PLEASE VISIT www.CenterforPluralism.com for all information


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TEXAS FAITH: Is religious freedom under attack in America?

Indeed, every group feels that their religious liberty is under attack. Is there a time in history when a group did not feel threatened by co-religionists, other religions and the governments? Here is a short history and possible solutions.

This a weekly column at Dallas Morning News, here is Mike’s contribution on the topic.

MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas

Indeed, every group feels that their religious liberty is under attack. Is there a time in history when a group did not feel threatened by co-religionists, other religions and the governments? Here is a short history and possible solutions.

Jews have always been under attack. They felt at home in Spain, which was destroyed by butcher Ferdinand. Then, they felt at home in Germany, but the Holocaust tore them apart and their belief in humanity was shattered. Every day, they have to be on guard. Someone or another is making anti-Semitic comments.

Fred Phelps was in Dallas in July 2010 demonstrating hate against Jews. The anti-circumcision bills in San Francisco and Santa Monica in 2011 were irritants. Last month in Houston, the Jewish academy could not participate in a basketball game. It was set on Saturday, most Jews refrain from activity that day. Indeed, it is restricting their freedom to practice their religion by exclusion and being insensitive to their faith.

Hindus are an open game to evangelists. A few years ago, a Baptist convention made a declaration to harvest the "Poor Hindu souls". This year, Russians made a serious attempt to ban Bhagvad Gita, the Hindu Holy Book. In November 2011, a Kentucky state senator attacked Hinduism as an idolatrous belief. California textbooks portrayed Hinduism in negative light, so the battle is still on. There is a debate among Indians: Had Bobby Jindal of Hindu parents and Nikki Haley of Sikh parents practiced their faiths, and not converted to Christianity, would they have become governors?

Sikhs had to fight with Arizona to keep the name of a Sikh 9/11 victim on a memorial wall. Wicca had to fight for the headstone in Arlington Memorial Cemetery for those who died serving America. Of course, there are enough stories about Native Americans, atheists and others.

Muslim Americans strongly feel the noose tightening on their freedom. Most restrictions are coming out of sheer ignorance and a false understanding of what their faith is about, as they practice in America rather than Saudi Arabia or Iran. The senators and representatives who have initiated anti-Sharia bills can't even tell what they are opposing.

The irony is neither the organizations nor the Muslims are seeking Sharia to be a part of the American law. All they are asking is to have options to square personal matters between family members through a jury, mediation, court hearing or the Sharia guidelines. Indeed, it is no different than the option of Jews using Halaqa in their personal conflicts or going to a psychologist for counseling.

Most Christian denominations have been under attack by fellow Christians. Missionaries were unforgivably cruel to natives around the world, including America. Most of the groups that infringe on the freedom of others have also been a victim.

The Catholic diocese has rightly filed the law suit protesting the Government's intrusion in the practice of their faith that the employers provide workers free contraceptives. This is the right thing to do - to stand up for the freedom of religion. As a Muslim I have stood up for freedom of every religious group, in this case with the Catholic Church. Indeed, it was good to see evangelical leader Richard Land make the same pledge along with me on Sean Hannity Radio.

In summary, the issues are about whether a majority - or the government - can arrogantly push vulnerable ones into obeying.

We need to build an America where no one is apprehensive or afraid of the other. Each one of us needs to feel home, a home where everyone can drop his or her guards and lives freely.

It is our duty to safeguard the liberties endowed by our creator to practice our beliefs. It behooves for us to stand up for each other, why should anyone stand up for you, if you are not willing to do the same for them?

To see all the contributors, please visit Dallas Morning news at:http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2012/05/texas-faith-is-religious-freed.html
. . . . .

MikeGhouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairs, Islam, India, Israel, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News and regularly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. The blog www.TheGhousediary.com is updated daily.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Interfaith Hindu-Christian Wedding

Interfaith Hindu-Christian wedding
The bride and groom must be admired by one and all, in this divisive world, where people have difficulty in agreeing, and difficulty in getting along – they are setting a new standard, that of respecting the otherness of other and accepting the God given uniqueness of each other. They  both grew up in different religious traditions, but yet, they have fallen the barriers.

Officiated by Mike Ghouse on Saturday, May 12, 2012

Specificities have been taken out including the real names for privacy. I am pleased to welcome y’all to the beautiful wedding of Betson and Preeya on this blessed day.

