Multi-Faith Coalition Defends Rights of Atheist

Yesterday I received a press release that I thought I should share. An interesting case of a multi-faith coalition coming together to defend the rights of an atheist.

From Muslim Advocates:

Muslim Advocates, joined by 15 other faith-based organizations from diverse religious backgrounds, filed a brief on Monday, in support of an atheist who was required to live in a Christian halfway house as a condition of his parole. After he refused to attend religious services, he was kicked out of the halfway house and arrested for violating his parole—leading him to file a lawsuit, Janny v. Gamez. Unfortunately, a district court ruled against him, claiming no violations of his religious rights occurred because he was merely required to attend the services, not participate in them. The plaintiff is represented on appeal by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU of Colorado, and the law firm DLA Piper.

Muslim Advocates’ brief argues that the district court’s ruling misapplied religious freedom law. By claiming that merely attending a religious service was not a religious event, the court ignored the fact that attending religious services is a deeply meaningful religious act for a number of different faith traditions. Further, the Constitution and U.S. law protect not only against forced participation in religious exercise, but also against being forced to listen to religious proselytization. The brief also emphasizes that the district court’s misapplication of the law would be especially harmful to religious minorities, because they are more likely to end up at a halfway house that does not share their faith.

“Parole officers cannot force anyone to attend religious services in order to stay out of prison,” says Matthew Callahan, staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. “The laws of the United States require that the government respect an individual’s personal religious beliefs. The Tenth Circuit must act to overturn the district court’s dangerous interpretation of the law and ensure that no one else is sent behind bars merely for following the dictates of their faith.”

Along with Muslim Advocates, the brief was signed by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Disciples of Christ, the Global Justice Institute, the Hindu American Foundation, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Men of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Churches, Reconstructing Judaism, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Sikh American Legal Defense Fund, Union of Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, Women of Reform Judaism, and Wyoming Interfaith Network.

You can read the filing here. It’s a worthwhile read.

About Muslim Advocates:
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.

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Come…Sit in My Heart

As you know, I don’t really do poetry on my site. I tend to be finicky about what I end up liking and honestly, I don’t want to get flooded with requests from every poet drifting around out there. However, I received an email offering me a chance to review a book of poems by Hosain Mosavat called “Come…Sit in My Heart: A Sufi Speaks His Silence” and I said, “Yes.”

His biography is what compelled me to give it a try. “Born in Shiraz, Iran, 1934, where Saadi and Hafez grew up to be giants of Persian poetry. Raised in Tehran. Survived the first revolution in 1953 against the Shah. Within three days a coup d’etat happened, financed by the CIA, which I didn’t survive, because of losing fifteen friends. Also lost faith in my country. Then in 1955, with the help of my father, came to America, in which I have lived, worked and served to bring peace and harmony, trying to heal the pain and losses of my friends and my country. This book is about how far I have come from revolution to making love as a way of life. I have no regrets, only great hope for our family of mankind. No one is too small to rise and touch another soul. In the name of love and compassion, I stand before you.” Who says no to that? Certainly not me!

If you dare venture inside “Come…Sit in My Heart” you’ll be treated to some earnest reflections on love and spirituality.

A creek
gently flowing among the pebbles
in the stream
whispering freshness
flowing through and around
whatever touches it

That’s the teacher I’m looking for

You can learn more here.

Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 5: Saudi Arabia Again

It’s been years, YEARS, since I checked in with my assorted Vice Squads to see what kind of wacky adventures they’ve been having. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, let me take a moment to break it down for you. Back in November 2007 news sources began releasing a list of moral vices that had been debuted in Iran. The list was part of a “moral crackdown” in the country that essentially was based on the premise that the police were now empowered, I guess more so than in the past, to cruise around Iran looking to bust anyone being loose with their morals. That bit of news spawned my first Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad post. Since then I’ve had a bit of a love affair with assorted Middle Eastern vice squads. What can I say, I’m a lady that loves her vices. And when the vices in question are rap music, women who use “witchcraft” to make men impotent, and questionable hair cuts, it’s pretty easy to meet with the Vice Squad’s discriminating standards. It turns out that while I was away, a few noteworthy Vice Squad events have taken place.

