TIME faith

Obama’s Executive Order to Protect Gay Workers Will Have No Religious Exemption

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US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on July 17, 2014. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

Not all faith leaders are upset

President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order Monday that will ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees and contractors–and it will not include an exemption for religious organizations.

The order ensures that federal employees and contractors, who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation, will formally be protected from discrimination based on gender identity. It will affect some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers total, or about a fifth of the country’s work force, according to the Associated Press.

“At a critical time for our nation’s economy, we need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their talent, skill, and ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job due to discrimination,” said a White House official. “Discrimination is not just wrong, it also can keep qualified workers from maximizing their potential to contribute to the strengthening of our economy.”

When the upcoming order was first announced on June 30–the last day of LGBT Pride month and shortly after the Supreme Court handed down the Hobby Lobby decision–a handful of Christian leaders including pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter wrote Obama a letter asking him to exempt religious organizations. They soon received pushback–more than 100 faith leaders wrote Obama last week asking that he not include an exemption. That group, which included Christian, Muslim, Jewish and interfaith leaders, said such an exemption would only open a “Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, wrote in an op-ed for TIME that asking for such an exemption was “theologically indefensible.” Former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), who had originally signed the letter asking for a religious exemption along with Warren and Hunter, apologized last week, calling her initial decision to sign the request “an error in judgement,” and asked that her name be removed.

Obama’s executive order does not add exemptions for religious organizations beyond President George W. Bush’s 2002 order, which allowed religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when hiring. Religious organizations are still allowed, under the First Amendment, to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit.

TIME faith

Wife of Wiccan Priest Recounts Religious Discrimination

Blake Kirk was uninvited from giving the invocation at a city council meeting in Huntsville, Ala. after it was learned that he's a clergyman of the Wiccan faith. Here, his wife speaks out

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I think most of us start out in our interfaith work with the expectation that our work will proceed smoothly and that we will find tolerance and acceptance in our relations with those of other faiths. And for the most part that is probably the case. At least those with whom we work are willing to respect those of other faiths than their own, and even offer their cooperation and support in projects that are aimed at improving their communities.

But sometimes our best intentions go awry and we find ourselves in confrontational situations where the concept of interfaith and respect for the religious rights of others breaks down. What one decides to do in that situation may have a lasting impact and needs to be approached thoughtfully and as calmly as possible.

Such a situation has arisen in my own life and the life of my husband. As I have mentioned in the past, Blake and I have been members of our local interfaith group here in Huntsville for several years. In 2012, as a result of a legal case in Georgia, the City of Huntsville requested that the Interfaith Mission Service maintain a roster of faith leaders from across the community to give invocations prior to the beginning of meetings of the City Council. It was understood then, or should have been understood, that such a roster would include faith groups other than Christians or even other Abrahamic faiths in order to be in accord with the ruling of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pelphrey v Cobb County, GA.

In January of this year my husband (he was listed at that time as a representative of the earth based religious community) gave the invocation before the City Council saying: “O gentle Goddess and loving God, we pray tonight that You will bless this Council with wisdom and judgment so that they may make sound decisions for the governance of our city. And further, we pray that You will visit upon these chambers an atmosphere of comity and peace, so that all who are here tonight to make their views known may do so in an air of civility and respect, without needless rancor or hostility. These things we ask of You as children do of their loving parents, trusting that You will give unto us those gifts that we truly need. Amen.” There were no repercussions as a result of this appearance and we were pleased that all had gone so well.

On June 26th he was again scheduled to give the invocation. He was contacted by the secretary for the City Council to get the information to fill out the agenda. And of course he indicated at that time that he was a priest of the Oak, Ash, and Thorn Tradition of Wicca. The next day he was contacted and told that his services were no longer desired and he was told it was because there were “concerns” about his religion. And at that point the City of Huntsville had crossed the line into religious discrimination which is not permitted under the Constitution or under case determinations by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which covers Alabama. Unfortunately for the City of Huntsville, a reporter got wind of the situation and the story was broken by our local news service, picked up by the Associated Press newsfeed and it went viral.

We were subsequently contacted by both Lady Liberty League and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State offering their support in fighting what they considered a clear-cut case of religious discrimination.