"There is only one cast, the cast of humanity.
There is only one religion, the religion of love.
There is only one language, the language of the heart.
There is only one God, he is omnipresent."

Jesus Christ set the example to the world through his actions; he embraced the socially rejected like the prostitutes, the lepers and others. Between him and humanity, there were no walls; Jesus wanted to redeem the lost souls.

When Moses came down from Sinai with the tablets, his unstated goal was to restore trust in the society through orderly conduct. Krishna emerged to reinstate dharma (righteousness).    Muhammad revived the message of Abraham, of one common creator and accountability for our Karma.
Buddha and Mahavira taught that one can achieve freedom through self-regulating.  Guru Nanak saw the commonalities between Hindus and Muslims on the basis of Seva (service), while Bahaullah taught the oneness of humanity.  Of course, the Native Americans also set a fine example, sharing knowledge among various tribes for the common good.
Dear creator, please accept our gratitude in every name call upon you; Manito, Yahweh, Elahi, Ishwar, Allah, Mahavira, Buddha, Wahe Guru, Ahura Mazda, mother earth and Jesus Christ.
Let me welcome you with interfaith greetings.

When you say “Hi” to the other person it has three components – acknowledgement, welcome sign, and the desire to be friends. The same idea is embedded in religious greetings. When you say “Namaste” in its most generic meaning, we are saying, let the good in you connect with the good in me, and when you say, Salaam, Shalom or peace, you are adding that may you be soaked in peace – and when you repeat that back to me, you want me to be in peace too… so, together when we connect, and the basis is peace and goodwill – whatever we do from that point - think, talk or act – it is suppose to be peaceful.

Religious greetings of Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Wicca, Native Americans and Zoroastrians were recited.

It is my pleasure to officiate the wedding ceremony of Betson & Preeya per the social traditions and God as the witness.

The bride and groom must be admired by one and all, in this divisive world, where people have difficulty in agreeing, and difficulty in getting along – they are setting a new standard, that of 
respecting the otherness of other and accepting the God given uniqueness of each other. They  both grew up in different religious traditions, but yet, they have fallen the barriers.

The Groom is raised with the Christian traditions with his own understanding of the causer of life while the Bride is raised with Hindu traditions with her own understanding of the creator.  They are different perspectives of the same truth, when you believe that, humility embraces you, it becomes your attitude.  

Humility builds societies, arrogance destroys it. 

Traditions teach accountability, when you live a balanced life, without the burden of guilt, wrong doing and ill will – you receive the ultimate gift of freedom. The Hindu tradition calls it Mukti that is freedom from all bondages, while the Christian tradition calls it Salvation.  
We are here today, either through creation or evolution, but we are here, the life is created in pairs, and the creation has programmed the humanity with love and attraction for each other.

Now it is the responsibility of the couple to continue to accept each other as they are, without seeking the other to be different.

Then Proceedings, affirmation, acceptance, ring exchange and the announcement.


Love, tranquility, mercy, equity, and kindness are the hallmarks of an ideal marriage. If any of these elements decline in intensity, it becomes the duty of the husband and the wife, equally, to reflect and listen to each other in order to fully enjoy the beauty of marriage.

Once you enjoy the harmony and connection between the two, when you feel each other’s joy, each other’s pain and apprehension… neither of you feels alone, there is a sense of security and a sense of relief in it for both, you feel worthy of living and giving the joy to your spouse.  Indeed, that is what a heaven is all about. It is the freedom to be yourselves and joy to care for each other.

What is part of the nature? 

Both of you want peace and tranquility in life, that is a natural state we move towards. If there is a conflict, the bottom line for both of you is to be out of it, but the ego plays it out and you start saying things, doing things that does the opposite of what you want; that is peace.  When there is conflict, just become a listener, not aan aan, yeah yeah yeah…but an active listener showing that you really care to hear him or her out. That is what guides you out of the conflict.

Shared a short story about effective listening – my encounters with President Musharraf of Pakistan right after 9/11 in DC.

The creator or causer of the universe has created everything in pairs, in harmony and in balance.

