Are Humanist Officiants in the Phonebook?

While a significant portion of the United States identifies as “non-religious,” having a traditional wedding without a religious leader presiding seems to be a hard thing to come by. I came across this article written by USA Today which discusses the rising desire for traditional weddings without being affiliated with a religion.

The big problem at hand with non-religious weddings is a lack of advertising. Currently the Humanist Society lists 138 celebrants who perform different life celebrations. Due to the shortage of people in this profession, some of these perform weddings in multiple states. However people who are interested in a ceremony with a Humanist celebrant don’t know where to look, and when they do look they can’t find them in mainstream places like the Yellow Pages.

Photo Credit: iheu.org

Now my big question is this: What is causing this lack of advertising? There are many layers to this problem, the deepest of them all I think being the cultural expectations that surround religion and marriage. For many couples, their wedding day is the most involvement that they have in their faith, until they have kids (sometimes). According to our social standard, whether or not you practice your faith is up to you, but your wedding day should be a day where you at least pretend. That’s where the problem is; why can’t people be practicing Humanists, Atheists, or Agnostics on their big day?

While the article written by USA Today looks at the problem at a surface level, addressing the need for advertising, this goes much deeper than that. I think that this calls for an acceptance of non-religious wedding ceremonies and officiants. When something is socially accepted, then it is more prevalent and easier to come by. This calls for all of us as interfaith leaders to look even more closely at our perceptions of the non-religious and support them and their right to not just have a traditional wedding like the other religions, but have it be just as accessible.

People of Faith on Twitter: Prayers for Oklahoma

Many of you who are following the news have been following the tragedy which happened in Oklahoma on Monday, when a tornado came through causing destruction and casualties. Like people tend to do in times of great crisis and need, people have been coming together sending their prayers and good thoughts to those who are far away in distance, but not in thoughts.

https://i1.wp.com/puu.sh/2YnT6.png

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

One venue which has brought together people of many faiths in this way is Twitter. People of all different backgrounds and religions have been expressing their prayers via the social networking website, forming a large support online for those who are affected.

Huffington Post shows some of the “Tweets” here!

Now is a time for people to come together in whatever way they can to help those in need! For some, offering their prayers via the internet is their piece in the puzzle. For those who want to help in other ways, USA Today offers different ways to help the people in Oklahoma.

“It is necessary to help others, not only in our prayers, but in our daily lives.” – Dalai Lama

Muslim Women Converts Tell Their Stories

When I was a freshman in college I did a final project on the Muslim tradition of the hijab. I was, and still am, fascinated by the tradition of covering one’s head and what motivates one to do so or not. However, one thing I never thought of was what would people think of me if I became Muslim and started wearing one. In the UK, women of all backgrounds are converting to Islam and receiving varied support and responses from their communities for it.

muslim women

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

This Huffington Post article describes the results of a study done in the UK.

I found the results overall very interesting.Women who were white felt that they were viewed as a “trophy” or “victory” by heritage Muslims, not seen as being legitimate women of faith. Some of these women stated that they resented being seen only for the “color of their skin” and not for their religious beliefs. It’s ironic that by the heritage Muslims having the tendency of putting these women on display has negative effects, which is probably not the intent. It just goes to show that sometimes given a group extra attention can actually be unwanted attention.

Many women were also rejected by their family and friends or at the very least questioned and chastised because of their choice to convert. Much of this I believe is because there are many misrepresentations of Islam and a lack of education about the religion. The study showed that many women were asked why would a  “liberated/free Western woman embrace a backward faith that oppresses her?” This clearly shows a lack of understanding about the faith that their loved one converted to. Another individual case study talked about how her parents kicked her out and told their friends and neighbors that she had died. When she went to another country to do service, her family reported her as a terrorist to the authorities.

Clearly, there is a lot of pain and misunderstanding that comes with conversion. When reflecting on this article, I had a thought: interfaith cooperation doesn’t just affect social change, but affects a person’s individual faith too. It seems like an obvious statement, but I know that I can sometimes get caught in such a big picture mindset that I forget how important the individual faith journey really is in the big picture experience. If the individuals close to the women in the study were more open to other faiths or knew more about Islam, those women may have had a more positive experience with their faith journey and could have shared that with their family and friends. Community is crucial to faith development, and some of these women have been deprived of that.

I think that we all can not only take the time to learn about other faiths, but be open to helping other people grow in their faith, whatever it is. As a community of interfaith leaders we need to not only support change, but support each other.

Memorial for WWII Quaker Veterans

When first seeing the headline for this particular BBC article I was very confused. Quakers are pacifists, which by definition means that they are morally against violence and war. However during World War II many felt the need to contribute to their country and help their fellow country men. In order to do what they could for the cause, they organized efforts to help on the home front and on the battlefield through medical help. Staffordshire’s National Memorial Arboretum now has the first monument dedicated to these men of faith who helped their country.

