leaders can join together and embolden our commitment to co-existence and well being of every human being.

My comments continue after the article

Interfaith Center Spearheads Effort to Honor the Deceased

For Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, burial soon after departure is a spiritual mandate. But for bureaucrats, burial is a risk, as the premature release of a body can result in its improper identification.

In New York City, with one of the world’s most religiously diverse populations, tensions between religious communities and the city government can become particularly intense over burial rites for the deceased. Yet the desperation of those in mourning prompted what amounted to a (benign) inter-religious coup this month.

Biswajit Chandra Paul, as he has now been identified, moved to New York to earn money as a taxi driver. When he died tragically in a house fire, it took a village – in this case an inter-religious one – to secure the release of his body. The effort was spearheaded by Matthew Weiner, Director of Programs at the Interfaith Center of New York and a member of the Board of Scholars and Practitioners of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, as reported in the New York Times:

Mr. Paul was a Hindu, and in his faith, bodies are typically cremated within hours of death. Yet for the past month, Mr. Paul’s remains have lain in a refrigerator in the city medical examiner’s office, pinned under the weight of bureaucratic law. The office, which cannot release a body until it is officially identified, has faced a host of obstacles: Mr. Paul, 36, was burned beyond recognition, most of his belongings were destroyed and his family is 8,000 miles away.

“My mother and father are very sick about this and want his body,” his brother, Shipon, said this week in a telephone interview from Bangladesh.

Finally, the medical examiner received DNA samples from the family on Friday morning, the identification was made, and Mr. Paul’s remains were released to a local funeral home to be sent back to his homeland.

Though the hurdles in his case were unusually high, identifying a body can be difficult for immigrants or others who are far from or bereft of family or friends. And the effort to release Mr. Paul’s remains drew help from New Yorkers of many faiths — including Buddhists, Muslims and Jews — who have fought similar battles to reclaim remains for funeral rites and burial.

“It’s the kind of spontaneous response of religious communities in times of crisis to help each other,” said Matthew Weiner, director of programs at the Interfaith Center of New York, a nonprofit organization in Manhattan that helped coordinate the effort. “There’s a commonality of the recognition of the value and importance of religion.”

By the time the Interfaith Center of New York was finished, a Muslim, Jew, and Buddhist had all contributed to the identification of Mr. Paul's body and its release to family and friends in Bangladesh. While religious groups have been accused of being unable to cooperate with each other even in matters of life, Mr. Paul's story shows just how well they can cooperate, even after life is past.

# # #

Mike Ghouse comments

The change is coming, the paradigm is moving from exclusive to inclusive societies. In our life time collective blame on religions will become a thing of the past and individuals will be held responsible for their acts and not their family, neighborhood, community, nation or their religion. It is a sure way to find justice, as religions are intangibles that cannot be punished or hung and justice never happens and societal balance is seldom achieved.

The idea of Pluralism will gain momentum in 2010 and we are humbly preparing to give direction to it. We are far from being civilized, the biggest change on the political scene is the election of Obama; a totally new paradigm in politics of the world, where the governance is placed in the hands of moderate for the first time in the history of mankind. The same process will permeate in religion, societies and other aspects of society.

Welcome to the decade of Pluralism
Mike Ghouse

Friday, January 22, 2010

Trialogue with Jews, Christians and Muslims

Friday to Sunday, Jan 22-24
Dallas, Texas
A trialogue with Christians, Jews and Muslims.

I attended the first meeting at Temple Shalom and I am pleased to see this development in our Metroplex. The Pluralism bug is catching on. Welcome to the new decade of pluralism, inclusiveness and co-existence. My comments follow the article - Mike Ghouse

Keller pastor's multifaith initiative includes 'trialogue' with Muslims, Jews

11:00 PM CST on Thursday, January 21, 2010

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

For some evangelical pastors, pushing the envelope means preaching without a tie, or having the congregation sing praise music instead of hymns.

But the Rev. Bob Roberts Jr., pastor of 3,000-member NorthWood Church in Keller, has befriended Vietnamese communists, Afghan Muslims and even liberal Christians in a fast-paced, far-flung ministry that emphasizes peace-making and service as well as evangelism.

One of his sayings: "We serve not to convert but because we are converted. We serve because Christ has changed us and made us servants to people who are lost and hurting."

This weekend, Roberts is stepping out a bit more, but close to home. He has enlisted Rabbi Jeremy Schneider of Dallas' Temple Shalom and Imam Zia Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving for a "trialogue" with his congregation and theirs.

Members of NorthWood and the mosque will attend the regular worship service tonight at Temple Shalom. On Saturday afternoon, the Christians and Jews will visit the mosque. Finally, on Sunday morning, the Jews and Muslims will attend NorthWood for worship.

After each gathering, the three clergymen will answer questions about the differences and similarities of their faiths.

"The unusual aspect of this is that there's an evangelical who is the leader and really the animating force," said Eboo Patel, executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core. "It's more often a mainline Protestant who would be the Christian component."

Patel, a Muslim, is not only a friend and fan of Roberts. He wrote the forward to Roberts' forthcoming book, praising the pastor as a bridge-builder who promotes understanding of and respect for other faiths.

That's definitely the mission for this weekend's gatherings, Roberts confirmed. He prefers "multifaith" to "interfaith" as a descriptive term, believing that the latter suggests a watering-down of doctrine.

"The basis of coming together is not to minimize our beliefs but to hold onto our beliefs and make clear our beliefs," he said. "But also it's to say that the best of our beliefs calls us to get along with one another."

Known for innovation

Roberts, 51, grew up in East Texas, the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, and graduated from Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As a young pastor, Roberts quickly earned a reputation for innovation, founding NorthWood in 1985 and using its growing size and resources to start other churches. Like a lot of baby boomer pastors, Roberts has steered clear of denominational politics, and he describes NorthWood as loosely affiliated with Baptist groups.

In the mid-1990s, NorthWood began making mission trips to Vietnam, at the suggestion of a church member who was a Vietnam veteran. Since then, the church has sent teams there repeatedly to do medical, educational and orphanage-related work.

Roberts himself has been more than 20 times, while also having the church host Vietnamese government delegations and exchange students.

After 9/11, Roberts decided Christians need to show an example of service in Muslim countries, and began traveling to Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and other areas, helping churches get a foothold for the kind of work NorthWood was doing in Vietnam.

Roberts believes in "going in the front door" and abiding by whatever restrictions a host country places on evangelism – but sharing Christian faith wherever and whenever allowed.

His travels have given him an education in Middle East politics and enough standing to be included in high-level, peace-seeking meetings in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, as a rare evangelical representative.

Roberts, whose heroes include Mahatma Gandhi and the Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones, said this weekend's effort grew from his recognition that the Dallas area had become much more multicultural, and that he hadn't reached out enough locally to other faiths.

His inquiries about partners led him to Sheikh and Schneider. They began meeting a few months ago and have become friends.

"He is a great, down-to-earth guy, and someone anyone would love to have over for coffee," Sheikh said of Roberts.

Schneider, a young associate rabbi at Temple Shalom who has earned a national reputation for his leadership in Jewish-Muslim relations, described Roberts as "a colleague and brother who is as inspired and energetic and committed to this work as I am."

'At the forefront'

Roberts said about 250 members of his congregation have signed up to visit the temple and mosque. Support at NorthWood for this and other of Roberts' initiatives is "overwhelming," said church leadership council member Rusty Mayeux.

"Obviously, people have questions, and questions are good because that's where we start to break down walls," he said.

Roberts inevitably gets asked about the New Testament verse in which Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

"I believe what the Scripture says," Roberts said. "Here's what I don't know: I don't know every single thing God is going to do. Eternity is in the hands of God."

He added: "If we as evangelicals really believe Jesus is the way, we ought to be at the forefront of building relations." \


Comments (2)
Posted by MikeGhouse less than one minute ago

It is time to plant the seeds for a new paradigm and embark on bold initiatives to do our share of repairing the world. The faith leaders have joined together and embolden our commitment to co-existence and well being of every human being.

The change is coming; the new paradigm is in the making, moving away from exclusive to getting closer to inclusive societies. In our life time collective blame on religions will become a thing of the past and individuals will be held responsible for their acts and not their family, neighborhood, community, nation or their religion. It is a sure way to find justice, as religions are intangibles that cannot be punished or hung and justice never happens and societal balance is seldom achieved.

To cap off this weekend of interfaith activity, we have a beautiful event on Sunday, The Reflections on Holocaust and Genocides. This is an educational program, where 7 speakers will reflect on 7 topics for 7 minutes each along with contributing a few simple things that you and I can do to prevent such tragedies. The topics range from the Holocaust to Genocides, massacres and tragedies. It is a purposeful event to learn, acknowledge and reflect upon the terrible things that we humans have inflicted upon each other.