Ssequence of the proceedings;  

·         Welcome
·         Interfaith greetings  
·         Essentials of marriage
·         Blessings from the family and friends
·         Acceptance of each other.
·         Signature
·         Ring exchange
·         Public Announcement
·         A short sermon
·         A short prayer (Generic and inclusive)

Mike Ghouse,
Officiant, Interfaith weddingsMikeGhouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics,civic affairsIslamIndiaIsrael, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News and regularly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. The blogwww.TheGhousediary.com is updated daily. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Teaching Intolerance in Saudi Arabia


NOTE ADDED May 25, 2012 - Apparently this is old News prior to correction, however, I have asked the writers in Saudi Arabia to present the new and improved curricullum, we must be fair, it happened with us, our California text books were wrong about Hinduism, much of it is corrected now. Mike Ghouse

The following is a report about what is taught in Saudi Arabian schools. It amounts to giving sewer to children as a drink… to ruin their minds and hearts in the long haul.

What they are teaching in Saudi Arabia is a major concern, however, it should not be looked as an opportunity to laugh at them, but an opportunity for all of us to examine about ourselves and find a solution to bring about a world wide change, we are all in this together. 

Let’s never forget the words of wisdom from the first pluralist of the world; Jesus Christ, who said, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” As a society we should not rejoice the badness of others, instead we need to ponder and find ways for all of us to move towards “treat others as you would want to be treated.” We are all guilty of our own.

Even here in the United States, the most advanced nation, our school books at one time were derogatory towards Hinduism that I know of and have written about it with concern. Our own military was teaching hatred of Muslims in a civil society.  In Pakistan and Bangladesh children were taught to hate Indians, in Palestine and Israel same thing goes; denigration of each other. I am sure some where in India, they teach hatred towards Pakistanis, as it spills out in the language of a few Indians. A few parents still teach (by their attitudes) their children prejudice against Mexicans, African Americans, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, Gay and Lesbians…. the hate business is everywhere. No one is free from it.

We may have ugly feelings towards others, do we need to dump this on our children? What if they turn around and tell us to go hell for teaching them hatred towards.......  are you guilty of using words, comments and examples that amounts to giving sewer to your children to drink? It is time to reflect. 

Is this what we want to teach our children?

We are our children’s number one enemies, with our teaching and observing our stinky examples, they learn to become difficult people and perhaps live in misery their whole lives. They cannot relate with the real world out there.
Nations are no exception to this – the leaders of most of the nations spend their damned time in scheming and destroying others, instead of building bridges and living and letting others live.

This is a serious issue, we need to come together to find solutions. Lets’ begin with ourselves – take a few minutes to assess your own feelings after you read the following piece and then seriously evaluate if those feelings add to the well being of the world or aggravate it further. The choice is always yours, about how you feel – hateful, resentful, avengeful, merciful, solutionsful or full of compassion and desire to change ourselves first before we think about changing others. If we are crappy, how can we expect others to be not?

Mike Ghouse is committed to building cohesive societies where no one is apprehensive of fearful of the other.  

You should see what even first graders have to read in Saudi Arabia.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — In the years just before the 9/11 attacks, I spent two semesters at a public school in Riyadh for my training as a teacher. I was stationed each day at the campus gates, instructed to inspect the girls' abayas as they left school. For each student older than 12, I checked: Was she wearing the tent-style cloak over her head and down to her ankles? Was her face fully covered, no slits for her eyes? I felt like a hypocrite, penalizing girls for violating a custom I don't support -- and one that the majority of Islamic scholars say is not a religious obligation.

The mandate was and still is part of the government-issued curriculum taught in Saudi public schools; it was in their textbooks that the girls were told they should cover their faces in order to be good Muslim women.

Much is made about the role of Islam in Arab societies -- how different interpretations of the Quran can shape laws and conventions. But less often do we consider how these interpretations reach our children: at school and, ultimately, in the textbooks they read. Since Saudi Arabia's first national textbooks were issued in 1937, the controversies they have inspired have mirrored the country's most fundamental debates -- about religion, the treatment of women, the influence of the West. Over time, textbooks have become instruments of the country's religious conservatives, replete with calls to jihad and denunciations of non-Muslims. Yet despite periodic reform efforts, and even though these efforts have escalated amid the global outrage that followed 9/11, in many ways the books remain stubbornly impervious to change. Even in the past two years, they have instructed first graders not to greet infidels and warned 10th graders of the West's threat to Islam.

The Saudi education system wasn't always destined for orthodoxy. King Abdulaziz, the kingdom's founder, established the precursor to today's Education Ministry in 1925, seven years before officially founding the country in 1932. The first national textbooks were heavily influenced by Egyptian and Lebanese curricula, and their chief author, the researcher Omar Abduljabbar, was considered a progressive, opening one of Saudi Arabia's first private girls' schools at a time when only boys could attend public schools.