So at this point we had some serious thinking to do about how we wanted to proceed. While we are definitely not in the broom closet, (I’m not even certain that the broom closet survived the explosion of the news media frenzy!), we are generally private about our beliefs and practices. It had never been our intention for our beliefs to become a divisive issue in our community. My husband’s delivery of the invocation was simply to help take part in the business of the governance of the city and to represent one of the many groups of individuals here in Huntsville. And to be truthful, the idea of going through the confrontational business of forcing the City to abide by the law, whether through negotiation or legal action was not something we wished to do.

However….

At some point one needs to decide whether or not something is worth fighting for and whether you can afford the consequences of that fight. As Martin Luther said in his famous speech; “I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other…” My husband and I decided that this was a battle worth waging and that, like Luther, we could not back down and go against our own conscience in this case.

On May 16th here in Wild Garden I wrote about how a threat to one group or one person constitutes a threat to us all. In that piece I quoted Martin Niemoller when he wrote during the dark days of Nazi Germany:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

How ironic that a mere month later we were faced with Niemoller’s dilemma. My husband and I looked in our hearts and we decided that we were prepared to speak out and called upon by our Gods to speak out, not just for ourselves, but to preserve the Constitutional rights of all Americans. As the poet, John Donne, wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

We don’t know where our stance will take us. We hope that we can resolve this amicably with the City of Huntsville. If we must we will engage in litigation to assure our legal rights to religious freedom under the 1st and 14th Amendment of the Constitution. What we do know is that we are in this fight now and we will not give up until it is over. Our Gods will accept no less.

What I hope is that my recounting of our story will help those considering entering the interfaith world to understand is that it is not always uplifting, accepting, or fun. Sometimes it is hard emotionally and spiritually. So I suggest that each of you search your hearts and talk to your Gods about what you are going to do and where you will take your stand…because you can do no other.

Carol Kirk is a retired nurse and a Vietnam war veteran.

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TIME Religion

Let’s Treat Children at the Border as Christ Would

This is a moral moment for America and what it means to be an American. And for the church, it is a moment to make clear what it means to be a Christian.

Unaccompanied children are fleeing the escalating violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and presenting themselves at the U.S. border–hoping to find safety from daily fears for their lives in these Central American countries. More than 50,000 have already come and their presence is now creating a political crisis in the United States.

The media has shown alarming pictures of hateful crowds of Americans blocking and threatening buses of young children being processed under U. S. laws. Imagine the fear in the hearts and minds of young children, all alone in a foreign culture, being screamed at by adults they don’t know in a language they don’t understand. Imagine the pain and fear of those families who tearfully sent their own children away from home to protect their lives.

Sadly, it’s not hard to imagine how our polarized political system is turning this complicated humanitarian disaster into another political and ideological war. What’s most reprehensible is how these children are being punished, instead of the politicians who refuse to fix our own broken immigration system which makes difficult situations like this even harder to solve.

So let’s ask how God might see this, and what our faith requires of us—questions hardly ever asked in Washington DC.

First, this is a deeply moral issue and problem. This is not just another political occasion to use for ideological agendas once again. Such political maneuvering at the expense of vulnerable children is morally inexcusable.

Second, these children are indeed “the strangers” among us, and how we treat them is how we treat Christ himself.

Third, the primary question we must ask is what would be best for such vulnerable children, not how this can be used to stoke the political and racial fears underneath the surface of American politics. The right thing to do for these kids is a matter too complicated for simplistic political answers and should generate a bi-partisan, civil, and compassionate conversation among political leaders. We must do our utmost to keep these children safe. Neither quickly returning them to terrible violence, nor encouraging more children to put themselves in the dangerous hands of despicable smugglers—will protect the children. This requires time, patience, compassion, clear messaging, and careful discernment. Politically motivated quick fixes will not suffice and are morally indefensible.

What about some deeper reflection on how the lucrative drug market in the United States has generated the violent cartels that now threaten the daily lives of children in these countries? What about reviewing our own history and policies in relationship to formerly dictatorial and currently corrupt governments in these Central American countries? How could making practical and effective investments in the development of these countries make us all safer? Those are the kinds of questions politicians too often put aside in favor of calculating their immediate political self-interest and gain from a crisis like this. Where is the governing here, instead of the constant pursuit of winning?

