Matters of faith: Religion in the news

US Muslims sign code of honor; Tony Blair foundation encourages cooperation among faiths; Texas bill defends religious expression in schools.

US Muslims sign 'code of honor'

With violence intensifying the divisions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Muslim-Americans are working to head off conflict between the two sects in the United States. Last Thursday, some 30 leaders in the Detroit area, home to the country's largest Muslim community, signed an "Intra-Faith Code of Honor." The pact calls for emphasizing commonalities rather than differences and denounces the use of disparaging language and the labeling of others as nonbelievers. In regard to prayers, it urges congregations to follow the traditions of the majority in a particular mosque.

The code also calls for avoiding "imported literature that is divisive, inflammatory, and irrelevant to the future of Islam in America." Controversy has arisen in the past over liter­ature from Saudi Arabia that denigrates Shiites as well as Christians and Jews.

Initiated by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in Los Angeles, the code was first signed last month by leaders in southern California. Muslim leaders in Washington and elsewhere may follow suit.

In January, a dozen Shiite-affiliated mosques and businesses in Detroit were vandalized following Saddam Hussein's execution (during which the Sunni leader was humiliated). Afterward, MPAC and other groups began urging intrafaith communication to prevent spillover of Middle East tensions among Americans.

Fort Dix aftermath

In the wake of the reported terrorist plan to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey, the Islamic Society of North America and other Muslim groups have issued condemnations of such acts and called on American Muslims to report any suspected criminal activity.

Blair to tackle religious differences

British Prime Minister Tony Blair plans to turn his attention to the world of faith when he steps down in June. His new Blair Foundation will tackle issues related to African development and global warming, The Times of London says, but its main focus will be to encourage understanding and cooperation among the Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

A man of deep faith, Mr. Blair has been sensitive to religious issues in multicultural Britain and is said to have read the Koran before the events of Sept. 11. When he met with the pope last year, they discussed how dialogue between religious leaders could help in conflict resolution and in countering extremism.

During a trip to Indonesia in 2006, Blair spoke of the "tragedy" that "the children of Abraham ... have fought for so long." The interfaith endeavor will focus on seeking religious rather than political cooperation.

Texas bill backs faith in schools

The Texas state legislature is considering a bill that would require school districts to adopt a policy permitting students to share their religious perspectives in public forums, such as assemblies and football games, and to develop a neutral method for selecting students to speak at such events.

The bill's sponsors say it is intended to eliminate confusion in schools. Critics say it will create controversy and threaten students' religious freedom. Students are already permitted to have religious clubs and prayer groups and to share their religious perspectives in schoolwork. A 2000 Supreme Court decision said a district could not allow student-led prayer at a football game.

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