Picking on “emo” kids.

Picking on “emo” kids is really nothing new, regardless of how much I dislike that trend (I dislike the picking on. I’m a child of the 80’s, boys with eyeliner and skinny jeans are cool.). However, a Saudi Arabian coffee shop owner calling in the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice because some women were in his shop exposing their skinny jeans and colorful t-shirts? Well, that’s a whole new level of harassment. Suddenly name calling, while offensive, looks better. Although before we all congratulate ourselves for merely having schools where kids call each other names based on how they’re dressed, and fill our hearts with righteous indignation over the situation for female “emos” in Saudi Arabia, I feel obligated to share with you an alarming news story from 2008 out of Mexico. Teens beaten to a bloody pulp over eye liner? That’s an extra heaping helping of not cool.

Man bites dog.

In actuality, there was no man, or dog. Just a woman in her 20’s sending a member of the Saudi Arabian Vice Squad to the hospital after kicking his ass. Now, as a fan of action movies, I’ll admit it, I’m kind of a fan of violence. Not for real life, but there is nothing wrong spending an evening watching Christian Bale get his gun kata on. I will readily admit though, that when I read the tale of a 20-something couple being approached by the Vice Squad at an amusement park to confirm their identities and relationship, I couldn’t help but smile when I read ” the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.”

What will be next for the assorted Vice Squads? Who can truly say? Personally, I’d be happy if a day comes when an article about these guys wasn’t a current events article, but was instead discussing ancient history.

A Sufi Rapper?

France has ghettos, there are projects in France. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that, as if you didn’t know. Here’s the thing, until the riots in Paris a few years back, I was totally unaware of this fact. Press reports would say the people involved were from the “deprived Paris suburbs”, but it’s true, that in that moment I realized that Paris is a large city and like most large cities, there is probably some equivalent of what Americans call the “projects”. It was also during this time that I learned that France has a vibrant rap scene. Oddly, the concept of French rap was less shocking than coming to grips with the idea that Paris had “deprived suburbs”. Want to learn more?

Then I would highly recommend the book “Sufi Rapper” by Abd Al Malik. This book is a great read. It follows the spiritual journey of the author from his beginnings as an aspiring criminal in Neuhof, described as a “difficult” quarter, into becoming a leader in the French hip hop community, and through his discovery and evolution within the Muslim faith. “Sufi Rapper” gives the reader a look at the life of a street hustler and a musician, a history of rap music from the French perspective, and an introduction to many Islamic paths. It’s like he wrote the book for me!

Abd Al Malik’s writing has a lyrical, enchanting quality to it. It shouldn’t be so surprising, coming from a lyricist. Seriously though….

“Despite everything, I cannot help but feel affection toward this father-child. No doubt he also served me as an anti-role model, with his fickleness and libertine habits, whose consequences we suffered. But I have never been able to nurture the slightest feelings of bitterness toward him.”

….if I could write like that I wouldn’t be here blogging to you people, I’d be published and an Oprah pick!

As much as I enjoyed the glimpse into the art of crime and learning about the French hip hop scene, the most fascinating part of “Sufi Rapper” is Abd Al Malik’s evolution into, for lack of a better descriptor, a Sufi rapper. Any person who has been on a spiritual journey, or struggled with finding a place in their faith, will see themselves reflected in this story. Or, if you’re like me, and just nosey about how people practice their faith, you’ll like it too!

Crime, music, religion….I love this book!

Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 4: The Hair Police Edition

Many Magical Buffet readers are aware that I’m a huge fan of the Iranian Vice Squad. I must be, I talk about them here and here and even touch on it here. I just thought I’d let you all know, those zany rascals are at it again.

The Daily Mail is reporting that at the beginning of this month Iranian police arrested 49 people for having “satanic Western style clothing and haircuts”. Additionally, they’re saying that five barber shops were shut down and 20 more warned for “promoting Western hairstyles”.