This contemporary moral crisis and the political failure of politicians to fix our broken immigration system and the procedures around humanitarian disasters like this may now require the moral intervention of the faith community. Led by our Hispanic brothers and sisters who know the language and culture of these children, we must support the direct involvement of churches in the caring for and processing of these unaccompanied children.

While we can support the timely processing of these children and the resources necessary to do that, we must oppose expediting the deportation of these children for political reasons. And we must publically oppose and obstruct any political motivated policies that would do that to these children—because they are our children too.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these.” Matthew 19:14.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 21: Prayer, Beyond Ritual  

Indonesian Muslims Celebrate The Fasting Month Of Ramadan
Muslims pray before breaking of the fast during Ramadan on July 13, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Robertus Pudyanto—Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

There is probably no time when Muslims pray as much as they do during the blessed month of Ramadan. This is saying a lot for folks who pray five times a day as part of their daily schedule. Every night, throughout Muslims lands and wherever Muslims live, the Mosques are filled with devout and able worshipers who spend at least a portion of their usual sleeping hours to turn to God, attempting to reap all the blessings they can from the holy month. As the month comes to a close, this worship becomes more intense.

Prayer in the Islamic tradition is a prescribed ritual with set times and motions. The life of prayer is given such importance that when the Prophet Muhammad was on his deathbed, one of the last pieces of advice for his community was, “Prayer, prayer, prayer.” The Prophet also described prayer as “the key to paradise.” One of the most common prescriptions for believers in the Qur’an is to institute and be constant in prayer.

Yet, the challenge with prayer is that it can easily become routine and unfocused when it is taken as mere ritual without proper contemplation. In reality, every step of the Muslim prayer – from preparing to pray to concluding the prayer – is full of rich meanings that bring the ritual to life.

A Muslim prepares for his or her prayer with a pre-ritual washing that is meant as much for approaching God in a physically clean state as it is a means for spiritual purification. The washing involves washing the hands, rinsing the mouth, sniffing water up the nose canal, washing the face, washing the arms up to the elbows, wiping the head and neck and ears with wet hands and, finally, washing the feet up to the ankles. Sounds complicated, but it’s easy to get the hang of it after a while. With every limb that is washed, there is spiritual purification and rejuvenation, with water acting as that very real and symbolic purifying agent for dirt and wrongdoings. The washing points to the importance of purifying one’s heart in the journey to God.

After the wash, a Muslim finds a quiet and clean space to pray and faces toward Mecca. Contrary to popular belief, Mecca is the direction of Muslim prayer, not because it is the birth place of the Prophet Muhammad, but rather because it connects worshippers to the ancient footsteps and path of Prophet Abraham – known as the spiritual forefather of the faithful – and his devout family. It is Abraham and his family’s monotheism, trust in God and willingness to sacrifice that led them to the barren deserted land of Mecca where God would bring forth a water spring from the earth for a desperate mother – Lady Hagar – and her babe – Prophet Ishmael – when they were seemingly abandoned and on the brink of losing all hope. This water spring became the source of life and community and an opportunity to impart monotheistic teachings. Years later, Abraham returns to visit his wife and son, and together they build a temple for the worship of God intended for all people (Qur’an 2:125—129). This turning to the ancient temple, known as the kabba, is an act of uniting people toward a common direction and purpose – celebrating the Oneness of God.

Facing the kabba, the Muslim then lifts his or her hands in an upward motion with palms facing outward. It is, among other things, an inauguration of the prayer and a symbolic act of taking everything of worldliness that is before them between their hands and putting it behind them as they turn their attention solely to God.

This is followed by a period of standing in which the opening chapter of the Qur’an and any other Qur’anic passage is recited – either silently or melodically. Standing is the first meditative posture of the prayer. In this posture the mind is over the heart as the words of the Qur’an are being deeply contemplated. Standing is also a preparation for the day of resurrection in which all will have to stand accountable before God.

