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RNS
by Adelle M. Banks
Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of the humanistic stream of
Judaism, died Saturday (July 21) in an automobile accident.
Wine, 79, was vacationing in Morocco at the time.
Described by the Humanist chaplain of Harvard University as “the
greatest American religious leader you never heard of,” Wine founded the
movement of Humanistic Judaism in 1963 and the Society for Humanistic
Judaism in 1969. The society has more than 30 congregations and
communities led by rabbis or lay leaders in the U.S. and Israel.
Wine gained national attention when Time magazine featured his
fledgling congregation in 1965. More traditional Jewish leaders thought
he was leading a 1960s craze but the movement went on to have an
international federation and an institute that trains Humanist rabbis.
“He had a creative, new vision for what role religion and humanism
could play in American life,” said Greg Epstein, the Harvard chaplain,
who was trained by Wine.
A Detroit native, Wine was the founding rabbi of the Birmingham
Temple in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Mich. Like the
movement Wine led, the congregation celebrates Jewish culture but does
not link it to a belief in God.
“He created the idea of a congregation of proud atheists and
agnostics,” Epstein said. “He did that without acknowledging the moral
authority of any god. He did that with a nervy assertion that only human
beings can determine what the moral basis for an ethical community ought
to be.”
Epstein said Wine was an atheist who did not dwell on that
description.
“His focus was on being positive and talking about what he did
believe in,” Epstein said.
Wine was the author of several books, including “Humanistic
Judaism,” “Judaism Beyond God,” and “Staying Sane in a Crazy World.”
“Rabbi Wine was a visionary who created a Jewish home for so many of
us who would have been lost to Judaism,” said Rabbi Miriam S. Jerris,
president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

RNS
by Michelle Rindels
The Vatican is appealing to U.S. officials to commute the
death sentence of a Georgia man convicted of killing a police officer in
1989.
Saying that a number of key witnesses have recanted their
testimonies, the Vatican embassy in Washington sent a letter to Georgia
Gov. Sonny Perdue, requesting clemency for Troy Anthony Davis, 38.
“In the name of Pope Benedict XVI, I am respectfully asking you to
commute Troy’s sentence to life in prison without parole,” wrote Vatican
diplomat Monsignor Martin Krebs.
Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Mark MacPhail, a
Savannah police officer.
His execution was originally scheduled for Tuesday (July 17), but is
on hold while the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles weighs the case.
The board must rule by Oct. 14.
The Vatican is joined by civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John
Lewis, D-Ga., in petitioning for clemency for Davis.
“As a man of faith, I am sure I know what God wants you to do. Do
justice. Commute the sentence of Troy Anthony Davis,” Lewis said at a
clemency hearing last week.
While he was present at the scene of the murder, Davis says that he
wasn’t responsible for the murder. Seven witnesses have recanted or
contradicted testimony implicating him, according to Davis’ lawyers.
The Board of Pardons and Paroles has received thousands of letters
on Davis’ behalf. A representative said they will treat the Vatican’s
request like the others.
“The board has to base its decision on facts,” spokesman Scheree
Lipscomb told The Associated Press.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