This is a humanitarian event on Sunday, Jan 24 at Center for Spiritual living on Spring Valley Road in Dallas at 5:00 PM, it is free and all are welcome.

Mike Ghouse

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spitting on Christians in Jerusalem

Article from a Jewish daily following my commentary.

Judging from the title, I hope you did not jump to the conclusion, that Muslims are the ones spitting on Christians. In this case the culprits are extremists from a different tradition. As an Indian, it caught my attention; it is our culture to express disgust by spitting. There was a guy in my town who had an incestual relationship with his daughter, and he shamelessly claimed that she was his property. Every one who passed in front of his house spat on his door.

There are two issues here that we need to face: Stereo typing and fanaticism about God.
Link to this article: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2010/01/spitting-on-christians-in-jerusalem.html

Stereotyping is our inability to discern the difference between individuals and groups; it expresses one's loss of reasoning and eagerness to blame. Blaming is not going to free one from the anguish, in fact it reinforces it.

Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and others are animals first, religious next. When we act evil, it is not religiously inspired, it is motivated by fear or phobias, and the animal in us finds it convenient to blame religion for our bad ass behavior. It is a hard thought to swallow, but when you start thinking and reasoning; you may see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Fanaticism is human, however the fanaticism about the idea of one God and revulsion against Idolatry are perhaps misunderstood by a few Jews and a few Muslims. I hope we can focus on oneness of diverse universe, oneness of diverse images of God, rather than the integer one. If you are not a Jew or Muslim, don't laugh and draw conclusions, you have the same perecent of intolerant people amongst you - i.e., Less than 1/10th of 1% of your or any group.

We have to come to terms with ourselves, what difference does it make if one believes in one God, no God or many Gods? How are you affected? Why do you want to push your belief on others, without giving them the same chance on you? Let them believe in what they believe. What is the need that others have to believe the same as you do?

Our Rabbis, Imams, Pastors, Pundits and Shamans have to speak out against prejudice and stereo typing and the sources of conflicts. We all have to figure out how to co-exist with our differences, the differences are God given and we have to respect that.

If you see a bad thing, please focus your blame on the person and not his parents, culture, religion or nation. That would be dumb to bark at the wrong tree.

We are resuming our monthly workshops on the wisdom of religions, every beautiful religion from February, if you have a serious interest to start the Pluralism work in your own town, we will be happy to assist you. None of our material is copyrighted, and we don't need any credit, just go out and help people enjoy their lives by removing biases and misunderstanding and help people transform from "me, me and me" to "we, we and us" attitudes. It brings goodeness to everyone at the end, that is what pluralism is all about.

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/ & http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/

Spitting on Christians in Jerusalem draws rabbinic rebuke
By Ben Harris · January 17, 2010

From his ceramics shop in Jerusalem's Old City, Garo Sandouri has a sweeping view of the spot where many Armenian-Jewish altercations have occurred. (Ben Harris) JERUSALEM (JTA) -- From his ceramics gallery along Armenian Patriarchate Road, Garo Sandrouni has a sweeping view of one of the Old City of Jerusalem's longest thoroughfares, stretching from Jaffa Gate deep into the Jewish Quarter.

Jewish worshipers heading to and from the Western Wall jostle for space along the narrow passage with Armenian priests and seminarians, and Sandrouni says about once a week he finds himself breaking up fights between them.

Typically the skirmishes begin when a young yeshiva student spits on or near a group of teenage seminarians, who occasionally respond by beating up their attacker. Several years ago, a young religious man pulled a gun when Sandrouni moved to intervene in a fight.

"Most of the incidents that happen, unfortunately, they happen in front of my store," said Sandrouni, who more than once has come to the aid of a yeshiva student bloodied after a run-in with a group of seminarians."Almost everybody, after the fight, they apologized," Sandrouni said. "They say, 'We are sorry. We didn't know that their reaction would be so strong.' "

Attacks on Christian clergyman in Jerusalem are not a new phenomenon, and may result from an extreme interpretation of the Bible's injunction to "abhor" idol worshipers.

But several people familiar with the issue say the attacks recently have reached epidemic proportions -- or at least enough that government officials and Orthodox rabbinic figures have begun to take notice.

A recent meeting between Foreign Ministry officials, the Jerusalem municipality and fervently Orthodox, or haredi, leaders resulted in a statement by Beth Din Tzedek, a haredi rabbinic tribunal, denouncing the phenomenon. In a sign of the ministry's concern over the issue, both the meeting and the statement were publicized on the Web site of Israel's diplomatic mission to the Vatican.

"Besides desecrating the Holy Name, which in itself represents a very grave sin, provoking gentiles is, according to our sages -- blessed be their holy and righteous memory -- forbidden and is liable to bring tragic consequences upon our own community, may God have mercy," said the statement.

The incident that appears to have gotten the ministry's attention occurred last September, when a pair of teenage Armenian seminarians reportedly fought with a young yeshiva student who spit on them. Police intervened, arrested the seminarians and referred the matter to the Interior Ministry.

According to George Hintlian, a spokesman for the Armenian community in Jerusalem, the seminarians are now facing deportation -- a decision the Armenians have officially protested. Carrying out the order would require the police to seize the boys from their seminary in the Old City, Hintlian said, which likely would result in a public relations disaster.

"It won't happen easily," Hintlian said. "They'll think twice."

Christian leaders stress that the problem is not one of Christian-Jewish relations in Israel. Most Israelis, they say, are peaceful and welcoming. In an interview with several Armenian Jerusalemites, they emphasized repeatedly that their relations with the largely religious community in the Old City's Jewish Quarter are normal.

The assaults, according to George Hintlian, a spokesman for the Armenian community in Jerusalem, are carried out by people from the outside -- visitors to Jerusalem from other towns, and even from abroad.

Though they may bear the brunt of the phenomenon, given the proximity of the Armenian and Jewish quarters, cases of spitting are confined neither to Armenian clergy nor the Old City.

Athanasius Macora, a Texas-born Franciscan friar who lives in western Jerusalem, frequently has been the target of spitting during his nearly two decades residing in the Israeli capital.

Macora, whose brown habit easily identifies him as a Christian clergyman, says that while he has not endured any spitting incidents recently, recollections of past incidents started flowing over the course of 30-minute interview.

In a sitting room at Terra Sancta College, where he is the superior, Macora recalled the blond-haired man who spit at him on Agron Street, not far from the U.S. Consulate. Another time, walking with an Armenian priest in the same area, a man in a car opened his window to let the spittle fly. Once it was a group of yeshiva students in the Old City, another time a young girl.

Five years ago, in what many say is the worst incident on record, a crucifix hanging from the neck of the Armenian archbishop, Nourhan Manougian, was broken in the course of an altercation with a yeshiva student who had spit on him.

Sometimes the assailants are clad in distinctive haredi garb; other times the attackers are wearing the knitted yarmulkes of the national religious camp. In almost all cases, though, they are young religious men.

A Franciscan church just outside the Old City walls was vandalized recently with anti-Christian graffiti, Macora said.

"I think it's just a small group of people who are hostile, and a very small group of people," Macora said. "If I go to offices or other places, a lot of people are very friendly."

Meanwhile, the Beth Din Tzedek statement, and an earlier one from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, have impressed the Christians and raised hopes that the spitting may soon end.

"We hope that this problem will be solved one day," Sandrouni said, "for the sake of mutual coexistence."

Ben Harris is a staff writer for JTA who covers American Jewish life and is author of The Wandering Jew blog (blogs.JTA.org/wanderingjew).

You are welcome to post your comments at: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2010/01/spitting-on-christians-in-jerusalem.html#comments

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Press release on Holocaust and Genocides


Contact: Mike Ghouse (214) 325-1916,
email: MikeGhouse@aol.com
event email: HolocaustandGenocides@gmail.com
Website: http://www.holocaustandgenocides.com/


DALLAS – (January 14, 2010) –The Foundation for Pluralism announces the 7/7 speakers Panel to reflect upon the Holocaust and Genocides event at 5:00 PM on Sunday, January 24, 2010 at the Center for Spiritual Center, 4801 Spring Valley Road, Dallas, TX. 75244.

Each individual in the seven member panel would acknowledge the inhumanity in each one of us and reflect upon the solutions for co-existence. It is a purposeful event to learn, acknowledge and reflect upon the terrible things, that we humans have inflicted upon each other.