After standing, the next meditative posture is bowing – a universal symbol of deep respect and honor – to the One most worthy of awe. In this posture, words of divine glorification are sung within the heart. The bowing is also meant to instill, even outside of prayer, a deep respect for the ever living presence of God in our lives, for “God is with you wherever you may be,” says the Qur’an (57:4). In this position, the heart and mind are aligned in their devotion.

After briefly moving back into the standing position, the devotee falls with a state of loving surrender into a state of prostration whereby their hands, knees, feet, forehead and nose are all laid on the earth. It is an act of complete devotion that is meant to instill a life of devotedness to the only One worthy of such dedication. In this position, the heart is over the mind as all doubts are overwhelmed with an inner peace. The worshiper briefly sits after prostration only to fall right back into prostration a second time – like a lover re-embracing their beloved after separation.

When this cycle of standing, bowing and prostrating has been completed at least twice, the devotee moves to the final part of the prayer – the meditative posture of calmly sitting. In this posture, a heavenly moment is recalled when the Prophet journeyed to the high heavens to visit all of the previous prophets and ultimately a special meeting with God. There the Prophet testified that there is “No god but God,” and God testified that “Muhammad is the servant and messenger of God.” The two testimonies join together to form the devout Muslim’s creed and consciousness. Peace is, then, sent upon all of the righteous servants, upon Muhammad and the followers of Muhammad, and upon Abraham and the followers of Abraham.

Finally, after receiving this peace from the Source of Peace, the Muslim turns his or her head to right and to the left, to the East and to the West, and prays in both directions: “May the peace and blessings of God be upon you.” Thus, the spiritual seeker is directed to spread peace and to be among the peacemakers. The prayer concludes with the worshipper embracing a profoundly ethical mission in the world.

In this way, prayer goes beyond mere ritual – it becomes the source of internal and external transformation, and the necessary component in living the life of a spiritually vibrant and ethically upright human being.

TIME Religion

Just Because You’re Mad at Obama Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have Dinner at His House

The White House Iftar boycott is a fruitless debate

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The other day in clinic when I asked a patient of mine what he did for work, he said, “Doc, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m a retired deputy Sheriff from LA.” I inquired about his hesitation. He noted how the department had deteriorated in morale and discipline, adding that once he was so proud to be a part of the department that if the Sheriff called him for duty, he could not say “no.” It’s much like if the President of United States calls one to serve our country, he said. How can one say “no?”

It is his latter comment that has stuck with me. Time and again, I’m intrigued by the respect, trust and prestige the office of POTUS carries in the minds of Americans, despite the contemporary vitriol and polarizing environment surrounding the office. When a national tragedy occurs, the President consoles the American people. And, when the President addresses the nation, it brings much needed healing and comfort, as seen in the aftermath of recent mass shootings and terror incidents.

It is for this reason, I contend, that when the President invites one for Iftar (the fast-breaking meal in Ramadan), one responds gracefully and strives to attend. It is precisely the respect for this office and what it symbolizes – not necessarily the one who holds the office – that inspires citizens.

Therefore, if one wishes to boycott such an event in hopes of achieving a policy objective, I would direct that individual’s energies toward the ballot box. Imagine if 90 percent of American Muslims began casting votes; we would then be having a different conversation altogether.

On Monday, hours before the White House Iftar, a boycott petition was circulated and generated an unusual buzz, especially on social media, that was captured by the Huffington Post and Politico. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s position, in favor of the boycott, was also released before the Iftar. The reaction was hardly surprising, as it came on the eve of a barbaric and brutal assault on the innocent women and children of Gaza. The loss of civilian life clearly outweighed any chronic grievances the Muslim community held, ranging from surveillance to Guantanamo Bay, which despite being constantly brought up directly with the President at these Iftarsin the past, had not received much consideration at all.

At the Iftar, POTUS’s remarks included an emphasis on the right of Israel to defend itself while stating, in passing, a request to also protect civilian life –- confirming the sentiments of boycott proponents. Furthermore, the news of 18 family members who were killed in an aerial bombing of Gaza that broke earlier pointed to the extreme gravity of the situation. We, as Americans, cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering endured by the Gaza victims and their loved ones.

