Isra Almodallal Appointed First Spokeswoman For Hamas

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Hamas government of the Gaza Strip has for the first time appointed a woman to represent it to the world.

The hiring of Isra Almodallal as a spokeswoman for the territory’s conservative Islamist rulers is part of a long-running push by the group, which has at times sought to curb women’s freedoms, to present a newer friendlier face both to its own citizens and internationally. Almodallal, a 23-year-old who speaks fluent British-accented English, has assumed a post normally held by tough-talking men who voice Hamas’ bitter opposition to Israel. She will be responsible for the Gaza government’s communications with the international media.

“We are looking forward to having a different and unique language,” said Almodallal in an interview in her Gaza City office, on her first week in the job. “We will make the issues more human.”

The change in policy began six months ago when a new head of the government media department, Ihab Ghussein, took over. He hired younger media people, started a new official government website, began rampant use of social media and started conducting seminars and workshops.

Ghussein said he appointed Almodallal in an effort “to be more open to the West.” He said many women were among the dozens of applicants considered for the position.

“Women are partners in our society,” Ghussein said.

Almodallal, a divorced mother of a four-year-old girl, does not have her roots in the Hamas movement. Unlike many other Hamas officials, her office does not bear a photo of Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. She keeps a book on American history there, alongside the Quran.

She was raised in Gaza and spent five years in Britain as a teenager, studying at Grange Technology College, a high school in Bradford in the U.K. Upon returning to Gaza, she studied journalism at the Islamic University, and worked as a TV reporter for a local station and an English-language satellite channel, which she said taught her how to present herself on camera.

Her appointment is the latest step by Hamas to manage its image.

“Hamas, as any other government in the world, want others to listen and believe in them,” said Moean Hassan, a lecturer in media at Gaza’s Palestine University.

Since the group overran the territory in 2007, it has cautiously attempted to enforce its deeply conservative version of Islam and has at times placed some restrictions on women’s behavior. But it has refrained from passing sweeping Islamic legislation, apparently fearing a public backlash, despite criticisms form ultraconservatives who say it is not implementing Islamic law quickly enough.

Under Hamas, there has been mounting social pressure on women to cover up in the traditional Islamic dress of long robes and headscarves. The Hamas government has also banned them from riding on the backs of motorbikes and from smoking water pipes, but these rules have not always been enforced. Earlier this year, the Hamas government barred girls and women from participating in a U.N.-sponsored marathon, prompting a U.N. aid agency to cancel the race.

At the same time, women are permitted to work, drive and hold public office, with one female minister and six female deputy ministers serving in the Hamas government. Some 20 per cent of public servants working for Hamas are women.

Almodallal asserts that women in Gaza are finding their way into politics, medicine, education and media. “Every day, women’s footsteps can be seen advancing more in society,” she said.

Almodallal takes a slightly different line than many Hamas spokesmen. She refers to “Israel” rather than the “Zionist entity.” And she does not consider herself a Hamas loyalist, saying she would be equally willing to work as spokeswoman for the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank.

But she does believe — in line with the Hamas position — that the Palestinians should control all of historic Palestine, or the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, including what is now Israel.

She speaks primarily about Gaza government affairs: education and social programs or the Israeli blockade of the territory.

She will not discuss Hamas suicide bombings and other attacks, which have killed hundreds of Israelis over the years. Not will she be handling the sensitive reconciliation attempts with the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank. Spokesmen for the Hamas movement, as opposed to the Gaza government, deal with those subjects.

“I am not Hamas. I am a Palestinian activist who loves her country,” Almodallal said.

When asked her opinion on Hamas’ history of suicide bombings against Israelis, she did not answer directly but said Israel’s unfair media coverage had given Hamas a bad reputation.

“This is because of the Israeli media, which is a smart media. They change the truth and show the opposite picture of Palestine and the Palestinians,” she said.

She takes up the job at a challenging time for the movement. Hamas lost a key ally with the downfall of its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in neighboring Egypt after a July 3 coup. The group remains a pariah to many nations in the West.

“I know it’s a big responsibility and it’s not easy to speak on behalf of a government in normal situations, whereas I am working in unique situations,” she says.

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-11 »

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15 Meditation Books For Beginners Recommended By Buddhist Teachers

Meditation is everywhere. From the baby room to the board room, everyone recommends meditation to help focus, calm, and restore the mind, body and spirit.

But how does one meditate? What resources are out there to help beginners to start a sustain…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-11 »

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Naples Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe Says ‘No Communion For Polluters’

Archbishop of Naples Crescenzio Sepe didn’t mince words when speaking about the issue of pollution on Wednesday, going so far as to say, “Those who pollute are not in the grace of God and can not take communion.”

His remarks came in the wake of revela…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-11 »

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‘.Catholic’ Internet Domain Name Reserved By Vatican For Church Organizations Only

ROME (RNS) The Vatican has secured the use of the new Internet domain name “.catholic,” but bloggers hoping that platform could ramp up their own digital pulpit will be disappointed — the Holy See says it’ll be reserved for church-related organizations, not individuals.