What can you do as individual?
Continue: http://holocaustandgenocides.blogspot.com/2010/01/press-release-on-holocaust-and.html
~ ~ ~

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti, Voodoo's view on the quake


Vodou, Paganism, Atheism, Wicca, Maya, Toltec, Hopi, Shinto, Oloriyo and all the other earth based traditions serve similar spiritual needs of humanity as do Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Bahai, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Jainism and other faiths. Each society has its own equilibrium. My comments follow the article – Mike Ghouse

Voodoo's view of the quake in Haiti
By Elizabeth McAlister
Associate Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University

Vodouists in the Haitian diaspora are praying on their knees today, just as Catholics and Protestants are. Why did this devastating earthquake have to happen in Haiti, a country already so vulnerable that people live on a dollar a day, where on a good day, the government cannot employ or educate or provide health care for the majority? In Port-au-Prince, they are coping by searching and rescuing, sharing resources, crying, and praying. In Vodou most ritual is about finding balance, putting yourself into equilibrium with the spirits, with your family, and with yourself. In Haiti things are way out of balance. We might say that spirits of death have launched a coup d'état.

My friend and colleague, the artist, educator, and priest of the spirits, Erol Josué, has been praying and crying in Brooklyn. Through Twitter, Facebook, and his cell phone he has learned of at least twenty dead friends in several Port-au-Prince congregations. He told me today that for him, as a spirit-worker, this event is both scientific and symbolic. This is indeed a natural disaster for Josué. But the land in Haiti is a person, he said. We consider it a woman, our mother. "Haïti Chérie," as the well-known ballad goes. She wants to know, 'who will make me beautiful, put clothes on me, and take care of my children?' When you mistreat her, and uproot her trees, when you give her too much responsibility, she is like a woman with cancer. The tumor metastasizes, and explodes.

For Erol Josué, the earthquake was mother nature, the land of Haiti, rising up to defend herself against the erosion, deforestation, and environmental devastation that have been ongoing for the last few decades. "Everybody was smashed to the ground," said Erol. "Rich and poor. But look how symbolic this is. The Palace is smashed, the legislative building, the tax office, and the Cathedral. The country is crushed. We are all on our knees." This Vodou priest is not speaking about divine retribution, as has Pat Robertson. God is not punishing us for disobedience. Erol is speaking about a giant natural rebalancing act, a reaction against human dealings with the ecosystem.

For the last 25 years I have had the privilege of studying and writing about the Afro-Creole religion in Haiti, the traditions known as Vodou (Anglicized as voodoo). It is a worldview that encompasses philosophy, medicine, justice, and the arts, in a cosmic scheme where the fundamental principle is that everything is spirit. Said the famous painter and Vodou priest André Pierre, "The first magician is God who created people with his own hands from the dust of the earth. No one lives of the flesh. Everyone lives of the spirit." We humans live in the material world, and other spirits--called lwa, or mystères, "mysteries"--dwell in the unseen realm. God created the spirits to help govern humanity and the natural world. The ancestors and the recently dead are with them. Unfortunately, there are far too many recently dead crossing over to join the spirits this week.

When you cut a tree, in Vodou, you are supposed to ask the tree first, and leave a small payment for the spirit of the tree. For years nobody has asked, or listened, or paid the land when making policies or laws in Haiti. Farmers have given up since imported rice undercut their local prices. Whole villages left the provinces, and migrated to the capital, leaving the land behind and swelling the capital city to bursting. The people running the country--from within and from without--have abused Our Mother. She is doing what is natural, like a horse throwing a rough rider.

This interpretation, this theology, is the poignant parable of an exhausted and grieving spiritualist. Others, who may read this and disagree with great force, will not necessarily share it. But Vodou works through spiritual revelation, and this is the revelation Erol gives me today. Vodou has no single spokesperson and no inerrant text. It has God, the angels, and the spirits in the unseen realm. And now there are thousands and thousands of souls, who are being carried, each by a spirit of the dead, into Guinea, the world of the ancestors. It seems fitting to close with the first and last lines of the poem "Guinea" by Jacques Roumain:

It's the long road to Guinea
Death takes you down
Here are the boughs, the trees, the forest
Listen to the sound of the wind in its long hair
Of eternal night . . .
There, there awaits you beside the water a quiet village,
And the hut of your fathers, and the hard ancestral stone
Where your head will rest at last.
(Translation by Langston Hughes, 1958)

Elizabeth McAlister is author of "Rara! Vodou, Power and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora." Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Learn more about Afro-Creole religion in Haiti at Patheos.com.

Courtesy, Washington post -http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/01/voodoos_view_of_the_quake_in_haiti.html


If you feel the temptation that your faith makes sense and others don't, ask yourselves, where does this arrogance come from? Does that make you want to bring other people on par with you? Are they inferior?

We have to refresh our minds; the right wingers amongst the missionaries were biased bunch of people, in their eagerness to convert, they called other beautiful traditions in a derogatory way. They did not have the mindset to realize that everything makes sense to the believer.

The Zealots did not respect the diversity nature has intenationally created,in fact they were disrespectful of the very God they claim is all merciful, omni potent and omniscient. Those brtues do not fit in the civil society today - they were forcing others to conform to them, did they know a thing called democracy then? We have to purge the meanings for the words they had attached such as Vodoo. It is a tradition that works for the people.

Vodou, Paganism, Atheism, Wicca, Maya, Toltec, Hopi, Shinto, Oloriyo and all the other earth based traditions serve similar spiritual needs of humanity as do Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Bahai, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Jainism and other faiths. Each society has its own equilibrium.

Once we jolt the arrogance out, that our faith is the only way, then we may find true freedom from the bondage of arrogance.

Mike Ghouse

Haiti needs one hundred helicopters

I urge each one of us living in the United States to make the call to the white house at the number given below. May God bless success to these intiatives and hope together we can save lives. Amen - Mike Ghouse

Haiti needs one hundred helicopters

By Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid

No other country can provide what is most needed right now in Haiti except the US: helicopters.

Helicopters go where there are no roads and the terrain is difficult to maneuver. But the 19 helicopters, which have just arrived, are not enough. Haiti needs 100 helicopters to save lives as these critical hours slip away.

The US military, government and private sector all have plenty of helicopters. Can Americans demand that our politicians and corporate leaders send their helicopters to Haiti as soon as possible?

There are hardly any functioning roads in Haiti right now. There is literally no administration. But the wandering injured are all over the country.

Their lives may be saved if they can quickly access medical and surgical help. But they have already started dying from non-life-threatening injuries.

When the October 8, 2005 earthquake hit Kashmir, Pakistan, I led a small team of volunteers to complete just one specific task: persuade our government to send more US helicopters to airlift aid to victims in the inaccessible disaster zone.

It was then a young first-time Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who played a critical role in getting more helicopters to Pakistan to save lives.

Helicopters were the miracle workers in Kashmir when roads and terrain did not allow aid to reach different areas.

As I see the photos coming from Haiti every morning, I sit crying in helplessness and lamenting the fact that our governments have not learned, despite years of offering worldwide disaster relief, how to save more lives quickly and efficiently.

The problem of supplying relief to Haiti is exactly similar to that of Kashmir. It is one of logistics.

All affected areas can be divided into 100 zones. Each zone can be assigned a helicopter and a surgical and medical team, which bring personnel and supplies in from the neighboring countries. They can also take the injured back to their hospitals in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Once the injured are assisted, these same helicopters will be needed to bring in supplies to the same points from sea freighters, which will start arriving there in a week. This is what Haiti needs before one can get heavy equipment to clear the roads and rebuild them.

In the case of Kashmir, Pakistan, too many lives were lost in the first critical week as not many helicopters were available.

It took several days after the earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan in 2005 for the government to show up.

It was almost a week before any aid arrived in Ache Indonesia after the 2004 Tsunami.

Let us not waste time and lose more lives in this year’s first and most devastating disaster. Let us urgently push our government to help our neighbors in Haiti with efficiency and effectiveness.

Please contact your Senator and Congressperson today with just one demand: send 100 helicopters to Haiti before we lose countless more lives.

Cross posted on DailyKos.com and HuffingtonPost

We know that saving one life is like saving the whole humanity (Bible, Quran).

Call White House, your Senators and Congresspersons right now asking for 100 helicopters for Haiti

---- If in US make four calls a day for Haiti
one to the President (202 456-1111),
one to each of your two Senators (202-224-3121)
one to your Congressperson (202-224-3121)

Please feel free to comment at:

Haiti and Earthquake Theology

Dr. Jeffress, this is one of the most timely pieces, that we the people of faith need to read. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is time to get out and help, God is testing us and our intentions.

Indeed, when we don’t understand the calamities and its purpose, and we never will, it is good to trust in God. He is the creator and he knows his creation.

What happened is a Geological phenomenon, like the Tsunamis. May be it is a time for us to ponder and see if we can utilize the God given brains to understand and figure out managing it, as we have managed the environments around us.

The Quraan calls the human beings the "Ashraful Mukhlookhat", the honored creatures who are endowed with the intelligence to take responsibility for their own good and good for what surrounds them; life and environment.