And so, in the midst of such pain and injustice, it is completely understandable that an individual might not feel comfortable smiling for the cameras on the White House red carpet. So if one rather busied onself with humanitarian efforts, aid delivery and advocacy on the Gaza situation and decided to politely decline the invitation with an appropriate accompanying message, it would be completely reasonable and justified. Such a response would be graceful and have impact. The decision of each guest whether or not to attend is, of course, a personal choice. But regardless of the decision, the act should be done with purpose, dignity and grace.

The arguments that I have seen from both sides of the debate merit consideration, minus the rare instances of calling theIftar participants sellouts (irrelevant in this case, since most attendees are from the diplomatic corps anyway; usually few American Muslims are invited). The event itself is symbolic in nature but does speak volumes about American Muslim contributions and the recognition of those contributions by the highest office of the land. And that is something that should not be dismantled but, instead, strengthened.

In drawing lessons from Islamic history, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was invited to meet an elite group from a powerful tribe in Medina (Banu Nadhir) that was initially an ally but had begun to turn against him. He accepted the invitation at the expense of risk to his life. What followed suit is a matter of controversy. Nevertheless, the lesson derived here is the emphasis on attempting at dialogue and setting things right on part of the prophet (pbuh).

Did Musa (Moses) walk into Pharaoh’s palace uninvited? Certainly not, he was invited and he went forth with an ultimatum and a challenge. In the White House Iftar story, there is neither a Moses nor a Pharaoh, but only a challenge. And that challenge is for us to deliver results for the sake of all those who are suffering from inequities . And once again, it all starts at the ballot box.

Rather than boycotting the Iftar to show disapproval of the White House’s response to the situation in Gaza, this opportunity should be optimized, to make the Muslim presence felt and our voices heard.

Many of you may have heard of Tarek Abu Khdeir, a teenager from Florida who was nearly beaten to death by earlier this month. Two IDF soldiers beat him to unconsciousness after which he was imprisoned without medical care. Tariq’s teenage cousin Muhammed was burned to death on July 2.

I believe one useful petition to circulate next year would be to urge the White House to invite Tarek and his family to participate in the Iftar, perhaps even reward him for his courage and determination.

Dr. Faisal Qazi is the co-Founder of MiNDS, a community development foundation local to Southern California and VP of the Whitestone Foundation – a national American Muslim community-building project. He serves as a member of City of Fullerton’s Community Development Commission.

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TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 20: The Night of Glory

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Pakistani Muslims offer a special evening prayer "Taraweeh' on the first night of the holy month of Ramadan at the grand Faisal Mosque in Islamabad on July 10, 2013. AAMIR QURESHI—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

As we approach the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims wait in high anticipation of what can be translated as The Night of Glory (laylatul qadr). It is a brilliant night that is described in the Qur’an in the following way:

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

We sent [the Qur’an] down on the Night of Glory.

What will explain to you what that Night of Glory is?

The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months.

On that night the angels and the Spirit descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every affair.

Peace it is until the rising of the dawn.

(Chapter 97, Abdul Haleem’s translation)

The Night of Glory is the night in which the Prophet Muhammad began receiving revelation from God through the archangel Gabriel while he was meditating in the Cave of Hira on top of the Mountain of Light near the outskirts of Mecca, according to Muslim belief. It is that night in history when Muhammad went from being a simple man among his people to becoming the messenger of God. Not only did that night transform Muhammad the man into Muhammad the Prophet, but it also marked the beginning of the transformation of many parts of the world – beginning with the Arabian Peninsula and stretching as far as China within less than a century – as the new civilization of faith spread from coast to coast and continent to continent.

The first words that the Prophet received from God on that night, now some 1,448 years ago, are words that continue to inspire and guide more than 1.6 billion people worldwide. Chapter 96 of the Qur’an contains these verses: “Read! In the name of your Lord who created: He created the human being from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by the pen, who taught the human being what he did not know” (96:1—5).

