June 6th, 2014
08:28 AM ET
Does Islam really condemn converts to death?
Opinion by Abed Awad, special to CNN
(CNN) – Last month, a Sudanese court imposed a death sentence on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old pregnant mother, because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Ibrahim says she was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father abandoned them when she was 6 years old.
But this week, a man claiming to be Ibrahim’s brother said that she was raised a Muslim and that if she does not return to the faith, she should be killed.
Both the Sudanese court and the man who claims to be Ibrahim’s brother say the Islamic faith is clear: Apostasy, renouncing the religion, is a capital crime.
But is it really?
The idea of apostasy as a crime within Islam begins with the Quran and the Sunna, the faith’s foundational texts.
May 22nd, 2014
07:04 PM ET
Pope Francis in the Holy Land: 5 things to know
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - So, a rabbi, a sheikh and a pope travel to the Holy Land…
It might sound like the start of a trite joke, but it’s actually the entourage for one of the most highly anticipated papal trips in recent history.
As Pope Francis heads to Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem this weekend, he’s bringing along two old friends from Argentina: Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the Pope, and Sheikh Omar Abboud, who leads Argentina’s Muslim community.
The Vatican says it’s the first time that a pope’s official entourage has included interfaith leaders.
In a region roiled by competing religious and political visions, Francis’ chosen companions communicate an unmistakable message, church officials said.
“It’s highly symbolic, of course,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.
“But it also sends a pragmatic message to Muslims, Christians and Jews that it’s possible to work together - not as a system of checks and balances but as friends.”
The visit to the Holy Land is the first for Francis as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and just the fourth for any pontiff in the modern era.
With so much at stake - the stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the plight of Christian refugees - the Pope’s every word, gesture and photo-op will be microscopically examined.
Already, some conservative Israelis are advocating against the Pope’s visit, scrawling anti-Christian graffiti on Catholic buildings in Jerusalem and planning protests outside papal events in Jerusalem.
While the protesters form a fringe minority, they underscore the tensions that simmer around the Pope’s short but substantial trip.
With those challenges in mind, here are five key things to pay particular attention to.
May 20th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
U.S. to Sudan: release Christian woman
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - International pressure is mounting on Sudan to release a pregnant Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy, with members of the U.S. Congress asking Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene on her behalf.
On Wednesday, a bi-partisan group of four senators introduced a resolution condemning the sentencing of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim by a court in Khartoum on May 15.
The proposed resolution encourages Sudan to respect religious rights if it wants the United States to normalize relations or lift economic sanctions on the African nation.
“I am disgusted and appalled by the inhumane verdict Ms. Ibrahim has received, simply for refusing to recant her Christian faith," said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I also commend Ms. Ibrahim’s courage in refusing to renounce her Christianity, and I encourage her to remain steadfast. The world condemns her verdict and will stand by her in her moment of need," said Rubio.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma; Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware; and Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
The proposed Senate resolution adds more voices to the international outcry over the situation of Ibrahim, a Christian wife and mother who is pregnant with her second child while shackled in a Sudanese jail. Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen.
May 15th, 2014
10:56 AM ET
The worst places in the world to be religious
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has tracked the world's worst abusers of religious rights.
As the most recent report notes, it has never lacked for material. Persecutions of people of faith are rising across the globe.
Among the most worrying trends, according to the State Department, are "authoritarian governments that restrict their citizens’ ability to practice their religion."
In typically bland bureaucratic language, the State Department calls these "countries of particular concern." But the designation can come with some teeth.
Sudan, for example, where a Christian woman was sentenced to death this week for leaving Islam, is ineligible for some types of foreign aid.
In addition to Sudan, here are the State Department's "countries of particular concern." You might call them "The Worst Places in the World to Be Religious."
May 15th, 2014
08:18 AM ET
9/11 Museum film stirs controversy
New York (CNN) - Thursday's opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York was 13 years in the making.
Museum officials consulted hundreds of people - survivors, relatives of the victims, rescue workers, community leaders and others - as they determined what should be included in the exhibits occupying the halls beneath the footprints of the Twin Towers.
While that effort has been applauded by many for being a fitting, emotional telling of one of the darkest days in U.S. history, it is not without its controversies. Among them is a seven-minute film entitled "The Rise of Al Qaeda."
The documentary tells the story of the growth of a worldwide terrorist organization. The film, which features video of al Qaeda training camps and previous attacks, plays next to a room where photos of the 9/11 attackers are on display.