By the 1950s, however, religious ultraconservatives had begun putting down roots in the Education Ministry. Despite the ministry's efforts to recruit members of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt and Syria, who were seen as proponents of a more liberal form of Islam, the more powerful Saudi religious establishment ensured that textbooks and school policies would become more intolerant and conservative, which the government's 1968 educational policy document solidified formally. In the following decades, those brave enough to criticize the government-mandated curriculum were scarce if not nonexistent. Saudis who were unhappy with the public education system could send their children abroad; even private Saudi schools were (and still are) required to teach Arabic and the government's religious curriculum.

Things went on this way with few changes until 15 of the 19 hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks were revealed to have been Saudis. Suddenly, outsiders began asking questions and pointing fingers, wondering what exactly was being taught in our schools. A 2002 Boston Globe report, for instance, bearing the headline "Saudi Schools Fuel Anti-U.S. Anger," quoted inflammatory passages from a government textbook, such as, "The hour will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews, and Muslims will kill all the Jews." Saudis, too, began to reconsider: What kind of messages were we teaching our children?

The question was blown wide open in 2006 with the publication of a Freedom House report titled "Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance," which was translated into Arabic and published in the local newspaperAl-Watan. The report analyzed 12 Islamic-studies textbooks, concluding that "the Saudi public school religious curriculum continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the 'unbeliever'" -- most egregiously in a 12th-grade text that instructed students to wage violent jihad against infidels to "spread the faith." Many Saudis bristled at a foreign organization meddling in their internal affairs, but the findings managed to rekindle the debate about Saudi education. The pages of Saudi schoolbooks were finally submitted to a new, unfamiliar scrutiny -- not just from outsiders but also from Saudis themselves.

The Education Ministry responded to the criticism, appearing to commit itself to reform by relegating 2,000 teachers it deemed extremists to administrative roles far from the classroom. The ministry also instructed principals to report anyone preaching extremism.

Yet textbooks remained largely untouched, with only the most explicitly intolerant material removed. Now and then a journalist today picks up one of the government-issued schoolbooks only to find that extremism has sneaked back into Saudi schools.

In the 2010-2011 academic year, the new first-grade jurisprudence book (yes, "Islamic jurisprudence" is taught in the first grade, along with a subject called "monotheism") condemned saying hello to non-Muslims. The lesson was presented as a dialogue between a teacher and a student named Ahmed. Ahmed asks, "Should I say hello to people I don't know?" The teacher replies, "Yes, you say hello to Muslims you know and Muslims you don't know."

The news caused an uproar in the Saudi media that prompted the Education Ministry to recall the books and remove the offensive portion. But the new copies suspiciously omitted the names of the book's authors, replacing them with the phrase "Authored and revised by a team of experts." Among the book's creators had been Sheikh Yusuf al-Ahmad, known for suggesting that the Grand Mosque in Mecca be rebuilt to ensure complete gender segregation and for calling for a boycott against supermarkets that planned to employ female cashiers. (The sheikh is currently in prison for speaking out against the government's practice of imprisoning political dissidents indefinitely and without charge.)

Just last year, new interpretations were introduced in the boys' 10th-grade hadith, the book of the Prophet Mohammed's sayings and traditions. (Ever since a 1958 royal decree that allowed Saudi girls to attend public schools, boys and girls have been required to use different textbooks.)

The move seemed progressive on the surface: The new subjects included human rights, Westernization, globalization, and international scholarships -- but under these headings lay more propaganda. Westernization, for instance, was described (in a mouthful) as a policy "exerted by the dominant forces by tools such as the Security Council and the United Nations in order to implement Westernization strategies in poor countries, especially Islamic nations, under the slogans of reform, democracy, pluralism, liberalism, and human rights, particularly with regard to women and religious minorities." The book also warned that by obtaining an education in the West, Saudi students were at risk of adopting beliefs, values, and behaviors at odds with Islam.

The hadith additions were widely thought to be an underhanded way of criticizing Saudi King Abdullah's scholarship program, which since 2005 has funded 130,000 Saudi students to study in countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States. That such anti-Western language made it into the hadiths proves how embedded Saudi ultraconservatives are in the Education Ministry -- they were able to modify textbooks even against official national programs.