Mike Ghouse

Haiti and earthquake theology
By Dr. Robert Jeffress
Pastor, First Baptist Church Dallas

Concerned Americans have been shaken by sobering images from ubiquitous news footage of rubble and rescue in Haiti after a magnitude 7 earthquake rocked the tiny poor Caribbean nation earlier this week, prompting many to ask, "Where is God and why would He allow such extensive suffering?"

Whether it is an earthquake or some other adversity that turns our lives upside down, Christians grapple with trying to reconcile God's sovereignty and His role in human suffering, including our own personal afflictions. I believe there are important truths about God and suffering that we need to keep in mind.

The first is that God exists. Those who try to discredit Christianity use the existence of evil and suffering in the world as proof that there is no God. If there is a God, why would He allow the earthquake in Haiti that killed countless thousands of people?

Evil and suffering constitute prima facie evidence that there is a God. The fact that we even care about such things in the world argues strongly for the existence of God . . . and gives us a strong clue about His character.

The second truth is that God controls all of His creation, and nothing happens without His permission. Psalm 103:19 says, "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all," which is hard to grasp when it comes to suffering.

Frankly, it gives me no comfort to think that I am simply the victim of random acts. I want a God who has all of His creation under control, even if I don't always understand what He does. Fortunately, the God revealed in the Scriptures is that kind of God. In Isaiah 45:7, God says He is the One causing well-being and creating calamity.

A third truth is that God is loving and just. The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word "love" and limit His mercy and goodness to what seems right to us.

God is not only a God of love, but a God of Righteousness who judges evil. Does this mean that those killed in the earthquake were evildoers who deserved to die? No, we are all evildoers who deserve to die. The Bible says, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

A fourth truth is that God uses tragedy to accomplish good. We must resist the urge to offer pat answers or simplistic explanations to those who find themselves in a maelstrom of sorrow. Like the biblical character Job, who endured numerous battering catastrophes, God continues to say, "Trust me, I know what I am doing."

It is similarly irresponsible for anyone to second-guess God's redemptive purpose or explain what He is doing through an individual disaster, such as the Haitian earthquake. To try and do so would be to twist the dagger in the backs of people who are hurting.

Where was God during this tragedy? The same place He was 2,000 years ago when His Son died. Was God in control? Of course He was. Why did He allow it? I don't have a clue. He has not revealed His purpose.

A fifth truth is that God's ways are beyond comprehension. Although the Bible provides assurance that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him, we should resist trying to offer specific answers about why He allows certain disasters.

In Luke 13, Jesus referred to a natural disaster of His day, when the Tower of Siloam building project collapsed and killed 18 people. Jesus said, "Do you think the tower fell on these people because they were worse sinners than anyone else?" The answer was an obvious "no," but He never answered why the tower fell.

God is ultimately responsible for the earthquake in Haiti and has a reason that is beyond our ability, trapped in time, to understand or comprehend. But it would be theological ignorance coupled with absolute arrogance to try and interpret God's actions as a judgment against a particular person or nation.

Instead of asking, "Why?" we should be asking, "What?" What can I be doing to help these people in their time of desperate need? I think you will discover that in your expression of love and compassion joined with people of faith and goodwill from around the world that God can be found.

Dr. Robert Jeffress is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Please feel free to comment:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Israelis more tolerant of Islam

Rabbi says Israelis more tolerant of Islam than Swiss
Israeli Jews oppose ban of Islam's minarets: poll

Last year Switzerland, which only has four minarets, banned the Islamic structure

Forty-three percent of Jews would not support a ban on Islam's minarets in Israel, a survey revealed Tuesday, which an American Rabbi said showed Israelis are more tolerant to Islam than their Swiss counterparts.

The recent survey, conducted by Jerusalem-based KEEVOON Research, for the U.S.-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), found that only 28 percent would support a ban on minarets in Israel, a large contrast to the 57.5 percent of voters in Switzerland who voted for the ban, and 29 percent were undecided.

"When it comes to freedom of religion Israelis are apparently much more tolerant than their Swiss counterparts," FFEU's president, Rabbi Marc Schneier, was quoted by Israel's Ynet news as saying.

Israeli press reported that the strongest opposition of banning minarets came from national religious Israelis, 55 percent of whom said they would "strongly oppose" such a ban, and 53 percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews said they were opposed.

"There is a definite correlation between religious observance and tolerance towards Islam," Schneier said, adding "Israelis seem to put politics aside as opposition to banning minarets actually increases as we move further to the right on the political spectrum."

Schneier said "the fact that less than one-third of all Israeli Jews support banning minarets indicates that from the Israeli point of view, there is room for respectful coexistence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs when it is based on religion and not politics.”

DUBAI (Al Arabiya)


Multifaith Action: Haiti TragedyShare


It is the spirit of service, every religion is participating in the efforts to find relief to the victims in Haiti. This is what religion is all about; it is not me, me, and me, it is we, we and us.

God says in Quraan, you must race in doing good, you must compete in serving humanity, please share the quote from your holy book in the comments section below.

If you know an organization that is working on this, please click the following link and list it, and it will appear in the comment section below - http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2010/01/multifaith-action-haiti-tragedyshare.html#comments

If you want to forward this information, copy the following link and send: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2010/01/multifaith-action-haiti-tragedyshare.html

Thank you
Mike Ghouse

Official casualty reports are still unknown, but by all accounts the earthquake that hit Haiti on Tuesday, January 12 has leveled one of the most densely-populated regions of the country. The disaster was described by local officials as a "catastrophe of major proportions." Faith-based and disaster relief organizations around the globe are quickly mobilizing to provide immediate assistance to address the devastating aftermath of the quake.

How Can We Help

• Donations to American Jewish World Service’s "Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund" will enable AJWS's network of grantees in Haiti to meet the urgent needs of the population based on real-time, on-the-ground assessments; LINK: https://secure.ajws.org/site/Donation2?df_id=3460&3460.donation=form1

• Catholic Relief Services is also organizing its office in Haiti, and has announced an appeal for donations to deal with the chaos; LINK: http://crs-blog.org/earthquake-hits-haiti/

• Islamic Relief has launched an appeal for £1 million to respond to the disaster; LINK: http://www.islamic-relief.com/Emergencies-And-Appeals/emBackground.aspx?emID=66

• Oxfam America, which has launched an immediate appeal is seeking donations, as they prepare to rush teams from around the region to help provide clean water, emergency shelter, and sanitation; LINK: https://secure.oxfamamerica.org/site/Donation2?df_id=3560&3560.donation=form1

• Doctors Without Borders teams, who were already working on medical projects Haiti, have treated hundreds of people injured in the quake despite the destruction of medial centers and hospitals; LINK: http://doctorswithoutborders.org/

• Direct Relief International is responding to the disaster by sending emergency medical supplies to all their local partners; LINK: http://www.directrelief.org/EmergencyResponse/2010/EarthquakeHaiti.aspx

• CARE is mobilizing donors to help send immediate supplies and aid down to the country; LINK: https://my.care.org/site/Donation2?5000.donation=form1&df_id=5000

• AmeriCares is taking donations to help get emergency medical supplies down to Haiti, and has agreed to pledge upwards of $5 million in order to help with the chaos. LINK: http://www.americares.org/newsroom/news/deadly-earthquake-strikes-haiti-2010.html

Other Ideas for Taking Action

Organize a fundraising event to help the Haiti victims. Reach out to your campus' religious groups, to Greek life, service organizations, student government, and offer to help coordinate an interfaith campus/community-wide activity in response to this disaster.

Note Courtesy of Bridge Builders @ http://bridge-builders.ning.com/

"Haiti Earthquake Fund" Established By
Helping Hand For Relief & Development (USA)
Leading International NGO of USA
USA Tax Exempt #: 31-1628040

Irfan Khurshid, Coordinator International Programs,for HHRD-USA is making arrangements to set-up A Base Camp in Haiti

HOW TO CONTRIBUTE Monetary Help at www.HHRD.Org
(Click Donate Now Tab & Choose "Haiti Earthquake Fund")

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seeking Harmony in Malaysia

I am pleased to see the following article by Imam Feisal. He has laid out how things are and then offered solutions. My comments follow the article - Mike Ghouse

Seeking Harmony in Malaysia
By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
The Star Online (Malaysia)
January 13, 2010

If a Muslim proselytized outside St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, he might find a cold welcome. He would be legally within his rights. But he would be socially provocative.

The same can be said for the Malay language-edition of the Catholic monthly, The Herald, which decided to use the word "Allah" in reference to the Christian God.

Yes, it is true that Allah is the Arabic word for God and that Arab Christians use the word Allah when they refer to God. And yes, it is true that under freedom of speech and freedom of religion, one should be able to refer to the supreme deity any way one wants.