The inclusion of that story is not the problem. But the use of words like "jihad" and "Islamist" in the narration prompted some Muslim Americans and others to call for edits.FULL STORY
May 6th, 2014
10:50 AM ET
Hey Boko Haram, pick up a Quran and bring back our girls
Opinion by Arsalan Iftikhar, special to CNN
(CNN) - Hey Boko Haram, have you read the Quran lately?
Most of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world have, and we're utterly certain that it condemns kidnapping young girls and selling them into slavery - no matter what you say "Allah" tells you.
According to Amnesty International, several hundred schoolgirls - both Christian and Muslim - between the ages of 16 and 18 were abducted at gunpoint on April 14 from their rooms at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, where they had been sleeping.
The armed extremist group Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western Education is Sin,” claimed responsibility for these mass kidnappings and threatened to sell these young girls for as little as $12 into sex slavery or forced “marriages” to members of their group.
"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video first obtained by Agence France-Presse.
April 16th, 2014
02:54 PM ET
Heathenism's battle with white supremacists
Opinion by Joshua Rood, special to CNN
(CNN) - The word “heathen” is a very old one that once meant “heath dweller” or a person who lives out in the wild.
Eventually, when Christianity came into Northern Europe, it came to mean “one who still worships the old gods.” It still means that in some parts of the world, like Iceland, where it also goes by the name Ásatrú (“belief in the Aesir”).
Aesir is just a very old word for the traditional gods of Scandinavia. You’ve probably heard of some of these gods: Odin, Thor, Freyr and Freyja.
What you might not know is that many traditions, stories and celebrations have never gone away.
These can be as simple as the Scandinavian belief in vaettir (nature spirits) or as complex as the poems and songs about the Aesi that were written and are still sung and performed in Iceland.
Most of the stories were preserved in Icelandic poems and sagas, written in the 13th and 14th centuries. Others have been preserved in regional folk stories and folk customs.
Today, Ásatrú, which can go by many names, is the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland and is officially recognized in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Thanks to multiculturalism, it exists in many countries around the world, including the United States, Canada and most European countries.
There are many organizations, private groups and individuals who adhere to Ásatrú. Although terminology, festivals and customs can vary depending on local lore and tradition, at its heart, Ásatrú is a celebration of the gods, stories and customs that have been passed down from Northern Europe into the modern world.
Unfortunately, there are people in this world who try to use these beautiful stories and traditions for selfish and hateful reasons.
April 14th, 2014
06:06 PM ET
The accused Kansas killer's neo-pagan religion
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor [twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']
(CNN) - Frazier Glenn Cross is a white supremacist, an avowed anti-Semite and an accused killer. But he is not, as many think, a Christian.
Cross, who also goes by the name Glenn Miller, is accused of killing three people - all Christians - on Sunday at Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kansas.
Authorities are weighing whether to file hate-crime charges against Cross, who is suspected of targeting Jews.
The 73-year-old has espoused anti-Semitism for decades. He also founded racist groups like a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Both groups have deep ties to Christian white supremacists.
But according to Cross' 1999 biography, he is an adherent of Odinism, a neo-pagan religion that experts say has emerged as one the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.
"The faith’s obsession with genetic purity, racial supremacy and conquering supposedly lesser peoples is a recipe for violence," said Josh Glasstetter, campaign director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
March 1st, 2014
06:00 AM ET
Stepping-stones to safety: A family flees Syria's war - and finds refuge in Italy's islands
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Lampedusa, Italy (CNN) – Abdel clung to his pregnant wife, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter as they sailed across an open stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.
They were in a dilapidated fishing boat with limited provisions and almost no sanitation, sharing a cramped space with some 400 other Syrians.
Abdel prayed quietly and recited verses from the Quran for two days and two nights as the boat swayed and motored precariously along the 180-mile route from Libya to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.
If they could make it, his young family would be one step closer to freedom.
He knew thousands had died making the same voyage.
February 6th, 2014
10:56 AM ET
Obama: religious freedom 'under threat'
Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama says that "around the world, freedom of religion is under threat."
And at the annual National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, the President also said he's looking forward to meeting Pope Francis.
"I'm especially looking forward to returning to the Vatican next month to meet his holiness, Pope Francis, whose message about caring for the least of these I hope all of us heed. Like (the Apostle) Matthew he has answered the call of Jesus, who said 'follow me' and he inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility and his mercy and his missionary impulses to serve the cause of social justice," Obama said.
The President touted the Pope's stance on inequality as he and congressional Democrats highlight the issue of income inequality. Obama met Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2009. That meeting, which took place at the Vatican, was Obama's only meeting with a Pope.
Much of Obama's remarks focused on threats to religious freedom abroad, from China to Egypt to Sudan and Burma.FULL STORY
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.