Matters of faith

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God's voice sounds familiar ...

Before it became the written Word, the "greatest story ever told" was passed on passionately by word of mouth. Now you can hear it, too – from some 200 actors, clergy, and musicians.

A dramatized audio performance of the New Testament has just been released – "The Bible Experience" – which draws on dozens of renowned African- American voices. The complete Bible, including the Old Testament, will be available by next fall. Both are based on Today's New International Version of the Good Book, first released in contemporary language in 2002 by Bible publisher Zondervan.

Such celebrities as Denzel Washington, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Angela Bassett, Eartha Kitt, Ruby Dee, and Forest Whitaker are in the production. Blair Underwood plays Jesus, LeVar Burton is John, and Samuel L. Jackson stands in as God. Cuba Gooding Jr. is cast as Judas Iscariot.

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Other plum roles include Abraham and the Holy Spirit (Bishop Jakes), Moses (Mr. Whitaker), Solomon (Mr. Washington), Simon Peter (Kirk Franklin), and the Angel of the Lord (Ms. Bassett).

Designed particularly to reach younger generations and urban youths, the project includes an original musical score and is the work of Emmy and Grammy award-winning producers in the Inspired By Media Group. Zondervan has released it in both traditional CD and MP3 formats. Cost: $49.99 for the New Testament on traditional CD.

Civic-Minded Muslims

The first scientific snapshot of American Muslim voters depicts a well- educated, family oriented group that is younger than the general population and favors active engagement in US society.

A survey released last week shows 62 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher (compared with 30 percent for the US in general), including 48 percent of Muslim women. Some 78 percent are married, and 43 percent have a household income of $50,000 or more.

In political orientation, 42 percent call themselves Democrats, 17 percent say they are Republican, and 28 percent do not belong to a party. Almost 90 percent vote regularly.

On the issues, they rank education as most important (25 percent), followed by civil liberties (24 percent) – a prime concern since 9/11. Next come the conflicts in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon (20 percent) and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (18 percent).

When asked about religious affiliation, 40 percent respond "just a Muslim." Another 36 percent say they are Sunni, 12 percent identify as Shiite, and 2 percent say Sufi (a mystical tradition).

As for religious practice, 31 percent attend mosque weekly, while 27 percent say they seldom or never attend. A majority (54 percent) say they are not very involved or not at all involved in mosque activity aside from attendance at formal prayers.

A large majority (84 percent) believe Muslims should emphasize shared values with Christians and Jews, and 77 percent say they worship the same God. Yet 55 percent are afraid the war on terror has become a war on Islam.

Sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the poll involved phone interviews with a random sample of 1,000 people culled from a database of 400,000 registered Muslim voters.

Spirituality online

In partnership with AOL, California-based MyPathTV has launched an Internet video channel for the "spiritual seeker." For a fee, the channel will offer commercial-free, 24-hour access to "mind, body, and spirit video programming" from such wellness gurus as Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Joseph Campbell, Ram Dass, and Larry Dossey. New programming in full-screen format will be added monthly on www.mypathtv.com.

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