But among Malays, who are practically all Muslims, Allah refers to the Islamic Supreme Being. And the attempt by The Herald to appropriate the word Allah to refer to the Christian God appeared to some Malays to be seeking to convert them away from their faith.

Now pictures of protesting Malays are circulating around the world, and people are wondering why. During the past 20 years since the implosion of the Soviet Union, some Western churches have been evangelizing in central, southern and eastern Asia. This angered the established religions there - whether they were Muslim, Eastern Orthodox or Hindu - and in India that anger turned to violence.

Most recently that anger has surfaced in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the people are Malays. The Malaysian High Court's ruling that Allah is not exclusive to Muslims led to the fire bombing of four Christian churches and widespread protests among Malays, who fear Catholics are trying to manipulate the word to win Malay converts.

This should not be. Islam and Christianity are at their roots religions of peace and tolerance. A certain amount of competition will always exist among religions. Good competition is to compete in good works. Bad competition is trying to undermine the other faith. To live harmoniously in that competition requires everyone to understand the consequences of their actions.

My message to the Christian community in Malaysia is that using the word Allah to mean the Christian God may be theologically and legally correct, but in the context of Malaysia, it is socially provocative. If you want to have influence with people in Malaysia, you must find a way to convey your message without provoking this kind of response. If you want to reach the Malays, then use the Malay word for God, which is Tuhan.

At the same time, I urge the Malays to act in accordance with the ethical values of Islam. You must recognize that we do not own Islam but Islam owns us. We do not own Allah. Allah owns us. We live in a globalized era where events in Malaysia have consequences around the world. Some people in Christian-majority countries will see Muslims mistreating Christian minorities and use that to justify mistreating Muslim minorities in their countries.

In the Hadith, the Prophet taught us: "Cursed is the one who curses his own parents." A companion to the Prophet said, "Messenger of God, how can a man curse his own parents?" The Prophet replied, "He curses the parents of another man, and out of anger, that man curses his own parents."

So if Muslims curse the Christians, then the Christians will curse the Muslims. And people will curse Allah, and Allah will hold us responsible for that.

The Quran is even more explicit on this point when it says, "Do not curse the gods of those who do not believe in Allah, lest they unknowingly curse Allah out of their hostile feelings."

That means that even though we may have the right belief, if we treat non-Muslims wrongly, they will have ill will toward Allah and Islam, and Allah will hold us responsible for that.

Firebombing churches? From the beginning of Islam, the Prophet said our faith requires us as Muslims to protect houses of worship of all other faith traditions. Islam was able to spread throughout the world, not only because of its own ideas, but also because it protected people's rights to practice religion freely.

My plea to the Malaysian politicians is please, please do not politicize religion. When religion becomes subservient to political agendas, it often becomes a tool for politicians who misconstrue the religion's basic principles for their own ends. No good can come from provoking this issue to gain political advantage. Religion is meant to inform leaders on ethics and principles.

Our goal must be living together harmoniously. Our goal is freedom of conscience.
Our model should be the Prophet Muhammad when he worshiped in Mecca before Islam had taken hold. He did not pray the noon and afternoon prayers in a loud voice lest that would incite anger of the unbelievers. And like him, we should all practice our religions in a way that does not provoke others.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. (www.cordobainitiative.org) He is the author of "What's Right with Islam is What's Right With America."


However, as a person of faith, I would not have written, “The Herald, which decided to use the word "Allah" in reference to the Christian God.” – No sir, there is no Christian or Muslim God; it is God of all beings.

I am taken back with this particular paragraph, “My message to the Christian community in Malaysia is that using the word Allah to mean the Christian God may be theologically and legally correct, but in the context of Malaysia, it is socially provocative. If you want to have influence with people in Malaysia, you must find a way to convey your message without provoking this kind of response. If you want to reach the Malays, then use the Malay word for God, which is Tuhan.”

I can see the strategy in allaying the fears for now, and then bring the change through education. The question is, has it been socially provocative forever, or is it a recent phenomenon? Can we give legitimacy to the fundamentalist exclusive claims to the word Allah? Aren’t the Christians using this word for centuries? Why is it a problem now? Is it the influence of fundamentalism or are the missionaries using the word Allah to harvest the Muslim souls?

The majority of Malaysians are good to the bone, tolerant and pluralistic people, we need to invoke their goodness to speak up and take charge of the situation, and let them talk to the lost souls and bring some sense. We should not deny the right of an Individual to call the creator whatever name one wants to or even suggest that they use another name.

Mike Ghouse just wrote an article, who owns God - http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2010/01/who-owns-god.html


Friday, January 8, 2010

Zen: Mastering your Temper

A Zen student came to Bankei and said, "Master, I have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?" "Show me this temper," said Bankei, "it sounds fascinating."

"I haven't got it right now," said the student, "so I can't show it to you." "Well then," said Bankei, "bring it to me when you have it."

"But I can't bring... it just when I happen to have it," protested the student. "It arises unexpectedly, and I would surely lose it before I got it to you."
"In that case," said Bankei, "it cannot be part of your true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at any time.

When you were born you did not have it--so it must have come to you from the outside. I suggest that whenever it gets into you, you beat yourself with a stick until the temper can't stand it and runs away."

Even while anger is happening, if you suddenly become conscious, it drops. Try it! Just in the middle, when you are very hot and would like to murder--suddenly become AWARE, and you will feel something has changed: a gear inside, you can feel the click, your inner being has relaxed.

It may take time for your outer layer to relax, but the inner being has already relaxed. The cooperation has broken...now you are not identified. The body will take a little time to cool down, but deep at the center everything is cool.
Awareness is needed, not condemnation--and through awareness transformation happens spontaneously.

If you become aware of your anger, understanding penetrates. Just watching, with no judgment, not saying good, not saying bad, just watching in your inner sky. There is lightning, anger, you feel hot, the whole nervous system shaking and quaking, and you feel a tremor all over the body--a beautiful moment, because when energy functions you can watch it easily; when it is not functioning you cannot watch.

Close your eyes and meditate on it. DON´T FIGHT, just look at what is happening--the whole sky filled with electricity, so much lightning, so much beauty--just lie down on the ground and look at the sky and watch. Then do the same inside. Somebody has insulted you, somebody has laughed at you, somebody has said this or that... many clouds, dark clouds in the inner sky and much lightning. WATCH!

It is a beautiful scene--terrible also, because you don't understand. It is mysterious, and if mystery is not understood it becomes terrible, you are afraid of it. And whenever a mystery is understood, it becomes a grace, a gift, because now you have the keys--and with keys you are the master.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wahid, the Voice of Moderate Islam

Wahid, the voice of Moderate Islam

I am surprised to see the courage in Paul Wolfowitz, a Neocon* to write positively about Islam and I welcome it, and he wrote this, "Even though the extremist ideology represents a distinct minority of Muslims, it is well-financed and well-organized." My emphasis is on the phrase distinct minority as opposed to the general Muslim public.

Most Muslims are pluralist and secular, it is wrong to stereotype Muslims from Iran or Saudi Arabia, they are as pluralist as they can be, but the rulers and a few paid clergy aren't.

Many of us can relate with Wahid, and I certainly do.

"First was that true belief required religious freedom. "The essence of Islam," he once wrote, is "encapsulated" in the words of the Quran, "For you, your religion; for me, my religion."

"Throughout his career Wahid spoke up forcefully for people with unpopular ideas—even ones he disagreed with—and for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities." Personally I have been in the hot seat many a times and am glad to have stood up for every possible faith and tradition.

In several Muslim discussion groups, the majority remains silent, but the few Muslim Neocons go on an aggressive offensive campaign to exclude Ahmadiyya, some of these guys are even willing to shove God aside and pre-empt him and pass judgments about the Ahmadiyya, as if that is the only thing in life they have to stand on. Let go man! I am glad to see Wahid standing up for them and I do my share without hesitation.

Insha Allah we are working on getting the moderates to speak up and be assertive and things will change. The same can be said about Moderates in every faith, religious or cultural or even political.

*Neocons - http://hatesermons.blogspot.com/2008/03/neocons.html

Mike Ghouse

Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam

Indonesia's first democratic president espoused a philosophy of religious and ethnic tolerance.

Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last week at the age of 69, was the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country and third largest democracy. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. Although he was forced from office after less than two years, he nevertheless helped to set the course of what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.

Even more important than his role as a politician, Wahid was the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and probably in the world, with 40 million members. He was a product of Indonesia's traditionally tolerant and humane practice of Islam, and he took that tradition to a higher level and shaped it in ways that will last long after his death.

