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.
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.
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.
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?
By Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) – Last week a video of Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan emerged in which he claimed that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to make matzo for Passover.
The translation of Hamdan’s interview with the Lebanese television station Al-Quds on July 28 reports him as saying:
We all remember how the Jews used to slaughter Christians, in order to mix their blood in their holy matzos. This is not a figment of imagination or something taken from a film. It is a fact, acknowledged by their own books and by historical evidence. It happened everywhere, here and there.
When confronted about his statements by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday, Hamdan did not retract his claim or distance himself from the blood libel slur. His only defense was that he “has Jewish friends.”
Whatever “historical evidence” or “facts” Hamdan believes himself to be remembering, this is nothing more than the infamous blood libel: the most persistent and longest-lived anti-Semitic myth in history, aside from the claim that the Jews killed Jesus.
The blood libel originated in medieval England with the death of William of Norwich. William was a 12-year-old tanner’s apprentice who was killed in 1144. At the time of his death, his parents accused the local Jewish community of responsibility, but investigations revealed nothing.
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.
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."
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.
Opinion by Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) – This past Sunday, six Israelis were arrested for the murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy. Israeli officials admitted the likelihood—already acknowledged by many—that this killing was carried out in revenge for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Both sides have stepped up their aggression in the past few days, with rocket launches from Gaza into Israel and Israeli airstrikes against Gaza.
It’s a familiar cycle: attack for attack, murder for murder. Such patterns are familiar from conflicts across the world, but they have a special resonance in the Holy Land.
After all, it was from Israel, nearly 3,000 years ago, that this famous concept spread.
The Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible says, “The penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
(CNN) - Being gay in Chile, Andres Rosenberg Benadretti once thought he could never get married. But his family's past may help him tie the knot some day.
Spain, where same-sex marriage is legal, has been considering a law that would make it easier for Jews of Spanish descent like Rosenberg Benadretti to get dual citizenship.
"This is something that can actually happen for me – it would be a dream come true just to have the option," said the 27-year-old. "Every human being should have the option to get married."
That isn’t the only reason Rosenberg Benadretti wants a Spanish passport, though. Mainly, he wants acknowledgement of his Spanish heritage, which goes back more than five centuries.
“My ancestors would be proud of me, and if one day I get to have children of my own, I’d love to pass on this beautiful cultural baggage,” he said in an e-mail.
Centuries after Spain formally and sometimes violently prevented Jews from practicing their religion, forcing them to convert or leave the country, the proposed law would open the country's doors to the dispersed descendants of Sephardic Jews.
On June 6, the country came one step closer to correcting what one Spanish official called a 500-year-old "error."
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.