Receiving these divine words shook the Prophet to his core as he experienced the unexpected power of the glorious night and the command of an outer force. Afraid and befuddled, the Prophet ran home to the warm embrace of his beloved wife, Khadijah, who covered his trembling body with a blanket and reassured his anxious soul. Khadija suggested visiting her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, who was a Christian sage and scholar, to interpret the experience. Waraqa listened carefully to the Prophet’s experience and declared: “This was the same one [archangel Gabriel] who keeps the secrets, whom God had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live [to see the day] when your people will drive you out.” The Prophet, startled and surprised, asked, “Will they [really] drive me out?” Waraqa nodded affirmatively and said, “Anyone who came with something similar to what you have brought was treated with hostility; and if I should remain alive till the day when you will be driven out then I will support you.”

So, the Night of Glory commemorates the advent of the Prophet, the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, and the centrality of God and knowledge in Islam. But, as Chapter 97 of the Qur’an indicates, the Night of Glory continues to visit every year with great spiritual gifts. In this night, it is believed, the doors of forgiveness are opened to all who ask, the decree of God is reconsidered and determined for every human soul, and salvation is brought closer for anyone who seeks it. As such, it is a night full of praying, seeking and acting goodly.

One of the great mysteries is that no one knows for certain which night in the blessed nights of Ramadan the Night of Glory falls on. It is anticipated during the last 10 nights. And, some say that it falls on one of the odd nights of the last 10 nights. God knows best – our task is to seek it; God’s grace is to grant it!

TIME Religion

Study: Jews Most Popular Religious Group in the U.S.

Respondents to a Pew survey gave Judaism the "warmest, most positive" rating on a scale of 1 to 100

Jews are viewed most positively by Americans among the major religious groups, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The Pew survey asked participants to rate their attitude toward different religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” on a scale of 0 to 100 with 100 being the “warmest, most positive” rating. The 3,217 respondents rated Jews, Catholics and Evangelical Christians scores of 63, 62, and 61, respectively.

On the other end of the spectrum, Muslims were rated least favorably, with a score of 40. Atheists were rated a step higher with a score of 41. Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons were in the middle, with ratings of 53, 50 and 48, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, groups were rated highest by their own members, with Catholics receiving an average rating of 80 from Americans who describe themselves as Catholic, for instance.

Jews and Atheists tend to have negative feelings towards Evangelicals, even though Evangelicals rated Jews highly.

Americans aged over 65 gave Christian groups and Jews higher ratings than younger Americans gave them. Older Americans viewed Muslims negatively, while younger Americans had a more neutral view towards Muslims.

Americans had much warmer feelings toward a religious group when they knew someone who identified with that group. Muslims got a neutral rating (49 on average) from respondents who said they personally knew a Muslim, much higher than the 35 rating from Americans who did not know a Muslim.

You can find the rest of the study’s results here.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 19: Learning Humility

Indonesian Muslims Celebrate The Fasting Month Of Ramadan
Muslim men read the Quran as they wait for the breaking of the fast during Ramadan on July 13, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Robertus Pudyanto—Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

I have found that there is nothing like fasting to break the ego’s grand delusion of self-independence. As the hours of breaking fast get closer and the weakness from lack of food and water sets in each day, it is a reminder of how vulnerable we truly are and how delicate our existence really is.

Our dependency on food and water really makes us realize how interdependent and interconnected to each other and to the rest of God’s creation we are for mere survival. Yet all too often, a sense of invulnerability and self-sufficiency causes arrogance to abound from within such that the arrogant one thinks they can do whatever they want without any consequences.

The Qur’an asks, “Does [man] think that no one will have power over him? ‘I have squandered great wealth,’ he says [arrogantly]. Does he think no one has seen him?” (90:4—7)

The Prophet Muhammad, reflecting on the many passages in the Qur’an condemning arrogance and the unrepentant arrogant, said, “the one who possesses even a grain’s weight of arrogance in his heart will not enter paradise.” This is so because arrogance is incompatible with Islam’s salvific testimony of faith: there is no god except God. The arrogant, unchecked, ultimately come to see their own selves as a god or at least partners with God.

Arrogance was, arguably, the first great sin – when Satan refused God’s command to bow down to the human prototype, Adam, because Satan insisted that he was superior to God’s new creation. It is the same sense of superiority that leads to racism, chauvinism, and so on.