Wahid recognized that the world's Muslim community is engaged in what he called in a 2005 op-ed for this newspaper "nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam" and he understood the danger for Indonesia, for Islam and for all of us from this "crisis of misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world."

Wahid was one of the most impressive leaders I have known. Although his formal higher education was limited to Islamic studies in Cairo and Arabic literature in Baghdad, his breadth of knowledge was astounding. With a voracious appetite for knowledge and a remarkably retentive memory, he seemed to know all of the important Islamic religious and philosophical texts. He also loved reading a wide range of Western literature (including most of William Faulkner's novels) as well as Arabic poetry. He enjoyed French movies, and cinema in general, and could identify the conductor of a Beethoven symphony simply by listening to a recording. He was an avid soccer fan and once compared the different styles of two German soccer teams to illustrate two alternative strategies for economic development. He loved jokes, particularly political ones. During Suharto's autocratic rule he published a collection of Soviet political humor in Indonesian, with the obvious purpose of teaching his own people how to laugh at their rulers.

Despite all that learning, Wahid had a common touch that enabled him to express his thoughts in down-to-earth language. He thus gained broad legitimacy for a moderate and tolerant vision. He could speak to young Indonesians, grappling with the relationship between religion and science by explaining to them the thoughts of a medieval Arab philosopher like Ibn Rushd (known to Christian philosophers as Averroes). And he was all the more effective because he himself had grappled with controversial ideas.

Wahid had been somewhat attracted in his youth by the writings of Said Qutb and Hasan al Banna, the founders of the Muslim brotherhood, but his deep humanism led him to reject them. When I visited him recently he told me of a long-ago visit to a mosque in Morocco where an Arabic translation of Aristotle's "Nichomachean Ethics" was on display. Seeing that book had brought tears to his eyes and Wahid explained: "If I hadn't read the 'Nichomachean Ethics' as a young man, I might have joined the Muslim brotherhood."

No doubt, what had so impressed Wahid was that Aristotle could arrive at deep truths about matters of right and wrong without the aid of religion, based simply on the belief that "the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason" (Nichomachean Ethics, Book I). But his tears must have reflected the thought of how close he had come to accepting a cramped and intolerant view of life and humanity.

Throughout his public career, three ideas were central to Wahid's thinking. First was that true belief required religious freedom. "The essence of Islam," he once wrote, is "encapsulated" in the words of the Quran, "For you, your religion; for me, my religion." Indonesia, he believed, needs "to develop a full religious tolerance based on freedom of faith." Second was his belief that the fundamental requirement for democracy—or any form of just government—is equal treatment for all citizens before the law. Third, that respect for minorities is essential for social stability and national unity, particularly for Indonesia with its extraordinary diversity.

Throughout his career Wahid spoke up forcefully for people with unpopular ideas—even ones he disagreed with—and for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. He was admired by the Christian and Chinese minorities for his willingness to do so. One of his first acts as president was to participate in prayers at a Hindu temple in Bali where he had earlier spent several months studying Hindu philosophy. Later he removed a number of restrictions on ethnic Chinese and made Chinese New Year an optional national holiday.

Even after leaving office, Wahid's role as a defender of religious freedom was extremely important. Indonesian voters have rejected extremist politics at the polls—and the leadership of the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono deserves much credit for that. Nevertheless, extremist views and even violent extremism too often go unchallenged. A recent report from The Wahid Insitute (which he founded in 2004) notes that a minority with extremist views, now in control of the Indonesian Ulama Council, has issued religious rulings against "deviant" groups. An even smaller minority that espouses violence, particularly the Islamic Defender Front, has attacked Christian churches and the mosques of the small Muslim Ahmadiyah sect.

Wahid was one of the few prominent Indonesians to defend the rights of the Ahmadiyah or to speak out forcefully against the Islamic Defender Front. Doing so takes courage. But he was always courageous, whether in defying President Suharto at the height of his power or in his personal struggle against encroaching blindness and failing health.

Although optimistic that "true Islam" will prevail, as he wrote in his 2005 op-ed, Wahid did not underestimate the dangers facing the world from an "extreme . . . ideology in the minds of fanatics" who "pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed" and who justify their brutality by declaring "Islam is above everything else." This fundamentalist ideology, he said, "has become a well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing world." What begins as a misunderstanding "of Islam by Muslims themselves" becomes a "crisis of misunderstanding" that afflicts "Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with tragic consequences."

No one who knew Abdurrahman Wahid can believe that those fanatics who preach hatred and violence speak for the world's Muslims. Even though the extremist ideology represents a distinct minority of Muslims, it is well-financed and well-organized. To confront it, Muslim leaders like himself need, as he wrote in 2005, "the understanding and support of like-minded individuals, organizations and governments throughout the world . . . to offer a compelling alternate vision of Islam, one that banishes the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged."

That support includes material support, but it also includes the moral support that comes from international recognition and attention for Muslim leaders who speak out with the courage that Wahid did.

When Wahid was only 12 he was riding in a car with his father, Wahid Hasyim, himself a prominent Muslim leader at the time of Indonesian independence, when the car slid off a mountain road and his father suffered fatal injuries. What Wahid most remembered from that tragic event was the sight of thousands of people lining the roads as his father's casket traveled the 80 kilometers from Surabaya to his burial at Jombang. Overwhelmed by the affection people had for his father, he wondered "What could one man do that the people would love him so?"

As the funeral procession for Wahid himself traveled the same route on the last day of 2009, thousands of mourners, deeply moved, again lined the road. What had he done that Indonesians so loved him? Perhaps the question is answered by the words that he asked to have on his tomb: "Here lies a humanist." That he was and a great one as well. No one can replace him, but hopefully he has inspired others to follow in his path.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asia, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

God is back - Karen Armstrong

Article by Karen Armstrong follows

I jumped when I read, "All fundamentalism -- whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim -- is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation." and I wrote similar lines in March of 2008.

The purpose of religion was to inculcate responsibility in an individual for his/her actions through accountability, allay one's fears about life and death,and bring peace to him or her and what surrounds; life and environment. 99.9% of the people get it, and 1/10th of 1% don't. It is a built in factor in a society, we just have to mitigate the number, but cannot eliminate it. It is part of the whole. They are societies' Tsunamis.

Link: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2010/01/god-is-back-karen-armstrong.html
My comments continue after the article
Mike Ghouse

Think Again - God -- By Karen Armstrong

"God Is Dead."

No. When Friedrich Nietzsche announced the death of God in 1882, he thought that in the modern, scientific world people would soon be unable to countenance the idea of religious faith. By the time The Economist did its famous “God Is Dead” cover in 1999, the question seemed moot, notwithstanding the rise of politicized religiosity -- fundamentalism -- in almost every major faith since the 1970s. An obscure ayatollah toppled the shah of Iran, religious Zionism surfaced in Israel, and in the United States, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority announced its dedicated opposition to “secular humanism.”

But it is only since Sept. 11, 2001, that God has proven to be alive and well beyond all question -- at least as far as the global public debate is concerned. With jihadists attacking America, an increasingly radicalized Middle East, and a born-again Christian in the White House for eight years, you’ll have a hard time finding anyone who disagrees. Even The Economist’s editor in chief recently co-authored a book called God Is Back. While many still question the relevance of God in our private lives, there’s a different debate on the global stage today: Is God a force for good in the world?

So-called new atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens have denounced religious belief as not only retrograde but evil; they regard themselves as the vanguard of a campaign to expunge it from human consciousness. Religion, they claim, creates divisions, strife, and warfare; it imprisons women and brainwashes children; its doctrines are primitive, unscientific, and irrational, essentially the preserve of the unsophisticated and gullible.

These writers are wrong -- not only about religion, but also about politics -- because they are wrong about human nature. Homo sapiens is also Homo religiosus. As soon as we became recognizably human, men and women started to create religions. We are meaning-seeking creatures. While dogs, as far as we know, do not worry about the canine condition or agonize about their mortality, humans fall very easily into despair if we don’t find some significance in our lives. Theological ideas come and go, but the quest for meaning continues. So God isn’t going anywhere. And when we treat religion as something to be derided, dismissed, or destroyed, we risk amplifying its worst faults. Whether we like it or not, God is here to stay, and it’s time we found a way to live with him in a balanced, compassionate manner.

"God and Politics Shouldn’t Mix.

Not necessarily. Theologically illiterate politicians have long given religion a bad name. An inadequate understanding of God that reduces “him” to an idol in our own image who gives our likes and dislikes sacred sanction is the worst form of spiritual tyranny. Such arrogance has led to atrocities like the Crusades. The rise of secularism in government was meant to check this tendency, but secularism itself has created new demons now inflicting themselves on the world.