This is part of a campaign launched back in 2007 to help protect the moral values of Iranians. The Daily Mail’s article notes “Some analysts say the authorities fear such open acts of defiance against the Islamic Republic’s values could escalate if they go unchecked.” And they’re right. People want the freedom to express themselves whether it’s by strictly adhering to the laws regarding dress of their faith, or by getting one of those bizarre, vaguely androgynous, emo haircuts where your bangs cover one of your eyes that really shouldn’t be worn unless your name is John Connor and it’s the early 90s. Perhaps they’re onto something, you let some snot nose punk run around with that haircut and the next thing you know the earth is being destroyed by Skynet.

What’s next? No one knows for sure, but I for one truly think that rap music and a good pair of jeans can fuel a revolution.

An Israeli President and Saudi Arabian King Eat Dinner

This past week saw a two day meeting at the United Nations promoting dialogue on religion and culture. This interfaith event was attended by seventeen heads of state and government, including Israel, the US, Britain, and several Arab countries. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia organized the conference. The big news was that Israeli President Peres Shimon and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia managed to eat dinner together in the same room.

Not the same table mind you, the same room. And hey, that IS big news. If you want the in depth reasons as to why, I happily direct you to “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict” by Mitchell Bard, Ph.D.. Hopefully you’ll have better luck wrapping your brain around it than I did. However, to sum up, in case you didn’t know, traditionally Arabs and Jews don’t get along.

There was criticism as to how legitimate this conference could be when it was put together by Abdullah, Saudi Arabia not being known for its tolerance of other faiths. Many organizations who I deeply respect spoke out about this, such as Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. That’s why it pains me to say this….shut up. I’ve spoken out against Saudi Arabia for its lack of what we here in America call First Amendment rights, but you know what? Israeli President Shimon and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ate in the same room. Anyone who really thinks that human rights will be protected by these guys NOT interacting raise your hand. If you’re hand is up, than to you I also say, shut up. If not for this event, I never would have had the joyful opportunity to read this:

When Mr. Peres took to the floor, he broke off from his prepared speech to address King Abdullah directly.

“Your Majesty, the king of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I was listening to your message. I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people. It’s right. It’s needed. It’s promising.

“The initiative’s portrayal of our region’s future provides hope to the people and inspires confidence in the nations.”

Did you see that? They listened to each other. No, there won’t suddenly be peace and all the religious freedom a gal could want in the middle east, but moments like this remind us all, that all governments, religious movements, and organizations are at their heart comprised of individuals. And that lurking inside every individual is the capacity for love, forgiveness, and respect. Except for me, I’m a bitch.

But to prove that even I am capable of forgiveness and respect, I present to you our President.

“Today, the United States is carrying on that noble tradition by making religious liberty a central element of our foreign policy. We’ve established a Commission on the International Religious Freedom to monitor the state of religious liberty worldwide. We strongly encourage nations to understand that religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society. We’re not afraid to stand with religious dissidents and believers who practice their faith, even where it is unwelcome.”

Amen George, Amen.

Malaysia is Back Baby!

Yep, I’m sidelining the “me agreeing with Billy Graham” blog again!  That’s because there is some tentatively exciting news out of Malaysia!  Yes, it’s back to Malaysia!  Those of you who haven’t been reading my blog for very long may not realize that almost a year ago I wrote a lengthy blog, called “The Malaysian Conundrum”, which detailed how Lina Joy, a Malay Muslim wasn’t allowed to officially convert from Islam to Christianity.  Take a minute to read it and refresh yourself on the topic.  I’ll wait.
Back?  Good!  Hold onto your hats folks because on May 8, 2008 a Malaysian religious court granted a woman’s wish to formally renounce Islam!  So, how did Siti Fatimah get so lucky?  It might have helped that she wasn’t originally a Muslim.  She converted to Islam so she could marry her Muslim boyfriend, because in Malaysia non-Muslims must convert to Islam before they are allowed to legally marry a Muslim.  Their marriage ended in 2006, and she requested to have her conversion annulled saying that she had only converted for marriage and had never been an actual practicing Muslim.
And it worked!  “It’s a landmark case”, the attorney who represented Fatimah is quoted telling Reuters.UK.  Unfortunately, Reuters explains that Islamic affairs are governed at state level, so the ruling does not necessarily set a precedent for sharia courts in Malaysia’s other states.  The Penang religious council has already signaled that it is likely to appeal the ruling.
That’s why I had to write about this so quickly…the victory may be short lived.