The outwardly arrogant person can easily be seen a mile away. But, arrogance appears in much more subtle ways. Muslim sages who mastered the spiritual sciences identified eight sources of arrogance that we should protect our hearts from: feelings of superiority; treating others with contempt; pride of lineage; pride of beauty; pride of wealth; pride of physical strength; pride of abundance; and, lastly, pride of knowledge.

Sometimes arrogance even appears wearing the mask of righteousness. In the words of Shaykh Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari, “Sins that yield humility and a broken heart are superior to righteousness that stokes honor and pride.” Self-righteousness is one of the terrible ailments of our time – it is a disease that leads people to judge others harshly, to denounce people they disagree with, and to even justify oppression and killing.

Humility is not accepting a state of humiliation; rather, humility is about entering into a state of illumination – a state where a person realizes how dependent they really are on God and divine blessings in creation; where a person truly understands how little they really know and how much more there is to learn; and, where a person is able to see the good in others such that they never feel superior to anyone else.

As always, the path to humility begins by examining one’s own heart and then striving to purify it from the most subtle and most manifest traces of arrogance. Here are three steps that Muslim sages have recommended to overcome arrogance and to increase in humility:

  1. The Qur’an asks us to consider our humble origins as just a drop of fluid (76:1—2), and to further consider how we were then slowly fashioned and nurtured into full functioning human beings not of our own accord but through a higher power and compassionate caretakers. Reflecting on this will tame the boastful ego.
  2. Then the Qur’an asks us to consider our end. Nothing that we take pride in will follow us into our graves. Our wealth will be distributed by inheritors, our bodies will become dust and bones, and so on. So, if we feel a sense of pride in anything, just remember how it all ends. Furthermore, remember the inevitable standing before God and the accountability that lies ahead. The Qur’an says, “On that day neither your wealth nor your progeny will benefit you, except the one who comes to God with an unblemished heart” (26:89).
  3. To convert your feelings of arrogance over whatever you have to deep gratitude knowing that it comes truly from God and not from yourself. Gratitude also leads to using our gifts in the best and most beautiful ways, as opposed to arrogance which, inescapably, leads to recklessness with what we are given.
TIME faith

Atheist to Give First Town Board Invocation Following Supreme Court Battle

A Supreme Court decision upholding prayer before town board meetings has emboldened non-believers to give their own messages

As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last November on whether town board meetings that open with prayer violate the First Amendment, Justice Antonin Scalia asked a rhetorical question: What does an invocation sound like from a non-believer?

Dan Courtney has an answer. The former president of the Freethinkers of Upstate New York will deliver the invocation before the town board of Greece, New York Tuesday evening, the same town at the center of the recent Supreme Court case.

Courtney says he contacted the board the same day the court ruled 5-4 that prayer did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibiting the government from establishing an official religion. And he’ll soon be one of several non-believers around the U.S. who have recently delivered secular messages before public town meetings.

While Courtney says he wasn’t surprised by the ruling, he was disappointed.

“Sectarian prayer is very divisive,” he says. “Almost by definition, you’re excluding a portion of people who don’t believe in that doctrine, and it excludes the 20% of the population that is non-religious.”

But at the same time, the Supreme Court ruling appears to have emboldened several non-believers to deliver their own messages in a public forum, including an invocation at the Osceola County, Fla., board of commissioners meeting by a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community and several invocations by a non-believer at Portage, Michigan city council meetings.

In his message, Courtney says he’ll draw on the Declaration of Independence and invoke the idea that governments derive their authority from the people, not a higher power.

“If you’re an American, this should resonate with you,” he says.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 18: What Is Faith?

Indonesian Muslims Celebrate The Fasting Month Of Ramadan
A Muslim man reads the Quran as he waits for the breaking of the fast during Ramadan on July 13, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Robertus Pudyanto—Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Faith is not only a set of beliefs, but is an experience that transcends intellectual knowledge. The Qur’an speaks of faith as something that God makes “beloved” and “beautiful” in the hearts of people (49:7). Faith is also described as a “light” that “helps you walk” (57:28).

