September 4th, 2013
01:10 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - How did Syria go from an internal uprising to a wider clash drawing funding and fighters from across the region?
In a word, Middle East experts say, religion.
Shiite Muslims from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran have flooded into Syria to defend sacred sites and President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime. Sunni Muslims, some affiliated with al Qaeda, have rushed in to join rebels, most of whom are Sunni.
Both sides use religious rhetoric as a rallying cry, calling each other "infidels" and "Satan's army."
"That is why it has become so muddy," said professor Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "The theological question has returned to the center."
March 19th, 2012
10:31 AM ET
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
We now know the name of the man accused of leaving his combat unit in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province on March 11, walking into two Afghan villages and murdering 16 innocent people, including 9 children.
The narratives we are supposed to follow here are clear, and each absolves the rest of us of any sin. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was mentally unstable and went off the deep end. Or perhaps he was a cold-blooded killer all along. Either way, he deserves to be separated from the rest of us by life in prison, or worse.
But why is this 38-year-old husband and father of two sitting today in solitary confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas?
I do not know. I suspect, however, that the answer is more complicated than the simple stories we tell ourselves in these circumstances.
March 13th, 2012
02:25 PM ET
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN) - As politicians in Israel and the United States beat the drums for war on Iran, it is worth remembering that Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is on record against nuclear weapons.
In fact, according to a statement read on August 9, 2005, at a meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he issued a fatwa declaring that “the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons.”
August 30th, 2011
04:23 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi and Chris Lawrence, CNN
Fort Jackson, South Carolina (CNN) – The summer sun beats down on camouflaged Kevlar helmets. Weighed down by heavy body armor, men and women of the cloth are crawling through sand, under barbed wire and learning how to run with soldiers.
Explosions in woods simulate the battlefield as an instructor barks commands.
"You are not following simple instructions! Cover me while I move! Got you covered! Let's go!"
This is the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the Army trains clergy of all faiths how to survive in combat.
March 7th, 2011
01:36 PM ET
Editor's Note: CNN’s Soledad O’Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the Bible belt. “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door”, airs Sunday, March 27 at 8 p.m. E.T.
By Dave Schechter, CNN Senior National Editor
The inference in the rabbi’s question could not be missed.
“I know that, at the Olympics, when I see the American get a gold medal and they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ I cry,” the rabbi said. “So my question is, if an American Muslim sees somebody getting a gold medal for the United States and they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ do they cry?”
The rabbi was one of 200 or so people who came to an Atlanta temple for an event titled “Understanding the Quran,” sponsored by the Southeast Branch of the Anti-Defamation League and the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta. The question was directed to the guest speaker, an American Muslim professor who teaches about Islam at a highly regarded university near Boston.
Looking around the sanctuary, I saw more than one person among the 200 or so present had arched an eyebrow and displayed a look of amazement that such a question would be asked; some with the particular knowledge that American Jews have faced questions of whether their loyalty is divided between the United States and Israel.
The American Muslim answered politely, telling the rabbi that, yes, he roots for the American athletes to win at the Olympics. “I cry,” the visiting scholar assured him.
I recalled witnessing this exchange back when thinking about the upcoming hearings organized by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee on whether American Muslims pose a threat to the United States.
December 23rd, 2010
02:10 PM ET
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
A pastor sits on death row in Iran. His crime? Renouncing Islam for Christianity.
A Christian mother of two faces execution in Pakistan - and a preacher has put a price on her head in case the president pardons her. Her crime? Insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
In Iraq, dozens of Christians lie in fresh graves. Their fatal mistake? Going to church.
And these are not simply isolated incidents, but part of a broader pattern, experts say.
"There does appear to be an upsurge in violence directed against Christians," said Leonard Leo, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
November 12th, 2010
07:00 AM ET
Editor's Note: Albert W. Hickman is a research associate in global Christianity at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and was an associate editor for the Atlas of Global Christianity.
By Albert W. Hickman, Special to CNN
Violence against Iraq's Christians is up.
The most recent rash of attacks began on October 31, when gunmen stormed the Sayidat al-Nejat (Our Lady of Salvation) church in Baghdad; in the ensuing violence at least 50 died and 75 were wounded. This week brought more attacks, with three people wounded in western Baghdad when bombs exploded outside Christian homes.
The attacks have provoked demands (including some from Muslims) that the Iraqi government do more to protect Christians.
Recent days have also brought both threats of additional violence against Christians and at least one call (by a Syriac Orthodox archbishop) for Christians to leave Iraq altogether.
Yet the latest violence against Christians, for all its horror, is merely the most recent - not simply in the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, but in the almost two thousand years of Christian presence in Iraq.
November 11th, 2010
08:44 AM ET
Iraqi Christians under siege by Islamic militants are welcome in the country's north, a Kurdish leader said Thursday, after a string of attacks that have killed dozens of the faith.
"I want to let them know that the Kurdistan Region is open to them. If they want to come, we will protect them and provide them with all services," said Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government. "We are extremely sorry for the crimes they have been subjected to and we condemn these criminal acts, they are innocent people and a precious part of this nation."
In the past, the regional government has opened its doors to other persecuted minorities.
Many Christian families that CNN spoke to Wednesday said they feared for their own safety and wanted to leave Iraq, but didn't have the means to do so. Some Iraqi church leaders and politicians such as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have been discouraging Iraqi Christians, one of the oldest Christian civilizations in the world, from leaving.
November 3rd, 2010
10:34 AM ET
All Christians in the Middle East are now "legitimate targets," al Qaeda in Iraq announced Wednesday, as the group's deadline for Egypt's Coptic church to release alleged Muslim female prisoners expired.
An audio message released Monday gave the church 48 hours to disclose the status of Muslim women it said are imprisoned in Coptic churches in Egypt.
The message purportedly came from the Islamic State of Iraq, which claimed responsibility for an attack on a Baghdad church Sunday that killed 58 people and wounded 75. The umbrella group includes a number of Sunni extremist organizations and has ties to al Qaeda in Iraq.
October 31st, 2010
12:31 PM ET
Iraqi security forces stormed a Catholic church Sunday where gunmen were holding worshippers hostage, ending the hours-long standoff, police officials said Sunday.
At least seven hostages were killed in the incident. Another 20 people were wounded, the officials said. Eight suspects were arrested.
Survivors of the ordeal said they were just about to begin Sunday night services when the gunmen entered the church, according to Martin Chulov, a journalist for the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper who was on the scene. About 50 people were inside the church at the time, and a priest ushered them into a back room.
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