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Prayer and action in the Washington Post

July 26, 2011, 10:12 am | By ecook

This Saturday’s Washington Post featured some nice coverage of the daily prayer vigil on Capitol Hill calling for a just and compassionate budget that we recently highlighted. Each day, a different group from the Washington Interreligious Staff Community has been leading a diverse gathering of faith leaders and laity on the front lawn of the United Methodist building, praying for our nation’s lawmakers and emphasizing the importance of a budget which reflects our morals and values. The Post’s Michelle Boorstein describes one of last week’s meetings:

Worshipers at a vigil Wednesday grasped BlackBerrys and buzzed with news that President Obama would meet that day with faith leaders pleading to avoid cuts in government programs for the poor and hungry. “Go forth in love to serve God and to work for a compassionate budget,” Shantha Ready Alonso, an advocate with the National Council of Churches, urged about 60 people huddled in the baking sun.

Such publicity is well-deserved victory for those organizing the vigil. Even more than their daily devotion, these staffers have been working diligently to raise the faith perspective in the halls of Congress throughout these debates.

The vigils continue each day this week at 12:30 at the United Methodist Building (100 Maryland Ave NE).

Update: Reuters also covered the vigil this week.

Photo Credit: United Methodist News Service

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Set your TiVo to tolerance this fall

July 21, 2011, 5:22 pm | By ecook

muslim family.jpgFrom the channel that shed new light on huge families, child beauty pagents, and even Sarah Palin’s outdoor adventures comes a new reality show on the lives of Muslim families in America. This fall, TLC will premiere “All-American Muslim,” following five American Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan.

The idea of using popular media to portray Muslims in a more relatable way has been previously suggested. In 2010, Katie Couric proposed that the Islamic community needed its own version of “The Cosby Show” to quell widespread anti-Muslim sentiments, an idea Alyssa Rosenberg similarly explored this summer.

TLC hopes its new project can offer that accessible insight into the often misunderstood and marginalized Muslim community. The families of “All-American Muslim” are diverse in their religious practice, both as units and within the individual families. TLC’s General Manager Amy Winter explains,

“We wanted to show there was diversity even within the Muslim community. These are families that might have beliefs that are different than yours, but we are all living similar daily lives and hopefully we will bring that to light.”

Exposing Americans who are uninformed about Islam to the everyday normalcy of Muslim families might help ramp up a badly needed national conversation on tolerance and understanding.

As I highlighted yesterday with the story of Rais Bhuiyan’s forgiveness impacting his attackers views, these conversations can have real power. While “All-American Muslim” is sure to elicit a range of emotionally charged responses, hopefully TLC has molded a peaceful and illuminating way to introduce Americans to their Muslim neighbors.

Photo Credit: Jim Boud, Flickr

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Victim of anti-Muslim attack fights for attacker’s life

July 20, 2011, 1:22 pm | By ecook

In the wake of September 11th, Dallas stonecutter Mark Anthony Stroman shot three people he believed to be Arabs, in what he saw as retribution for the deaths caused by an evil religion. Two of Stroman’s victims died, but the third, Rais Bhuiyan, survived a point-blank shot to the head.

Bhuiyan, partially blinded in his right eye due to the attack, has forgone vengeance and instead is looking toward the mercy and compassion his Islamic faith teaches. Over the past several months, Bhuiyan has gathered online signatures appealing to the state of Texas for a stay of Stroman’s impending execution.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bhuiyan explains,

“I was raised very well by my parents and teachers. They raised me with good morals and strong faith. They taught me to put yourself in others’ shoes. Even if they hurt you, don’t take revenge. Forgive them. Move on. It will bring something good to you and them. My Islamic faith teaches me this too.”

Stroman, in written correspondence, said of Bhuiyan’s attempts to save his attacker’s life,

“Yes, Mr Rais Bhuiyan, what an inspiring soul…for him to come forward after what ive done speaks Volume’s…and has really Touched My heart and the heart of Many others World Wide…Especially since for the last 10 years all we have heard about is How Evil the Islamic faith Can be…its proof that all are Not bad nor Evil.”

With so much stigma in the United States surrounding Islam and its adherents, including Rep. King’s third round of hearings on the “radicalized” Muslim community and Herman Cain’s increasingly anti-Muslim rhetoric, Bhuiyan’s actions are certainly an example of the discrepancy between Muslim stereotypes and actual Islamic faith.

Similarly, Stroman’s shift from complete hatred of the entire Islamic community to an understanding of Islam as a religion teaching forgiveness and love is a testament to the powerful conversions possible when people of differing ideas actually interact. Those opponents of mosques, community centers, and Korans would do well to follow Bhuiyan’s example, and act with compassion and care, rather than disdain and fear.

Photo Credit: Jim Mahoney/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press

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Sen. Durbin joins faith leaders in calling for DREAM Act Sabbath

July 13, 2011, 3:07 pm | By ecook

After holding a hearing on the DREAM Act last month, Senator Dick Durbin announced that he would be joining with faith leaders to continue the momentum surrounding the act’s passage. In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Senator Durbin, along with representatives of many different religious communities, unveiled plans for the DREAM Act Sabbath, “enlist[ing] churches, synagogues, and mosques around the country to dedicate time during their regular weekly worship service to a conversation about the DREAM Act.”

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, an Assemblies of God pastor and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, spoke at the press conference encouraging participation and explaining how the bill reflects his Christian faith:

Also speaking at the event was DREAMer Gaby Pacheco, telling her own story of faith communities’ importance in the fight for immigration reform:

Amplifying the stories of courageous young people like Gaby and raising awareness in congregations are two of the many unique contributions people of faith are making toward the goal of passing common-sense legislation like the DREAM Act.

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