Imam al-Ghazali, the famous 12th Century Muslim scholar and sage, says this about faith:

“Whoever supposes that faith is realized through speculative theology, abstract proofs, or academic divisions is [wrongly guided]. On the contrary, faith is a light that God, the Sublime and Exalted, casts into the hearts of His servants with bounty and grace from His presence. Sometimes faith is evidenced internally and is impossible to express…” (Yusuf, Hamza. The Creed of Imam Al-Tahawi, Zaytuna Institute 2007).

Muslim sages over the centuries have said that faith is a gift from the heavens denied to none who seek it sincerely and patiently, for God is too generous to turn away the spiritual beggar. For this gift of faith to become real, people have to strive to make room for it in their hearts through spiritual labor and purification.

Love is at the heart of this experiential faith. The Qur’an says that believers are overflowing and most passionate in their love for God (2:165). And in a famous tradition the Prophet Muhammad said, “None of you will have faith until I am more beloved to you than your own soul.” Love by its very nature is emotion that transcends explanation.

In the Islamic tradition, faith is also described as a creed – a set of beliefs to believe in. Prophet Muhammad’s teacher, the archangel Gabriel, once came to the Prophet disguised as a spiritual seeker and asked, “What is faith [imaan]?” The Prophet replied, “Faith is to believe in the One God, the angels, the divinely revealed scriptures, the messengers, the last period, and the divine decree both good and bad.” The Qur’an too offers a very similar creed to believe in (2:177, for example).

Each of these beliefs is mentioned throughout the Qur’an in some detail and sometimes with strong rationale proofs.

The Oneness of God is perhaps the major theme of the Qur’an. There isn’t a chapter of the Qur’an that doesn’t mention, in some way, the unity of God. And, there are strong theological refutations against atheism, polytheism and the Christian doctrine of Trinity. The proof for the Oneness of God is in the harmony that exists in the heavens and on earth – all pointing to a single creator and sustainer.

Belief in angels is mentioned as an aspect of belief in the unseen. Angels are made out of light; they are completely obedient to divine commands and constantly praising God; and they are given various functions such as breathing the life-giving soul into the human fetus and so on.

One of the tasks of the archangel Gabriel, in particular, is to deliver divine guidance to prophets and messengers who are chosen by God to deliver a message to their people and to live an exemplary life. Messengers are those who receive revelation in the form of a scripture. Prophets are those who remind and reinforce what the Messengers before them brought. Every messenger is also a prophet; but not every prophet is a messenger. Some of the prophets mentioned are Ishmael, Isaac, Joseph, Job, and John the Baptist. Some of the messengers mentioned in the Qur’an are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. To believe in what the messengers were given as divine revelation, in their pure and unadulterated versions, is a core aspect of Muslim faith – including the Scrolls of Abraham, the Psalms of David, the Torah given to Moses, the Gospel of Jesus and the Qur’an given to Muhammad. The Qur’an insists on the unity of the prophets and scriptures as constituting one brotherhood and one essential teaching. There are about 25 clearly mentioned prophets in the Qur’an, but the Qur’an says, “some of them we have told you about and others we have not” (40:78). The Prophet Muhammad, naturally, is singled out as the final confirmation and culmination of all previous prophets and their teachings.

“The last period” means to believe in the end of times on Earth – all good things must come to an end, as they say – and to believe in the resurrection of every human being that ever lived, and in the accountability of every human being before God, and in a hereafter of paradise for the righteous and perdition for the iniquitous. The Qur’an offers vivid images of these things to come, some of which are interpreted metaphorically. For those who doubt resurrection, as the pre-Islamic Arabs did, the Qur’an offers the similitude of how God brings dead and barren land back to life with rain.

And, finally, belief in the decree of God is essentially about believing that nothing happens in the universe – good or bad – without the permission and knowledge of God. It is a belief that presupposes an all powerful and all knowing God, and a God that is the creator and master of time and space, and, therefore, necessarily exists outside of that. God allows blessings and goodness to abound out of divine grace, and God allows harm and evil to exist out of a wisdom that is not easily known or understood from our limited lenses. Even though nothing can happen without the permission of God, human beings are held responsible for acquiring their good and wrong deeds and for the consequences thereof. Free will, therefore, is part of God’s decree.

With all of these beliefs the interpretations and nuances between the different schools of thought are many, but this is essentially a summary of the creed of Islam.

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