Which Religion has the Best Cell Phone?

In the land of “bling” (as the kids say), you see all kinds of stuff getting the “bling” treatment.  Diamond encrusted jewelry, tricked out cars, and super snazzy cell phones are all items to denote wealth and status.  Which is why I was intrigued to see’s headline, “Which religion has the best cell phone?”  The column by Mike Elgan is an entertaining look at the ins and outs of cell phones for the faithful.
Like Elgan, I was shocked to learn that there may be no Christian cell phones.  There are accessories galore for the cell phone savvy Christian to get their phone on, but no 100 percent Christian phones.  He was also unable to find Hindu or Sikh cell phones, which is a bummer because I might give up my crappy pay as you go phone if I could get a cool looking cell with Kali on it.
So who were the big three?  Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.
In third place was the Jewish cell phone.  This essentially is a phone about denial to help Orthodox Jews be good boys and girls.  In second was the Muslim cell phone.  This is genius because if you’re Muslim stuck in a foreign city, how do you know exactly when to pray and which direction Mecca is in?  Well, with the phones listed in the article they will remind you to pray, help you locate a mosque, and will point you towards Mecca!  I have to admit, despite not being Muslim I wouldn’t mind having a phone that would point towards Mecca…that’s just cool!  With the way things are going these days, I’m guessing it would come with a government listening device already installed for everyone’s convenience!
Finally, Elgan gave first place to the Buddhist cell phone.  I’m not sure what Buddha would think of it, but if this gold-plated, jade accented bad boy was available in the U.S. you would see it in every hip hop video on MTV.  To get a good look at this Nokia, check out this article.

Malaysia: The Saga Continues

Yes, it’s back to Malaysia.  Those of you loyal readers know that in June of last year I visited the quagmire that is the Malaysian Constitution.  Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the kids there still aren’t playing nice with each other.
This time it’s all about Mazu, the Taoist goddess of the sea.  More precisely, it’s about the construction of the world’s tallest statue of the goddess that is causing trouble.  The selected site for the statue is the coastal town of Kudat in Sabah state on the northern tip of Borneo Island.  Seems appropriate, right?  Guess again!  According to, “After the state government halted construction Sabah’s mufti issued a fatwa saying the statue was ‘offensive to Islam’ because it was too close to a mosque.”  The Associated Press (via International Herald Tribune) points out that the statue is being constructed on private property.
Obviously this is annoying, but why is this issue getting so much attention?  As the Tribune points out “Malaysia has prided itself on decades of multiracial harmony”.  Those of you who read my last Malaysia blog know that this is simply not the case, and hasn’t ever been, thanks to the conflicting messages of their Constitution. says, “Malaysian commentators and minority leaders have sounded the alarm over the growing ‘Islamisation’ of the country.”  Seems to me, they have reason for concern.

Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad!

On November 13, 2007 news sources began releasing the list of moral vices that had been debuted in Iran.  I tried to dig up what would be a 100% full and accurate list of these vices, but unfortunately I can’t read Persian!  Here’s the jist of what we’re looking at:

Terrorising people by quarrelling and feuding in public

Women failing to cover up in a suitable way, such as wearing short trousers revealing the leg, hats intead of scarves, small and skinny scarves that do not cover up the head, and make-up that is unconventional and violates public morality

Wearing decadent Western clothes and displaying signs and insignia of deviant groups

Procuring decadent films

Procuring alcohol and drugs

(List from BBC News, who cites E’temad Newspaper as their source.  The BBC has people that speak Persian!)

So what does this list mean you ask?  According to Arabian Business the list is part of an ongoing "moral crackdown".  The article states that "police have raided underground parties, seized satelite dishes and conducted street checks on the improperly dressed."  And that "Between April and October police warned 122,000 people, mostly women, about flouting dress codes, of which almost 7,000 attended classes on respecting the rules."

Iran has Islam as its state religion.  This post isn’t anti Islam, it’s against the idea of state or national religions entirely.  Religion and government have no reason to be mingling.  Why not?  Well, in America I can spend all weekend on the couch watching "Mythbusters" and no one comes into my home to bust me for Sloth.