Religious Diversity News

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“God Speaks”

Source: The Buffalo News

On March 20, 1999, The Buffalo News reported on the new
national advertising campaign called “God Speaks,” which features
billboards with black backgrounds and white lettering that are all
signed by God. “The non-denominational ads – meant to pique the
interest of people who don’t attend church – began in Florida and
have appeared in northern Texas and recently in North Carolina.”
Signs like “Keep using my name in vain and I’ll make rush hour
longer,” “Loved the wedding, invite me to the marriage,” and “Have
you read my 1 best seller? There will be a test” are just a few of
the 18 slogans created by the Smith Agency of Fort Lauderdale,
Florida “on behalf of an anonymous client.”


Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On March 19, 1999, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on the
celebration of the Baha’i New Year, or Naw-Ruz, which takes place on
the vernal equinox (Saturday, March 20th) and is a religious holiday
in the Baha’i faith. For the 19 days before Naw-Ruz, Baha’is between
the ages of 15 and 70 refrain from eating and drinking during
daylight hours. Lorelei McClure, spokeswoman for the Baha’i National
Center in Evanston, Illinois, stated: “It is a time to deny oneself
material comforts. Fasting is an outward sign of the inward
cleansing.” The Baha’i Temple in Wilmette, IL is expected to be
filled with more than 350 followers for a devotional program and a
buffet to mark the end of the fast.

Feng Shui in the Business World

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle

On March 19, 1999, The San Francisco Chronicle published
an article on the growing use of feng shui in American businesses to
“boost their bottom line.” Feng shui, developed over 3000 years ago
in rural China, is supposed to “promote well-being by fostering a
good flow of ch’i or life-energy through buildings.” Several
businesses in the San Francisco area, including the clothing company
Esprit Corp., report increased profits after the use of feng shui in
their buildings. Though none of the feng shui approaches have been
scientifically proven, a change in the work environment is
undeniable. Glenn Takayama, president of the small biotech firm Lab
Vision Corp., stated: “I think I’m more productive now. And everyone
comments on the changes to our lobby. They say it’s a good feeling to
be there and walk through there.” Christophe Kubiak, who owns an
eatery in San Francisco, stated: “I’m not too much into energy and
all that, and I don’t want to have a Buddha sitting by every door,
but after feng shui, we saw an 80 percent increase in our business.”

Pagan Celebrations of Vernal Equinox

Source: The Boston Herald

On March 19, 1999, The Boston Herald featured an article
on Pagan celebrations of the vernal equinox, which honor the arrival
of spring and Eostra, the Teutonic goddess of spring. Pagan lore
recounts that a rabbit so wanted to please Eostra that it laid sacred
eggs in her honor. The rabbit then decorated the eggs and presented
them to Eostra. She was so pleased with the eggs that the rabbit was
sent across the land to distribute the eggs. Although vernal equinox
celebrations differ from coven to coven, many Pagans do paint the
eggs in symbolic colors. After coloring the eggs, they are then
thrown into a lake, river, or ocean. Matthew Paloucci, a practicing
Wiccan for nine years, said: “We throw the eggs into water because we
see it like the planting of a seed. It’s like a wish symbolizing our
re-connection with Earth as it springs back to life.” Some covens
celebrate by pounding the earth with tree branches. Laurie Cabot, who
will lead such an equinox ceremony, stated: “We wake up Mother Earth
because we know the sun is being born again and we want to help raise
the energy from the great mother.” Wiccans of the Apple Moon Coven in
Groton, Massachusetts will celebrate by painting raw eggs red, to
symbolize a mother’s blood, and plant flower seedlings in small pots
that they will take home.


Source: The Seattle Times

On March 18, 1999, The Seattle Times reported on the
celebration set for the Persian New Year, or No-Ruz, on Saturday,
March 20th in Seattle. The Zoroastrian calendar that the Persians use
is in conjunction with the Islamic calendar, so it is about to be the
year 1378. No-Ruz is celebrated by all Persians, regardless of
religion, and takes place every year on the vernal equinox. The main
celebration in Seattle will take place at Seattle University’s
Campion Tower Ballroom, with 600-700 people expected.

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.”