The Education Ministry ultimately held its ground, revising the textbooks to exclude the intolerant subject matter. Still, teaching extremism is only one facet of a much larger, more persistent problem. In a 2009 study on education reform in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh-based researcher Ahmed al-Eissa found that the lion's share of the average male Saudi student's class time -- about 30 percent -- is still in religion. It's no wonder then that Saudi Arabia ranks so poorly in other core academic subjects. In the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, published by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, only Ghana and Qatar fared worse than Saudi Arabia in eighth-grade math scores across 48 countries. In science, Saudi students only performed better than those in Ghana, Qatar, Botswana, and El Salvador.

A study published last year by religious scholar Abdulaziz al-Qasim found that Saudi religion textbooks "have focused far too much on the lowest educational and skill objectives, such as rote memorization and classification, and neglected entirely the objectives of analysis, problem-solving, and critical thinking," leading to "passiveness and negativity." But Eissa's 2009 study noted that there is widespread refusal within the Education Ministry even to acknowledge the need for an overhaul.

It has been more than a decade since the Education Ministry began working on a plan to address these problems. Known as the Comprehensive Curricula Development Project, it is expected to be implemented across the kingdom in the next year, according to itswebsite. Yet, if one reads the project's mission statement for religious textbooks, it is difficult to be optimistic. It calls for the books to require that "the learner grasp his membership and loyalty to Islam and derive all his affairs within it and renounce all that goes against it," as well as to "protect himself in facing deviant sects, creeds, false interpretations of sharia with reason, evidence, and politeness." Nowhere in the statement's 28 points is there any mention of tolerance or peace. 

Somehow "time management," No. 28, is a bigger priority.
Even if the ministry's changes materialize, education reform in Saudi Arabia is not simply a matter of revising textbooks. It's a matter of changing the minds of whole generations. Saudis who were taught to believe a very narrow interpretation of Islam are now foisting it onto millions more students. They will have to determine a way forward -- but they won't find the answer in their textbooks. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

When Interfaith goes side ways



I am writing this note in appreciation of your efforts. Indeed, I am compiling all the good, bad and ugly stories with similar examples – and I must say that the good always wins at the end, as long as we follow the Prophet’s model: Mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill. As people of faith we should not cause each other to dig in our positions.

If you can work with the local newspaper and start writing columns on interfaith and pluralism, it will gradually build a society, where we all can live comfortably.

My experiment has been fairly successful, for two years I have been writing a weekly column as the President of Foundation for Pluralism at Dallas Morning News and at Huffington post and other periodicals. It has done a few things – pointing the good in all other faiths including Islam – people accept that because they see it as reflection of goodness in all. Insha Allah, the  website will list all the 300+ articles I have written on Pluralism. Even the Tributes I have written honoring my late wife, or tribute to my father and mother on Father's day, and Mother's day… and almost every festival from Baha’i to Zoroastrians and every one in between incorporate that element – resulting in getting people off digging in their heels and focus on creating common good.   

I am glad you wrote this, and I have identical stories to share and people have stood up for me among Jewish, Hindu and Christian groups. It is the right wing Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews that do not like interfaith and pluralism.

Jazak Allah Khair
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When Interfaith goes side ways
By Imran Siddiqi

Interfaith events have always represented a paradox to me - yet, I find myself attending more and more of them. On one hand - these events do give an opportunity to bridge religious gaps. Conversely, the tenor of the events sometimes tend to be too sugary sweet - and representatives from all faiths have been guilty of toning out the other side while smiling, only to tune in when their religious group weighs in. Even though you enter the events with the best of intentions, only to walk away asking yourself - "Have I really accomplished anything today"?

Last Tuesday, I was one of two Muslim representatives at an event hosted by the Arizona Interfaith Movement - entitled "Texts of Terror". The purpose of the event was to highlight verses within the 3 major monotheistic scriptures (Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Quran) that contain violent imagery and have possibly been used to justify violent acts. The title was a red flag to me - when I received the invitation to attend, I knew this was going to be a lightning rod event.

A few days before the event took place - we received word that the already controversial subject matter had just added a new wrinkle - an infamous local pseudo scholar named Carl Goldberg would be attending the event with the hopes of stirring up the crowd and turning the dialog into the debate. This just added to my hesitance, but I knew I would have to pull through.