RNS
by Omar Sacribey
Rizwan Kadir liked working in finance, but when he read a
verse in the Quran that said engaging in usury was the same as “waging
war” against God and Islam’s prophet Muhammad, fear struck him.
“When you come across an aya (verse) like this, it makes you start
wondering what you’re doing with your life,” said Kadir, an investment
banker in Chicago.
He started reading about Islamic views on interest and talking to
workers at Islamic banks that offered interest-free finance as a
foundation of their business.
Kadir eventually concluded that the prohibition on interest didn’t
jibe with Islamic logic and that the “interest free” arrangements touted
by Islamic banks were just usury under another name.
“What they’re doing is calling the same thing with a bunch of
different names,” said Kadir, who has a mortgage, auto and student loan
payments.
The prohibition on charging and paying interest is a cornerstone —
along with withholding investments from trades like alcohol and
pornography — of the rapidly emerging industry known as “Islamic
finance.”
There are some 270 Islamic banks with more than $265 billion in
assets, according to sponsors of the International Islamic Finance
Forum, a semi-annual industry conference that meets in Switzerland this
fall. Most of the banks are found in wealthy Muslim nations like Saudi
Arabia, Bahrain, Dubai and Malaysia. In addition, many Western banks,
such as industry giants Citibank and HSBC, have established Islamic
finance departments.
But a growing chorus of critics say the idea that Islamic law
forbids all forms of interest is incorrect. Moreover, they argue, some
of the bankers, lawyers and clerics who draw up and bless “interest
free” transactions are profiting off the pious with arrangements that
look a whole lot like usury.
Islamic scripture condemns riba, an Arabic word meaning “excess,”
which is commonly interpreted as usury. Some Islamic law scholars assert
that all interest is prohibited. Others say only excessive interest is
prohibited, and that interest is an indispensable part of society that a
logical God wouldn’t condemn.
“The notion that the spirit of the Quran is against modern forms of
interest, like on a mortgage or a consumer loan, this to me makes no
sense,” said Timur Kuran, chairman of Islamic studies at Duke
University.
Throughout history, interest was common in the Islamic world, in
places such as the Ottoman Empire, Kuran said. Controversy over the
practice only emerged during the 1940s when Indian Muslims cited the
need for an interest-free banking system as one reason they needed a
homeland separate from Indian Hindus, the scholar said.
Since then, the Islamic finance sector slowly developed, before
taking off in the last 20 years, with Islamic financial institutions
offering a growing number of transaction models, such as profit sharing,
that avoid interest.
One example is a “murabaha” mortgage. Say a Muslim family wants to
buy a home for $100,000. It might go to an Islamic bank, which would buy
the house and sell it to the family for $120,000. The family would then
have a certain amount of time to repay the bank. A similar practice was
common in medieval Europe when interest was prohibited by the Roman
Catholic Church.
Mahmoud El-Gamal, chair of the Islamic economics department at Rice
University, argues that such transactions amount to a “bait and switch.”
“The whole is, I want to lend but I don’t want to call interest,
`interest,”‘ said El-Gamal. Such transactions cost more than other
financial arrangements and hurt Muslim consumers, according to El-Gamal.
“They’re trapped because they’re told they’ll fry in hell if they go
to regular banks,” he said.
El-Gamal said obedience to the form of the contract often supersedes
the spirit of Islamic economic values, such as serving the poor.
Industry advocates counter that even if some financial transactions
serve the same purpose as interest that doesn’t mean they are forbidden
by Islam.
“It’s possible, as it is in many ethical and legal systems, for two
different actions to have the same outcome but because of the way
they’re done — for one to be wrong or illegal in that ethical or legal
system, and for the other to be permissible or lawful,” said Taha
Abdulbasser, an Islamic law scholar with the Islamic Finance Project at
Harvard Law School.
Hussan Qutub, a spokesman for Guidance Financial Group, an Islamic
bank based in Reston, Va., that offers interest-free mortgages, said
Islam draws a difference between monetary lending agreements and
agreements based on commodities.
“We’re trying to reach the same end result that other financial
organizations are trying to reach, which is putting people in homes,”
Qutub said. “But how are you going to get me there, that’s where we
differ.”
Skeptics like Kadir remain unconvinced. “For me, Islamic finance is
nothing more than affinity marketing, you market your services to
someone who you have an affinity with,” he said.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of
this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written
permission.

United Press International
Perugia, Italy – Jul 23, 2007 – Authorities in the Italian city of Perugia raided a local mosque during the weekend, arresting its imam and seizing a number of chemicals.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported Monday Mostapha El Korchi was arrested during the weekend raid and the chemicals found inside his mosque were set to be tested to determine if they could be the ingredients for a bomb.
Also arrested during Saturday’s raid were two Moroccan nationals who were working as assistants.
Police said several combat training films were also seized.
Other evidence allegedly showed El Korchi had several bomb-making manuals from the Internet.
Saturday’s raid of the Perugia mosque immediately prompted calls from Italian government officials for increased immigration regulations.
ANSA said several right-wing Italian politicians also suggested the immediate closure of all Italian mosques as a temporary precautionary measure.
Copyright 2007 by United Press International