Picture of the memorial to WWII Quaker service in the National Memorial Arboretum

Photo Credit: BBC

Read BBC’s article showcasing the memorial!

I found this article to be extremely interesting and also inspiring in many ways. First I found it very inspiring that these Quakers, or “Friends,” were able to contribute to the war efforts while still holding true to the tenants of their faith. They are great examples of how there are always other ways of helping a cause beside violence.

Secondly I think the fact that these soldiers are being remembered in this memorial is also inspiring, because it shows that they are important to society and that their sacrifices were not unappreciated by their country. People would not have thought that Quakers would be on the battlefield in the first place, but they were a vital part in the effort and therefore should be remembered. This act of remembrance is an example of a country appreciating other faiths and the way they can contribute (and did contribute) to society.

My hope is that we will see more and more memorials like this one across the globe, paying tribute to the many religions of the world and their efforts to make it a better place.

Exhibit Showcases Muslims Who Saved Jews in Holocaust

When learning about the Holocaust in school we always talked about all of the kind Christians who hid Jewish families in their homes to prevent them from being sent to concentration camps. However, less discussed in history classes are the Muslim families who did the same thing! In London a exhibit, photos and stories will be displayed educating the public and preserving the history of these families.

Read all about it on BBC!

Hardaga family

Photo Credit: BBC

While history is always important to preserve, it is especially important to remember this special relationship between Muslims and Jews, mainly in Bosnia. Currently there is tension between Muslims and Jews, causing there to be varying opinions on how Muslims should view the Holocaust. Fiyaz Mughal, co-author of the Role of Righteous Muslims describes the religious tension:

“One of the main drivers of the project is that there are some small sections in Jewish communities who are trying to rewrite history and say that Muslims overwhelmingly helped the Nazis. And on the other side, there is a small section of the Muslim community who do not want to talk about the Holocaust for the sake of not wanting to build up an empathy with Jewish communities. That is unacceptable, because factually it’s untrue.”

That’s why the exhibit is there: to build bridges. If history is displayed for all to see, accurately showing their inspiring stories, then it sets an example for current religious leaders to follow so that they can work together. If the people during the Holocaust could set aside their differences and work out of love rather than hate, then today’s religious people can form similar friendships. This really is a great example for all of us regarding interfaith dialogue, not just Muslims and Jews. I just wish I was in London to be able to see the exhibit!

What Interfaith Leaders Can Do to Help Boston (and the World)

Although I usually don’t post on the weekends, I feel as though with the recent current events it is my duty to contribute to this one corner of the internet which is mine about what is going on right now. If my post makes even one person think differently, feel something different, or do something different than that makes this whole post more than worth it.

I, like many people in my country and in the world, am filled with so much emotion. There is the feeling of loss, feeling of anger towards the bombers, feelings of disgust towards all of the hate, and honestly a sense of fear for the future. How exactly does one cope with so many emotions in such a volatile time?

By making a difference.

Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, posted a video regarding the Boston Massacre and inspiring interfaith leaders to take action:

“These young people didn’t represent anyone… The murderers of all traditions belong to one tradition: the tradition of murders. We need interfaith leaders to say that loud and clear.”

The brutal and unsolicited discrimination that is now happening in this country because of the Boston bombing is what should be our main concern right now. Many people who preach hate and intolerance, especially towards Muslims, are using this as a way to convince people of their unjust cause. But how is responding to an act of hatred with more hatred going to solve anything? How is hurting other innocent people based on the color of their skin or the religion they belong to going to solve anything?

It’s simple: It won’t.

Omid Safi’s post 10 Essential Points about the Boston bombers, Islam, and America puts a lot of this into perspective. I highly suggest taking a look at the piece, it really put a lot of things into perspective for me. Reading the piece really solidified for me how discrimination is a huge problem in this tragedy. Cited  are some instances of outward physical violence towards people purely because of the color of their skin and religion. Why is this ok? When a white middle aged man went and killed innocent people in a Sikh temple this past summer  white men were not afraid to leave their houses for fear of violence. Why was it different that time?

For many reasons such as the media, misinformation, and fear people seem to have this idea that it is totally acceptable to make a group of people who are different the scapegoat. However responding to violence with violence, no matter how common, is truly a terrible coping mechanism.

So what can we do about it?

Education is key. Educate yourself, educate those who are close to you, even people who aren’t close to you! The more people who know what it means to be Muslim, what the culture of Chechnya is like, and more importantly what it means to treat each other like human beings the better. Preach love and tolerance of our neighbors, not hate and intolerance. We are a great country, a great WORLD, full of  kind people who do great things. Show that to people, remember the good things.

In the words of Gandhi, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Humanity is a beautiful ocean. Be proud of it and share it with everyone.

Note: On April 23rd, 2013 this post was published on IFYC’s blog. See the post here!