Imam Anas Hlayhel and I both sit on the board of CAIR-AZ, and we have attended multiple events held by the Arizona Interfaith Movement as representatives for the Muslim community. Usually, the attendance is relatively sparse - but on this day, we were told we would be walking into a capacity crowd at the Arizona Jewish Heritage Center. As we walk toward the entrance, a familiar face greets us - the director of the Heritage Center. "Hey guys, I just want to let you know that we have a weird crowd today, so I apologize in advance for anyone who may say offensive things to you." As the two Muslims walk into the room - I felt like the scene in Gladiator when Russell Crowe and Djimon Honsou were first thrown into the arena, waiting for the carnage to begin. At first glance, it was hard to tell who was friendly and who was there in the hopes of seeing the Emperor give the "thumbs down" signal to us. I have never seen the Goldberg figure before, I have just read his hateful, manipulative and inaccurate discourses on my religion - Which one was he? I scanned the room looking for someone who looked like they were coming with an agenda - but it was hard to tell who was who.

Looks like we would have to wait until the lions were released...and then the Tea Party Patriots walk in. How did I know that these people were with the AZ Tea Party Patriots movement? Well one of them was wearing a pin that said "AZ Tea Party Patriots," so that sorta gave it away. You see Dr. Goldberg along with other virulently Islamophobic speakers such as Pamela Geller are extremely popular among Tea Party groups - especially here in Arizona. These groups like to get worked up and amplify violence conducted by Muslims - assigning guilt by association to the religion and all its adherents due to the acts of a few. Here are just a few links to the events they put on:

As the event commenced, it became clear that the organizers wanted nothing to do with the Tea-Partiers and their self-described "expert on Islam." The organizer (Dr. Paul Eppinger) set the ground rules from the beginning - this event was for our selected clergy to cover the topic of violence in holy scriptures. This was not going to turn into a debate or an opportunity to bash a religion - basically an Islam-bashing fest. He also stated that each audience member was only allowed to ask one question - and no speeches or diatribes were going to be accepted. It is then, we saw Goldberg and the other Tea-Partiers look at each other, scrambling for a backup plan.

When it came to the program itself - each clergy member did a great job of covering and giving an explanation of so-called "violent" verses in their scriptures, while providing the historical and social context. For example, the rabbi read from the book of Deuteronomy - where the believers are instructed to wipe out the 7 nations: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

Next, the Methodist pastor/scholar covered material from the Book of Revelations - where many of the verses that appeal to fighting refer to "The Beast" - which in historical context represented the Romans. Finally, the imam read from Surah 9 (al-Tawbah) which many extremists misuse to justify acts of violence - and which many Islamophobes misuse to label Islam as inherently violent. All three clergy presented great cases as to why their faiths' respective verses should not be taken out of context, while highlighting recent cases of violence done in the name of almost every faith - and some in the crowd seemed to agree. But what were Goldberg and the Tea Party doing while the actual program was taking place?

After their wings got clipped with the one-question limit, the provocateurs in the crowd were scrambling for a solution. This was going to be Dr. Goldberg's big moment - he brought a binder full of material, and had a list of questions that he was ready to shout out. What was he going to do next? He started coaching the people sitting next to him and the Tea Partiers on what questions to ask during the Q&A portion. As the Q&A started, the "expert on Islam" jumped out of his seat in anticipation to be the first questioner. This is where the wheels started to fall off - as Goldberg accused the imam of being apologetic and obscuring information, while praising the pastor and the rabbi for being so honest. "I now have a comment if you will allow me" said Goldberg

The moderator of the session shut him down -and Goldberg's time was up. He now went to other audience members to try and coach them on what questions to ask. There was a poor old guy sitting next to Goldberg - (I sat directly behind them) and Dr. Carl was kept pointing to the piece of paper in his hand on what question to ask. The elderly man wasn't very quick on the uptake, so it took about 5 minutes for him to get properly coached by the anti-Islam polemicist. In the meantime, our Tea Partiers shouted out questions on how all Muslims want "Sharia Law," and screaming out cases of where Muslims have done bad things.

The interfaith event was officially sideways.

In the dozen inter-religious events I have attended in the last few years, this was the first time we have encountered hostility - and boy did it come strong. Thankfully, we only had to endure about 10 minutes of wild-eyed, out-of-context, unhinged questions - although it seemed like it lasted an hour. The members of the clergy did a great job of extending their answers - sort of like the 4-corners offense in basketball lingo. The event came to a close and the Dr. Eppinger thanked everything for coming.