In the West, secularism has been a success, essential to the modern economy and political system, but it was achieved gradually over the course of nearly 300 years, allowing new ideas of governance time to filter down to all levels of society. But in other parts of the world, secularization has occurred far too rapidly and has been resented by large sectors of the population, who are still deeply attached to religion and find Western institutions alien.

In the Middle East, overly aggressive secularization has sometimes backfired, making the religious establishment more conservative, or even radical. In Egypt, for example, the remarkable reformer Muhammad Ali (1769-1849) so brutally impoverished and marginalized the clergy that its members turned their backs on change. When the shahs of Iran tortured and exiled mullahs who opposed their regime, some, such as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, concluded that more extreme responses on the part of Iran’s future religious rulers were necessary.

Shiism had for centuries separated religion from politics as a matter of sacred principle, and Khomeini’s insistence that a cleric should become head of state was an extraordinary innovation. But moderate religion can play a constructive role in politics. Muhammad Abdu (1849-1905), grand mufti of Egypt, feared that the vast majority of Egyptians would not understand the country’s nascent democratic institutions unless they were explicitly linked with traditional Islamic principles that emphasized the importance of “consultation” (shura) and the duty of seeking “consensus” (ijma) before passing legislation.

In the same spirit, Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949), founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, began his movement by translating the social message of the Koran into a modern idiom, founding clinics, hospitals, trade unions, schools, and factories that gave workers insurance, holidays, and good working conditions. In other words, he aimed to bring the masses to modernity in an Islamic setting. The Brotherhood’s resulting popularity was threatening to Egypt’s secular government, which could not provide these services. In 1949, Banna was assassinated, and some members of the Brotherhood splintered into radical offshoots in reaction.

Of course, the manner in which religion is used in politics is more important than whether it’s used at all. U.S. presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama have invoked faith as a shared experience that binds the country together -- an approach that recognizes the communal power of spirituality without making any pretense to divine right. Still, this consensus is not satisfactory to American Protestant fundamentalists, who believe the United States should be a distinctively Christian nation.

"God Breeds Violence and Intolerance.

No, humans do. For Hitchens in God Is Not Great, religion is inherently “violent … intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism and bigotry”; even so-called moderates are guilty by association. Yet it is not God or religion but violence itself -- inherent in human nature -- that breeds violence. As a species, we survived by killing and eating other animals; we also murder our own kind. So pervasive is this violence that it leaks into most scriptures, though these aggressive passages have always been balanced and held in check by other texts that promote a compassionate ethic based on the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like them to treat you. Despite manifest failings over the centuries, this has remained the orthodox position.

In claiming that God is the source of all human cruelty, Hitchens and Dawkins ignore some of the darker facets of modern secular society, which has been spectacularly violent because our technology has enabled us to kill people on an unprecedented scale. Not surprisingly, religion has absorbed this belligerence, as became hideously clear with the September 11 atrocities.

But "religious" wars, no matter how modern the tools, always begin as political ones. This happened in Europe during the 17th century, and it has happened today in the Middle East, where the Palestinian national movement has evolved from a leftist-secular to an increasingly Islamically articulated nationalism. Even the actions of so-called jihadists have been inspired by politics, not God. In a study of suicide attacks between 1980 and 2004, American scholar Robert Pape concluded that 95 percent were motivated by a clear strategic objective: to force modern democracies to withdraw from territory the assailants regard as their national homeland.

This aggression does not represent the faith of the majority, however. In recent Gallup polling conducted in 35 Muslim countries, only 7 percent of those questioned thought that the September 11 attacks were justified. Their reasons were entirely political.

Fundamentalism is not conservative. Rather, it is highly innovative -- even heretical -- because it always develops in response to a perceived crisis. In their anxiety, some fundamentalists distort the tradition they are trying to defend. The Pakistani ideologue Abu Ala Maududi (1903-1979) was the first major Muslim thinker to make jihad, signifying “holy war” instead of the traditional meaning of “struggle” or “striving” for self-betterment, a central Islamic duty. Both he and the influential Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) were fully aware that this was extremely controversial but believed it was justified by Western imperialism and the secularizing policies of rulers such as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

All fundamentalism -- whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim -- is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation. Qutb developed his ideology in the concentration camps where Nasser interred thousands of the Muslim Brothers. History shows that when these groups are attacked, militarily or verbally, they almost invariably become more extreme.

"God Is for the Poor and Ignorant."

No. The new atheists insist vehemently that religion is puerile and irrational, belonging, as Hitchens argues, to “the infancy of our society.” This reflects the broader disappointment among Western intellectuals that humanity, confronted with apparently unlimited choice and prosperity, should still rely on what Karl Marx called the “opiate” of the masses.

But God refuses to be outgrown, even in the United States, the richest country in the world and the most religious country in the developed world. None of the major religions is averse to business; each developed initially in a nascent market economy. The Bible and the Koran may have prohibited usury, but over the centuries Jews, Christians, and Muslims all found ways of getting around this restriction and produced thriving economies. It is one of the great ironies of religious history that Christianity, whose founder taught that it was impossible to serve both God and mammon, should have produced the cultural environment that, as Max Weber suggested in his 1905 book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, was integral to modern capitalism.

Still, the current financial crisis shows that the religious critique of excessive greed is far from irrelevant. Although not opposed to business, the major faith traditions have tried to counterbalance some of the abuses of capitalism. Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, by means of yoga and other disciplines, try to moderate the aggressive acquisitiveness of the human psyche. The three monotheistic faiths have inveighed against the injustice of unevenly distributed wealth -- a critique that speaks directly to the gap between rich and poor in our society.

To recover from the ill effects of the last year, we may need exactly that conquest of egotism that has always been essential in the quest for the transcendence we call “God.” Religion is not simply a matter of subscribing to a set of obligatory beliefs; it is hard work, requiring a ceaseless effort to get beyond the selfishness that prevents us from achieving a more humane humanity.

"God Is Bad for Women."

Yes. It is unfortunately true that none of the major world religions has been good for women. Even when a tradition began positively for women (as in Christianity and Islam), within a few generations men dragged it back to the old patriarchy. But this is changing. Women in all faiths are challenging their men on the grounds of the egalitarianism that is one of the best characteristics of all these religious traditions.

One of the hallmarks of modernity has been the emancipation of women. But that has meant that in their rebellion against the modern ethos, fundamentalists tend to overemphasize traditional gender roles. Unfortunately, frontal assaults on this patriarchal trend have often proven counterproductive. Whenever "modernizing" governments have tried to ban the veil, for example, women have rushed in ever greater numbers to put it on. In 1935, Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi commanded his soldiers to shoot hundreds of unarmed demonstrators who were peacefully protesting against obligatory Western dress in Mashhad, one of Iran’s holiest shrines. Such actions have turned veiling, which was not a universal practice before the modern period, into a symbol of Islamic integrity. Some Muslims today claim that it is not essential to look Western in order to be modern and that while Western fashion often displays wealth and privilege, Islamic dress emphasizes the egalitarianism of the Koran.

In general, any direct Western intervention in gender matters has backfired; it would be better to support indigenous Muslim movements that are agitating for greater opportunities for improved women’s rights in education, the workplace, and politics.

"God Is the Enemy of Science."

He doesn’t have to be. Science has become an enemy to fundamentalist Christians who campaign against the teaching of evolution in public schools and stem-cell research because they seem to conflict with biblical teaching.

But their reading of scripture is unprecedentedly literal. Before the modern period, few understood the first chapter of Genesis as an exact account of the origins of life; until the 17th century, theologians insisted that if a biblical text contradicted science, it must be interpreted allegorically.

The conflict with science is symptomatic of a reductive idea of God in the modern West. Ironically, it was the empirical emphasis of modern science that encouraged many to regard God and religious language as fact rather than symbol, thus forcing religion into an overly rational, dogmatic, and alien literalism.

Popular fundamentalism represents a widespread rebellion against modernity, and for Christian fundamentalists, evolution epitomizes everything that is wrong with the modern world. It is regarded less as a scientific theory than a symbol of evil. But this anti-science bias is far less common in Judaism and Islam, where fundamentalist movements have been sparked more by political issues, such as the state of Israel, than doctrinal or scientific ones.

"God Is Incompatible with Democracy."

No. Samuel Huntington foresaw a "clash of civilizations” between the free world and Islam, which, he maintained, was inherently averse to democracy. But at the beginning of the 20th century, nearly all leading Muslim intellectuals were in love with the West and wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France. What has alienated many Muslims from the democratic ideal is not their religion but Western governments’ support of autocratic rulers, such as the Iranian shahs, Saddam Hussein, and Hosni Mubarak, who have denied people basic human and democratic rights.