Faith-Based Programs in the Middle East Help the Jordan River

The environmentalist group, Friends of the Middle East is currently doing a faith-based initiative to clean and preserve the Jordan River, one which is crucial to so many religions in the area. This effort is aiming to bring together the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) in the area to not only see their similarities, but combine their resources to preserve a river which is so important to all of them.

Photo Credit: PlanetSave.org

Read more about the JR Faith Based Advocacy Program!

The fact of the matter is that the Jordan River is far more polluted than any religion wants to admit. According to a Huffington Post article the river is no longer suited for baptisms, due to “severe mismanagement.” Pollution and agricultural runoff stay in the water and flow through the river, making any sort of activities in the river like swimming or baptisms potentially dangerous for the thousands of pilgrims who come each year. This is a devastating blow for the religions, especially Christianity who believes Jesus to have been baptized in that water centuries ago. However all of the Abrahamic religions see the importance and worth of the river, making it’s cleanliness a serious topic for religions.

What this organization is doing is truly phenomenal. In an area of the world where the climate is one of religious tension rather than cooperation, this group is encouraging religions to see the shared value in the environment that they live in and worship in. By making this issue one that is important for everyone to talk about and making a difference, it is also opening the doors for more religious dialogue and cooperation in the future. It is my hope that more groups in the Middle East follow suit, making religious dialogue the norm.

Pope Benedict Portrait …Made Out of Condoms?

Today  a new portrait of Pope Benedict was unveiled in Milwaukee. The 7′ x 5′ piece, called “Eggs Benedict,” is made out of 17,000 non-lubricated condoms. The controversial piece reflects the statement made by Benedict in 2009, saying that condoms would spread the HIV virus. The artist of the piece, Niki Johnson, was deeply affected and therefore began the 270 hour process to make the piece, now on display in the Third Ward.

Photo: Joe.ie

See more of the portrait here!

Obviously this is quite radical and causing mixed reviews amongst people. The few Catholics that I spoke to today all had varying opinions, ranging from disinterest, to curiosity, to plain outrage. After talking to varying people about it and researching it a bit, I came to realize that is exactly what the piece was supposed to do: start conversation. Within the neutral zone of an art piece, people can talk about issues which they might not be comfortable talking about otherwise.

But what about the religious reference? While the piece is targeting a person, that person happens to be a past pope. Therefore it makes sense that Catholics would be upset by the portrait, because many attach what the Pope says directly to their Catholic faith. So is a social commentary appropriate when it is at the expense of a religious group? Or rather is it ok to criticize the leader of a religion, past or present? I still don’t know the answer.

However, interestingly enough the former Pope changed his stance on condoms about a year after his statement was made in Africa. According to an article by The Guardian in 2010, Benedict is recording saying that in some cases, using a condom “can be a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants”. Interesting how that fact seems to be ignored in the publicity for this artwork. I feel that it rather adds another aspect to the conversation, more layers to the story.

When all is said and done though, art is up for individual interpretation. That is why I hope to go and see this piece for myself sometime and see what statement I draw from the work!

The Double Standards of Language: A Look at the Word “Islamist”

Today I came across a blog post on the site Foreign Policy which discusses the Associated Press definition and acceptable useage of the word “Islamist.” The post, entitled “If I can call a Muslim an ‘Islamist,’ can I call a Christian a ‘Christianist’?” describes how the word “Islamist” is acceptable under certain circumstances, but to make a point about why this is considered offensive compares it to the use of the word “Christianist.” Why is it acceptable to refer to Muslims in this way but not Christians? Is the restricted use helpful in regards to the Muslim faith?

I tend to agree with a lot of the points made in the post, especially regarding whether the use of the word is acceptable at all. When compared to words like, “Christianist,” “Judaist,” and “Hinduist,”  I can really see why Muslims could be upset. Why is it that it is socially acceptable for us to point out the Muslim nations as opposed to other nations which are religiously affiliated? The term Islamist is used in a negative connotation and mostly in regards to oppressive regimes like the Taliban and others. But have we stopped to think about the fact that their power is less about their religion and more about having control? So why are we putting this on Muslim’s shoulders?

One thing that I got out of reading this piece is that words really matter. For many the word “Islamist” is interchangeable with “terrorist,” but in actuality the difference is severe. We must be aware that language matters and be respectful of the fact that the Muslim tradition is not limited to the scope of the violent extremists; terrorism involves many people, not just Muslims. The movement towards removing the word “Islamist” that AP is taking is admirable, but in order to make a sustainable change we all need to be careful with what we say ourselves in our own lives.

Today is Better Together Day!

HAPPY BETTER TOGETHER DAY!

Today, April 4th, is the day that the IFYC has deemed “Better Together Day,” encouraging college campuses across the country to wear blue in support of interfaith cooperation.

Read more about it here!

Pledge to #BeBlue and bring interfaith cooperation to your community!