At this point, I didn't know if I would have to play the role of secret service agent, and exit - stage left. Would this be the moment where the crowd joins up with Goldberg's crew and starts screaming "Go back to where you came from"? But a funny thing happened - instead of being taunted with jeers,chants and madness - We were greeted by hugs, handshakes and gestures of goodwill streamed from the majority of the crowd. The Tea Party reps were still looking for a confrontation after the event was over, but their hostility was completely overshadowed by the warmth and compassion from the rest of the attendees. As the angry Tea Party lady peered in the distance, the rabbi asked us - "You have time to go to lunch?" We obliged the rabbi on his offer, much to the chagrin of our counterparts.

For the hour and a half that we sat in the auditorium, the question "what are we doing here?" kept resonating in my mind. It was impossible to shake the feeling that we were on the road to accomplishing nothing but increasing our anxiety levels. But as we are taught in our faith, if you approach a potentially negative situation with the best of intentions - there is always a positive that will arise from it. Thankfully, the ensuing lunch with the rabbi opened up such positive avenues. After leaving the tension of the previous environment - it was great to just sit down and have meaningful dialogue with another member of the faith-based community. In this brief but meaningful conversation, we were able to discuss myths and misconceptions about our respective faiths along with the organizations that we represent.

More importantly, we all reached the conclusion that while interfaith events are great and have their place - the more important work will be "hands-on" and educating our communities on a grassroots level. As many activists and clergy who have participated in interfaith events have said before, we shouldn't be trained to just "tolerate" each other. Its time to transcend those lines and advance the conversation past the uncomfortable smiles, selective hearing and back to business as usual after the event is over. Thankfully with the relationships we forged on this day, there is definitely hope for a greater and more meaningful level of participation in the future. And while the detractors attempted to steer this event off the tracks, they actually helped strengthen the bond between faith leaders, and ensure that we will work together to defeat the forces of hate and intolerance.

http://i.imgur.com/R89BIs.jpgImraan Siddiqi is a CAIR-Arizona Board Member, Editor of StopIslamophobiaNow.com, & an Entrepreneur.  He writes on the experiences of Muslim Americans as well as the subject of Islamophobia.  He has been published in outlets such as The Dallas Morning News, The Oregonian, Huffington Post, CounterPunch, SuhaibWebb.com, altMuslim, among many other media outlets.  You can follow him on Twitter @imraansiddiqi.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Christ Statue in Mumbai Prompts Blasphemy Spat


Wall Street Journal :: Christ Statue in Mumbai Prompts Blasphemy Spat
A discussion is warranted on Blasphemy Laws.

Those Muslims, Christians and Hindus who are eager to laugh at others, need to look into their own pants, every one has things to laugh about. The idea is not to laugh but find a solution.

Many people believe that religions sanctions the Blasphemy Laws, and many others believe it is rather a political tool to control others. Whatever it is, people do believe, and you cannot jerk it off them, as nothing can be removed because you wanted it.

Who is not guilty?

Way back, when I was in college in the early 70's - Dr. Narsimhaih, the Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University wanted to investigate the miracles of Satya Sai Baba, but the politicians pulled him out of it. Dr. Abraham Kavoor of Sri Lanka had a rationalist movement going at that time..... even if they had proved the others to be wrong, do people stop believing? We must however, find the truth, not to denigrate but it is our responsibility to find the truth.

The bottom line is discussion on freedom.

Let people eat, drink, wear and believe what they want. We need to mind our own ..... business. The only time, we need to regulate others is for common good, which is determined by if some one is robbing your food, clothing, possessions or hurting your loved ones. Our laws need to come into effect.

If some one believes Jesus is appearing on the clouds, or standing under Ma Saraswati make him intelligent, or reciting Allah's name 1000 times cures his illness.... let them, what is your problem?

Like wise, if some says the miracles of "others" are stunts, let them?
The more we get aggravated with aggravators, the more they do. If others have bad intention, we don't need to match it.

You will not change, if I tell you to, then why should others change because you tell them to?
As a society we need to value freedom, but also value responsibility.

MikeGhouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairs, Islam, India, Israel, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News and regularly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. The blog www.TheGhousediary.com is updated daily.

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Religion Journal: Christ Statue in Mumbai Prompts Blasphemy Spat

By Joanna Sugden
Sanal Edamaruku
Sanal Edamaruku, pictured, has spent 30 years debunking miracles and exposing fraudulent faith healers.
The man facing blasphemy charges after he claimed water dripping from a statue of Christ in Mumbai was not miraculous but the result of a badly plumbed toilet is preparing to ask India’s Supreme Court to abolish the blasphemy law.
Sanal Edamaruku is accused by Catholic groups in Mumbai of breaking the Indian Penal Code, which outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.