The 2007 Gallup poll shows that support for democratic freedoms and women's rights is widespread in the Muslim world, and many governments are responding -- albeit haltingly -- to pressures for more political participation. There is, however, resistance to a wholesale adoption of the Western secular model. Many want to see God reflected more clearly in public life, just as a 2006 Gallup poll revealed that 46 percent of Americans believe that God should be the source of legislation.

Nor is sharia law the rigid system that many Westerners deplore. Muslim reformers, such as Sheikh Ali Gomaa and Tariq Ramadan, argue that it must be reviewed in the light of changing social circumstances. A fatwa is not universally binding like a papal edict; rather, it simply expresses the opinion of the mufti who issues it. Muslims can choose which fatwas they adopt and thus participate in a flexible free market of religious thought, just as Americans can choose which church they attend.

Religion may not be the cause of the world’s political problems, but we still need to understand it if we are to solve them. "Whoever took religion seriously!” exclaimed an exasperated U.S. government official after the Iranian Revolution. Had policymakers bothered to research contemporary Shiism, the United States could have avoided serious blunders during that crisis. Religion should be studied with the same academic impartiality and accuracy as the economy, politics, and social customs of a region, so that we learn how religion interacts with political tension, what is counterproductive, and how to avoid giving unnecessary offense.

And study it we'd better, for God is back. And if "he" is perceived in an idolatrous, literal-minded way, we can only expect more dogmatism, rigidity, and religiously articulated violence in the decades ahead.

(Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous books on religion, including A History of God, Islam: A Short History, and, most recently, The Case for God.)

Some of my comments:

Armstrong continues to be my hero, indeed, her book Muhammad was the one that opened the doors for me to understand Muhammad the man I could relate with and he has become my mentor, otherwise I was pounded with divinity about him that did not make much sense.

She was in Dallas a few months back, I called her up on the National Public Radio as well. She is one of the few true Pluralists of the century. And amazingly I have found that she and I use similar language in our writings.... See More

I jumped when I read, "All fundamentalism -- whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim -- is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation." and I wrote similar lines in March of 2008.


Atheist reject the dished out version of God by religions, but they have no problem seeing that all life and matter was “caused” by evolution or big bang or some energy... and that energy programmed what things ought to be -ex: matter finding its own balance like Jupiter circumambulating around the sun precisely, the gravity or the humans reproducing themselves

- In an odd way, the God in Islam is not a being like it is not per the Atheists, it is merely a name, Noor or the energy. But many of us continue to portray God (him, her or it) as a being that he is on 7th heaven, he will punish, he will reward, Mohammed visited him, and we have to face him on the Day of Judgment.

- He is not there to be sitting on the 7th heaven; seven heavens could simply mean layers of understanding to comprehend the nature of existence. ...

Religion is the reason for relative peace and order in the society, without it, there would be chaos. It is human to be ugly and human to be good.

- Religions do not commit murders and massacres, but people do. You can always trace an individual behind all the bad things of the world, religion is made an easy thing to blame – the society cannot escape responsibility by blaming the 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/

Free to criticize religions but not with hate

I applaud the decision by the Bombay High Court, they have set a new international precedent favoring the freedom of speech and adding the “Hate clause” to the ruling. This is something the Europeans can look up to. Freedom of speech must prevail.

It is our duty to keep law and order and faithfully guard the safety of every citizen. Hate is one of the many sources of disrupting peace in a society and it is our responsibility to track down the source of such hate and work on mitigating it. We have an obligation to maintain a balance in the society.

My comments follow the article "Free to criticize religions but not with hate" –Mike Ghouse

Free to criticize religions but not with hate: High Court


Swati Deshpande, TNN 7 January 2010, 01:11am IST

MUMBAI: In a significant ruling, a three-judge bench of the Bombay high court on Wednesday held that in India, criticism of any religion -- be it Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or any other -- is permissible under the fundamental right to freedom of speech and that a book cannot be banned on those grounds alone.

However, the criticism must be bona fide or academic, said the court, as it upheld a ban issued in 2007 by the Maharashtra government on a book titled `Islam - A Concept of Political World Invasion by Muslims.' The book contained was an "aggravated form of criticism made with a malicious and deliberate intention" to outrage the feelings of Muslims, the court said.

Delivering the landmark verdict on Wednesday, the court has in a rare instance upheld the state's ban on a book but at the same time brought joy to civil rights activists when it held that, "in our country, everything is open to criticism and religion is no exception. Freedom of expression covers criticism of religion and no person can be sensitive about it."

The bench, comprising Justices Ranjana Desai, D Y Chandrachud and R S Mohite, said, "Healthy criticism provokes thought, encourages debate and helps us evolve. But criticism cannot be malicious and must not lead to creating ill-will between different communities... (it) must lead to sensible dialogue." The courts must strike a balance between the guaranteed freedom and permissible restrictions, "a difficult task", as the 150-page HC verdict penned by Justice Desai observed.

The book, authored by R V Bhasin, a Mumbai-based advocate, in 2003 had been in circulation for four years before the state felt the need to ban it for "several derogatory and false statements about Muslim religion, the community, Mohammed Paigambar and Muslim priests". Bhasin later told TOI that he would go to the Supreme Court in appeal. "Freedom of speech cannot be blocked on interpretation," he said.

Bhasin challenged the ban the same year and his counsel J P Cama argued at length that freedom of speech and expression has to be protected and unless a book gives rise immediately to a present and sudden danger of disrupting communal or societal peace, its ban cannot be justified. He said the author placed certain lesser-known aspects about Islam before the people and said, "Assuming he is wrong, he has a right to be wrong."

But justifying the state's ban was advocate general Ravi Kadam and later Yusuf Muchala, the counsel for a few intervenors, including Indian Union Muslim League, Maharashtra Muslim Lawyers Forum, Islamic Research Foundation, Jamat-e-Islami-e-Hind and Bombay Aman Committee. One intervenor, I G Khandelwal, from Right to Read Foundation, supported the author.

The bench had reserved the matter for judgment last August after a lengthy hearing. The court said, "The author can say what he feels is right and if it is wrong, he cannot be punished for it. But what needs to be seen is whether it was done bona fide with real desire to explore the tenets of Islam and give his exposition,"

In this case, the court held that the criticism of Islam and "insulting comments with particular reference to Indian Muslims" were "not academic". "It is an aggravated form of criticism made with a malicious and deliberate intention to outrage the religious feelings of Muslims. The contents are so interwoven that it is not possible to excise certain portions and permit circulation of the book," the court said. The author had declined an earlier suggestion to delete certain parts.

A person may have a right to say a particular religion is "not secular", said the HC, but it cautioned against rabid contents "reeking of hatred for a particular community" and "malafide exercise to stir communal passions".

The HC also found "totally unacceptable" the author's argument that banning the book in the age of the internet is passe and pointless.

The book contains "highly objectionable and disturbing" statements about the author's wishful thinking of an impending war between Muslims and others and how Indian Muslims want to convert all Hindus, attack temples and Hindu women. Statements like these are "likely to incite people to violence and may promote violence, enmity or hatred".
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Mike Ghouse comments:

I applaud the decision by the Bombay High Court, they have set a new international precedent favoring the freedom of speech and adding the “Hate clause” to the ruling. This is something the Europeans can look up to. Freedom of speech must prevail.

It is our duty to keep law and order and faithfully guard the safety of every citizen. Hate is one of the many sources of disrupting peace in a society and it is our responsibility to track down the source of such hate and work on mitigating it. We have an obligation to maintain a balance in the society.

The abusers are just a few, we should not bring laws to address those few, but rather laws should be for the larger population who follow the norms of civility.

Freedom is God given to every human and it is one's birth right. It is the freedom of speech that has been responsible for bringing out the truth of a story, a murder or the under the table deals of the politicians or the religious men. It is lack of freedom that has given free hand to a few people to carry on their agenda in the name of God. Ultimately Freedom will triumph.

In India the laws pulled the untouchables out of inhumanity onto a level playing field. The realizations are not complete but significant. The Civil rights in America did change one's attitude towards African Americans and other Minorities, over generations the apparently restrictive laws have become a norm of civility.

If the laws were to be instituted against defamation of religions, would that lead to shutting down of hate mongers? Would it prevent people from drawing cartoons of Muhammad, printing Shiva on sandals, or mimickers of Christ? Would it decimate hurling insults on others and pave the way for civility? Would that prevent hate sermons of killing the infidels? Would it prevent hurling insults against pagans? Would it prevent using derogatory terms against idol worshipping? Would it prevent idea of harvesting the poor souls?

I think the best strategy is education and not the restrictions. The violators of the laws are just a few, perhaps one half of one percent. For every bad that is hurled at, let there be no reaction to it, then there is no more fun for the bad guys to continue to hurl. Let the Dogs bark and we do the walk.

Mike Ghouse is a thinker, writer, futurist, 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/