Religious Diversity News

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Banking Options in the American-Muslim Community

Source: Los Angeles Times

On March 17, 1999, the Los Angeles Times published an
article on the organizations in the United States that are trying to
offer American Muslims a way to conduct their financial affairs in
accordance with Islamic law. Since the Qur’an and the Sunnah forbid
Muslims to pay or receive interest, many devout Muslims are at odds
with contemporary financial mores. Though Islamic banking systems now
operate throughout the Muslim world, they withered under colonial
rule and have only made a comeback in the last 20 years. Institutions
like American Finance House and MSI Financial Services are two of
only a dozen companies to offer Islamic banking in the United States.
They run like limited partnerships where “depositors” are really
“shareholders who earn dividends when the bank turns a profit, or who
lose a portion of their savings if it posts a loss.” Their loan
operations function like Western-style leasing and rent-to-own
transactions. Investing in the stock market is allowed, but no stocks
may be held in companies that engage in activities relating to
liquor, gambling, pork consumption, or pornography. Presently, the
United Bank of Kuwait is trying to enter into the American market to
offer widescale Islamic financial services.

Hindus Express Dissatisfaction Over Depiction of Deity in “Xena”

Source: Los Angeles Times

On March 16, 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported that
the worldwide Hindu community is expressing concern over the
depiction of Hindu deities in an episode of “Xena: The Warrior
Princess.” The disputed episode, entitled “The Way,” depicts Lord
Krishna in a way that is offensive to many Hindus. Braja dasi, a
representative of the Los Angeles Chaitanya Mission, stated: “How
would Christians feel if a bunch of Hindus took Jesus Christ and
filmed Xena punching him in the face?” A delegation of over 200
Hindus attempted to meet with executives from Universal Studios on
March 15th, but they were rebuffed. Producers of “Xena” contend that
the Hindu faith has been treated with respect and sensitivity. Leah
Krantzler, a Universal Studios spokeswoman, said that the show has
“an expert in Indian studies who is Hindu” from the University of
Auckland as a consultant. Krantzler further stated that, “the show
began filming only after the consultant had thoroughly reviewed and
contributed to the shooting script.”

Latino Converts to Islam

Source: Los Angeles Times

On March 15, 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported on the
growing phenomenon of Latino conversions to Islam. Though precise
statistics are not available, Islamic leaders estimate that there are
approximately 15,000 Latino Muslims in the United States, with major
populations in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and Miami. Last month,
a group of 30 Southern California Latino converts founded the
Latino-Muslim Movement at the ILM Foundation to educate
Spanish-speaking Muslims and to spread Islam to other Latinos. One of
the their main goals is to translate the Qur’an into contemporary,
conversational Spanish because the only 2 translations available are
in formal, Castilian Spanish.

Geshe Lhundup Sopa is First Buddhist to Hold Gamaliel Chair

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On March 15, 1999, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
reported that Geshe Lhundup Sopa, a retired Buddhist Studies
professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM), has been
invited to hold the Gamaliel Chair, which is an annual position
sponsored by the Lutheran campus ministry of UWM to offer “unique
perspectives on how to bring peace and justice to the world.” Sopa,
friend and teacher of the Dalai Lama and one of the world’s top
scholars in Tibetan Buddhism, is the first Buddhist to ever hold the
Gamaliel Chair. The Chair must be held by a person of faith who has
demonstrated commitment to peace and justice.

FBI Investigating Death Threats to Prominent Muslim Leader

Source: The Arizona Republic

On March 14, 1999, The Arizona Republic reported that
the FBI is investigating alleged death threats received by Sheikh
Hisham Kabbani of Los Altos, CA, the chairman of the
Washington-based Islamic Supreme Council of America. Since January,
Kabbani and his followers have taken security precautions after
Kabbani was condemned by several Muslim organizations for statements
he made at a State Department forum. In that forum, Kabbani stated
that the “ideology of extremism has been spread to 80 percent of the
American Muslim population.” Aly Ramadan Abuzaakuk, executive
director of the American Muslim Council, stated that “all of the
major Muslim groups” have jointly issued a letter against Kabbani’s
statements demanding that he retract them. The
letter states: “Mr. Kabbani has put the entire Muslim community under
unjustified suspicion. In effect, Mr Kabbani is telling government
officials that the majority of the American Muslims pose a danger to
our society.”

Fire at Mosque in Minneapolis

Source: Star Tribune

On March 14, 1999, the Star Tribune reported that U.S.
Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota inspected the ruins of the mosque
that was destroyed on March 5th. “As an American Jew, I feel strongly
about this because we’ve experienced the same type of hate crimes. We
don’t know exactly what happened here, but it feels like that,”
Wellstone said. The fire gutted the mosque and the adjacent Islamic
Cultural Community Center in Minneapolis. Police and fire officials
have suggested that the fire may have been set to cover up a
burglary, but the Muslims in the community are not convinced because
only a TV and a VCR were stolen. As area mosques try to absorb the
displaced worshippers, the American Muslim Council is filing a report
with the Minnesota state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, calling the
fire a hate crime.

Buddhist Center in New Orleans Open to Public

Source: The Times-Picayune

On March 14, 1999, The Times-Picayune published an
article on the Lotus Lake Drikung Dharma Center, a new Tibetan
Buddhist center in New Orleans, that is holding a weekly meditation
practice, open to the public, on Tuesday nights and plans to invite
Buddhist teachers to lecture. Greg Eveline, director of the center,
stated: “We hope that by introducing meditation and the Buddhist
teachings of love and compassion to the people, we can create a more
peaceful and harmonious community here in New Orleans.” The center is
affiliated with the Tso Padma Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Rewalsar,
India and the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

Shabbat Across America

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

On March 12, 1999, The Columbus Dispatch published an
article on Shabbat Across America and detailed the statistical
evidence driving the NJOP’s concern over J2K. Their data reveals that
“70 percent of Jews in the United States don’t identify themselves as
Jews or don’t maintain affiliation to a synagogue. 54 percent of
Jewish children are being raised as non-Jews. 52 percent of Jewish
marriages involve a non-Jewish spouse. About two-thirds of Jews in
the United States do not observe basic Shabbat traditions such as
lighting Shabbat candles or attending a weekly Shabbat synagogue

Shabbat Across America

Source: The Baltimore Sun

On March 12, 1999, The Baltimore Sun published an
article on the third annual “Shabbat Across America,” which is an
event sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) to
offer a traditional Shabbat service on this Friday to non-religious
or marginally religious Jews in over 700 synagogues across the United
States and Canada. The event is a united effort by the four major
Jewish branches and is offered in response to the growing J2K (Jewish
2000) problem. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, founder and director of NJOP,
stated that “as the year 2000 approaches and as Jewish assimilation
continues to proliferate on this continent, too many Jews have no
opportunity to participate in a traditional Shabbat service
surrounded by friends and family members.” The Shabbat service
offered will include explanations of the prayers and rituals.