Mr. Edamaruku, a rationalist who has spent 30 years debunking miracles and exposing fraudulent faith healers, denies the offense and claims the law is being misused in order to silence him.

His lawyers are asking the High Court in Mumbai to intervene to stop the charges going further, but Mr. Edamaruku also plans to make a separate challenge to the blasphemy law in the Supreme Court in Delhi.

“I see this as an opportunity to make sure this law isn’t misused any more against anybody,” said Mr. Edamaruku who is president of Rationalist International, a group working to promote science and reason in place of religious belief and superstition.
The blasphemy law, created in 1860, goes against the fundamental right of freedom of expression and should be abolished, he says.

Those invoking it against him said they were offended by Mr. Edamaruku’s comments that clergy at Velankanni Church in Mumbai were using the sight of water dripping from the feet of a Christ statue to make money from visiting pilgrims.

The Catholic Secular Forum filed a first information report with the police in Mumbai, while the Association of Concerned Catholics and Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum also objected to Mr. Edamaruku’s claims. The groups also accuse Mr. Edamaruku of alleging the Catholic Church practises idolatry.

“They want to avenge and put me in prison,” said Mr. Edamaruku, who fears he could be arrested immediately if he returns to Mumbai.

The Catholic Bishop of Mumbai Agnelo Gracias has called on Mr. Edamaruku to apologize for “hurting” the Catholic community and said that no money had been collected at the shrine.

In a letter to The Examiner, a Catholic Newsletter, the bishop said he did not believe the water to be a miracle. “But to make that an occasion to hurl false allegations against the Christian community and its leaders is quite another matter,” Bishop Agnelo wrote.
Although the groups who have taken the cases against Mr. Edamaruku do not represent the bishop, he appeared to praise them for their actions. “We can rejoice that there are some people who have the courage to stand up when the attempts are made to besmirch the name of the Catholic community.

Father Nigel Barrett, coordinator of the Catholic Communications Centre in Mumbai, said that the miracle had not yet been officially ascertained because Velankanni Church had not referred the matter to the bishop for the proper process of verification to take place.
Some in the Catholic media have come out in support of Mr. Edamaruku, including Deepika, a Catholic newspaper based in the southern state of Kerala. Mr. Edamaruku believes the groups lining up against him are “fundamentalist,” taking their inspiration from Islamic fundamentalism in order “to preserve their religion.

During his working life, Mr. Edamaruku, who is from Kerala, has been attacked with fire by an “angry god-man” and faced the black magic of a tantrik priest trying to kill him during a televised stunt.

But he says he has never felt as much under threat as he does now.
“This is the first time I have had cases filed against me… I don’t want unexpected people to come and attack me, so only close friends know where to find me,” Mr. Edamaruku told India Real Time.

He added that his case echoes that of Salman Rushdie, whose book the “The Satanic Verses” was labelled blasphemous and led Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s leader, to issue a Fatwa ordering the author to be put to death. Mr. Rushdie didn’t appear at the Jaipur Literary Festival this year because of claims he would be targeted by assassins from the Mumbai underworld if he turned up.

“It’s the same category of threat [against me]… just a different form,” Mr. Edamaruku said.

However, he said he refuses to be bowed by the cases against him.

“I’m determined, I have a duty to develop scientific temper and promote inquiry so on these two grounds we will challenge the very veracity of this law in the Supreme Court.”
Mr. Edamaruku added that if the blasphemy law could not be overturned then a committee to prevent it being used as “a mechanism to stop someone’s freedom” should properly police it.

“I believe in absolute freedom of expression in any free society people should have the freedom to ridicule to criticize or to be ridiculed. That should be guaranteed in any civil society,” he said.

Rationalist International has conducted over 2,000 outreach programs in villages around India to promote reason and “liberate” people from belief in miracles, superstitions and fraudulent faith healers, according to its president.

“India is a very fast developing country, we have a very serious interest in science and we are going around the world serving people with our IT and science knowledge,” Mr. Edamaruku said.

Thats one India that is in the 20th century. We have another India that’s in the 16th century – we are in constant conflict and it is 16th century India that is pulling us back.”
Joanna Sugden is freelance journalist living in Delhi. Before coming to India in 2011 she spent four-and-a-half years as a reporter at The Times of London, covering religion and education. You can follow her on Twitter @jhsugden.
Follow India Real Time on Twitter @indiarealtime.
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