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September 5th, 2014
09:00 PM ET

Islam's theology of life and ISIS' cult of death

Opinion by Salam al-Marayati, special to CNN

(CNN) – This week, Barak Barfi, the spokesman for slain American journalist Steven Sotloff’s family, joined many Muslims in exposing the hypocrisy and hollowness of groups like ISIS.

He challenged ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to a debate that pits Islam’s theology of life against ISIS’ cult of death.

In doing so, Barfi cited verses in the Quran that shun murder even a 6-year-old could understand: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you and do not transgress, God loves not the aggressors" (2:190).

This verse is about self-defense. It allows one to protect civilians by fighting combatants who attack first. It forbids aggression, which is a grave sin in Islam.

By citing this verse, Barfi challenged all extremists to a debate that would expose their bankrupt cult of death for the forgery it is.

Barfi also talked about mercy in Islam. Mercy is an essential attribute for Muslims. God delivered Prophet Mohammed to humanity to make us more merciful to one another.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Occupy Wall Street • Religious violence

September 4th, 2014
04:49 PM ET

ISIS vs. mainstream Muslims: The media war

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) – The challenge was directed at the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But the impassioned message, laced with Islamic phrases, sought a much wider audience.

The statement came from Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the family of slain American journalist Steve Sotloff. Sotloff, who reported for Time and other publications, was beheaded in a video ISIS released on Tuesday.

Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, where he specializes in Arab and Islamic affairs. On behalf of Steven Sotloff's family, he had tried to secure the journalist's release.

On Wednesday, Barfi stood outside the Sotloff family's Miami home, with dozens of microphones and cameras thrust before him, and stepped into a fierce war of words between ISIS and the rest of the Muslim world.

"I am ready to debate you with calm preachings," Barfi told al-Baghdadi, directly addressing him in Arabic. "I have no sword in my hand and I am ready for your answer.”

Speaking briefly to CNN on Thursday, Barfi said he doesn't expect the reclusive ISIS leader to accept the invitation. But his challenge had other aims, the young scholar said.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Faith • Foreign policy • Internet • Iraq • Islam • Islamic law • Middle East • Muslim • Quran • Religious violence • Sharia • Violence

August 20th, 2014
08:31 PM ET

James Foley’s prayers and the dark side of faith

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog editor

(CNN) – We don’t know if James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by Islamic extremists, prayed in the hours and days before his death. We probably never will.

But Foley said faith sustained him during another ordeal in 2011, when he was held captive for 44 days by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

In a gut-wrenching article he wrote for Marquette University’s alumni magazine, Foley said he prayed while imprisoned that his family, many miles away, would somehow know that he was safe.

“Haven’t you felt my prayers?” Foley asked his mother, Diane, when he was finally allowed to call home.

Diane Foley told her son that his friends and family had been praying, too, holding vigils filled with former professors, priests and Marquette students. She echoed his question back: Have you felt ours?

He had, the journalist said. “Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat,” Foley wrote.

The 40-year-old Catholic, who reported for the GlobalPost among other publications, was abducted again in 2012, captured this time by the extremist group ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.

On Tuesday, ISIS released a video showing a Muslim militant clad in black beheading Foley, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling in the sand.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Muslim • Religious violence

August 8th, 2014
05:36 PM ET

Who are the Yazidis, and why does ISIS want to kill them?

By Joshua Berlinger, CNN

(CNN) – In a church in Irbil, 40-day-old Yeshua lies asleep in a crib, his sister playfully rocking him. It's a peaceful scene. Their mother watches over them, but her face shows the fear and despair many Iraqi minorities have felt over the past few days.

The Sunni militant group ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, has steamrolled into Iraq's north, forcing hundreds of thousands of minorities from their homes. The militants have beheaded some who won't bend to their will and are "putting people's heads on spikes" to terrorize others, a senior U.S. administration official said.

Nearly 40,000 Yazidis are trapped on the top of Mount Sinjar with few resources; many with just the clothes on their back, U.S. President Barack Obama said in an address late Thursday evening.

"These innocent families are faced with a horrible choice," Obama said. "Descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger."

So who are these people being threatened by the Islamic State? And why do the militant Islamists have them in their cross hairs?

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Persecution • Religious violence

August 5th, 2014
12:13 PM ET

Learning to love the 'enemy' in Iraq

Opinion by Jeremy Courtney, special to CNN

(CNN) –We had no idea what we were doing, so we helped everyone.

My wife and I moved to Iraq in 2007 to assist in relief and development. We have since made friends on all sides, deep behind “enemy lines.”

Since the fall of Mosul to Sunni militants in June, the world has struggled to accept the failure of the American project in Iraq, the rise of “political Islam” and the marking of Iraqi Christians and other minorities for death or expropriation.

The world may watch from afar and denounce all Iraqi Muslims as militants bent on conquest. But up close, the reality is very different.

It was a Muslim cleric who may have saved this Christian's life. And I'm not the only one.

Even as jihadists justify their atrocities in the name of Islam, millions of Muslims are standing in solidarity with Christians who have been expelled from their homes.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Foreign policy • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Missionaries • Opinion

August 4th, 2014
12:06 PM ET

What's religion's role in the Mideast crisis?

CNN's Poppy Harlow interviews religious leaders from Christianity, Islam and Judaism about the role of religion in the Mideast conflict.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Foreign policy • Islam • Israel • Jerusalem • Judaism • Middle East • Muslim

President Obama's Ramadan slap at Muslims
President Barack Obama speaks as he hosts an Iftar dinner in the at the White House on July 14, 2014.
July 28th, 2014
09:38 AM ET

President Obama's Ramadan slap at Muslims

Opinion by Salam Al-Marayati, special to CNN

(CNN) – Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all met with American Muslims, as they did with most other religious groups.

President Barack Obama, under advice from his aides that association with Muslims is politically damaging, has yet to invite American Muslim organizations and leaders into the Oval Office for substantive discussions on domestic and international policies.

Yes, Muslims from all over the country accepted a White House invitation to attend the Iftar dinner earlier this month with the President to break our fast, to break bread, and to build bridges of understanding.

In Ramadan, a month for spiritual replenishment in the Islamic calendar, an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims around the world perform an obligatory fast from predawn to sunset for the purpose of purifying one’s soul through prayer and self-sacrifice.

But instead of feeling spiritually uplifted and civically engaged by attending an Islamic celebration in the White House, the Muslim guests were shocked and dismayed when they heard the President say, “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

For Muslims, that talking point is code for whitewashing decades of atrocities committed against the people of Gaza: the kids killed on the Gaza Beach, the civilians bombed in the most densely populated cage in the world, and the attacking of civilians who resort to donkey carts for transportation.

Obama began his presidency conveying aspirations of bridging the divide between the United States and the Muslim world. He needs American Muslims to be a part of that mission. Instead he has continued the unfortunate legacy of excluding of anyone who supports Palestine.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Foreign policy • Islam • Israel • Middle East • Muslim • Opinion • Politics • Prejudice

Jonah's tomb destroyed by ISIS
July 25th, 2014
10:39 AM ET

Does Jonah's tomb signal the death of Christianity in Iraq?

Opinion by Joel S. Baden and Candida Moss, Special to CNN

(CNN) – The destructive force of  the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militant Sunni movement, is epitomized in a video released Thursday of ISIS members smashing a tomb in Mosul, Iraq.

The tomb is traditionally thought to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah, a holy site for Christians and many Muslims.

Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, is built on and adjacent to the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, the setting for the biblical book of Jonah and once the most powerful capital of the ancient world.

Indeed, for most people familiar with the Bible, Nineveh is inseparable from the figure of Jonah.

In Christian tradition, the story of Jonah is an important one. Jonah’s descent into the depths in the belly of the great fish and subsequent triumphant prophetic mission to Nineveh is seen as a reference to and prototype of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The destruction of his tomb in Mosul is therefore a direct assault on Christian faith, and on one of the few physical traces of that faith remaining in Iraq.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Houses of worship • Iraq • Islam • Islamic law • Judaism • Middle East • Opinion • Religious violence • Sacred Spaces

She faced death in Sudan for her Christian faith. Now she's free.
Meriam Ibrahim disembarks with her children at an airport outside Rome.
July 24th, 2014
10:39 AM ET

She faced death in Sudan for her Christian faith. Now she's free.

Rome (CNN) - Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan because of her faith, arrived in Rome on Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

Ibrahim "will remain in Italy for a short time and then will travel on to the United States," the ministry said.

Sudanese authorities had said Ibrahim was guilty of rejecting Islam in favor of Christianity, but her conviction for "apostasy" and adultery was overturned last month on appeal, following weeks of international controversy.

After her release, she and her husband, American Daniel Wani, were detained for two days, accused of falsifying travel documents after going to the airport in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. They were trying to fly to the United States with their baby daughter, who was born while Ibrahim was in prison, and toddler son.

Now their dream of starting a new life in the United States appears to be on the verge of becoming reality.

Not only that, but Ibrahim and her family met with Pope Francis at his private residence in Domus Santa Marta in Vatican City.

During the meeting Thursday, which lasted about half an hour, Ibrahim thanked the Pope for his and the Roman Catholic Church's support and prayers, the Vatican said.

He, in turn, thanked Ibrahim and her family for their "courageous witness and constancy of faith."

Francis also played with the children, 18-month-old Martin and 2-month-old Maya, and greeted the Italian diplomats involved in her journey to Italy.

With this gesture, the Vatican said, the Pope "desired to show his closeness, attention and prayer also to all those who suffer for their faith, in particular to Christians who are enduring persecution or limitations imposed upon their religious freedom."

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Catholic Church • Christianity • Foreign policy • Interfaith issues • Islam • Islamic law • Pope Francis • Prejudice • Religious liberty • Religious violence • Sharia

July 21st, 2014
08:14 AM ET

ISIS to Christians in Mosul: convert, pay or die

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) - Just days after the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said they killed hundreds of Syrians, dozens of Iraqi Christian families are now fleeing the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, hoping to avoid a similar fate.

On Friday, the al Qaeda splinter group issued an ultimatum to Iraqi Christians living in Mosul - by Saturday they must convert to Islam, pay a fine or face "death by the sword."

A total of 52 Christian families left the city of Mosul early Saturday morning, with an armed group prohibiting some of them from taking anything but the clothes on their backs.

"They told us, 'You to leave all of your money, gold, jewelry and go out with only the clothes on you,'" Wadie Salim told CNN.

Images obtained exclusively by CNN show that the phrase "property of ISIS" scrawled in black paint on a number of the homes that were abandoned.

Some of the families headed for Irbil - which is currently controlled by Kurdish forces - and others toward the Dohuk province. The majority went to Dohuk, which is 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Mosul.

"We did not know how to act," said another Mosul resident, Um Nazik. "Are we going to get killed?"

ISIS was able to take over large swaths of land due to the lack of centralized authority in both Iraq and war-torn Syria. The Sunni militants hope to establish an Islamic state throughout the region it currently controls.

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Interfaith issues • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Persecution • Religious violence

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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.

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