The new rules on how to assign rights to the “.catholic” domain name are part of the larger issue of how to adapt a tradition-bound, 2,000-year-old institution to the fast-paced digital present.

Case in point: As the parameters of the new domain name were being set, Ivano Dionigi, president of the Vatican’s Latin Academy, said Friday he was still debating how to say “Twitter” in Latin.

Pope Francis tweets in eight languages, and his Latin feed is surprisingly popular — it has more followers than the native languages of the last previous two popes, German and Polish. But there is still no consensus on how to refer to the medium in the church’s official language, Dionigi said.

National top-level Internet domains, such as “.it” for Italy or “.ca” for Canada or “.mx” for Mexico, are usually limited to sites based in those countries, and so the Vatican’s “.va” domain is necessarily restricted because it can be used only for sites that originate from within the 110 acres of the tiny city-state.

But other domains don’t carry geographical restrictions, though newer top-level Internet domains created by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) like “.movie” or “.guru” or “.museum” are more restrictive than the Web’s original monikers “.com,” “.org” and “.net.”

In the case of “.catholic,” individuals — whether religious bloggers or a cleric — will not have access, according to Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican’s social communications council.

That extension will be reserved for church institutions such as dioceses, parishes, religious orders, schools, universities or hospitals. Use of the domain, Tighe said, will be a guarantee that a site is “authentically Catholic.”

“The domain will create a cohesive and organized [Web] presence … so the recognized structure of the church will be mirrored online,” he said, according to Italian media reports.

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-11 »

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8 Brands With Religious Affiliations (Who Knew?!)


Would you like a Bible verse with those fries? Check out these popular U.S. companies that incorporate their beliefs into their businesses.

Read more from
6 Ways to Get Rid of Bad Odors from Your Home…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-11 »

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How To Help Typhoon Haiyan Survivors

Updated: Nov. 10, 2013 at 12 p.m. EST

Typhoon Haiyan slammed into six central Philippine islands Friday, decimating buildings and homes and claiming lives.

One of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines) has cause…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-10 »

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Christian Group Seoul USA Air-Drops Bibles Over North Korea With Giant Balloons

A Colorado-based Christian group is air-dropping Bibles on North Korea.

Over the past year, Pastor Eric Foley and his Christian mission group, Seoul USA, have released around 50,000 40-foot homemade, hydrogen-filled balloons outfitted with Bibles and…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-10 »

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Bill Maher Rages At Christian Hypocrites: ‘Just Admit You’re Selfish!’

Bill Maher closed Friday’s episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” by going off on one of his favorite subjects: Christians who refuse to help others, despite their religions’ call to do so.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to feed the hungry, heal the sic…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-10 »

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Pope Francis Welcomes Hundreds With Disabilities In Wheelchairs.. One By One

VATICAN CITY — VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has greeted hundreds of people in wheelchairs one-by-one — part of a special gathering in which rows of seats were removed from a Vatican auditorium to make room for the disabled visitors.

The pontiff, who has made championing the downtrodden a key plank of his papacy, lamented that society tends to “hide physical fragility” and reject the disabled. He encouraged those with physical disabilities to banish any feelings of shame, and become “protagonists” in society as well as the Catholic church. Some 600 people in wheelchairs waited to have their time with Francis during the event Saturday. He moved down the rows to greet each person, doling out hugs and kisses as well as chatting.

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-10 »

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Pew Muslim Survey On Sunnis And Shias Reveals Worries About Religious Conflict

Sectarian tensions occupy the minds of many Muslims living in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2011-2012 report high levels of concern regarding religious conflict in many countries where Shia and Sunni Muslims liv…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-10 »

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50 Religiously Inspired Tattoos Show Faith That’s Not Just Skin-Deep

For many inked individuals, tattoos are a way to commemorate a spiritual journey or a means of expressing one’s internal self. The body becomes the canvas for a diverse array of religious inspiration through this artform.

HuffPost blogger Jacob D. Mye…

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-10 »

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Mayor Elect Bill De Blasio Quashes Atheism Rumors, Says He’s Spiritual But Unaffiliated

Newly elected Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio crushed accusations that he is an atheist on Tuesday, reports Politicker.

Five sound trucks promoting opponent Joe Lhota cruised the city earlier this week, saying among other things, “Bill de Blasio says he doesn’t believe in churches — and he doesn’t believe in God either,” reports the NY Daily News.

De Blasio told reporters in the Bronx, “I’m not affiliated with any particular church. I do consider myself a spiritual person.” He continued, “As I’ve said many times, I was very influenced by liberation theology, by Christian liberation theology in the work I did after college and after graduate school.”

Joe Lhota told reporters at the NY Daily News that he did not authorize the sound trucks, which appeared to be organized by Dany Esquilin, who paid $2,000 for the campaign. Lhota said, “I’ve never seen it before. I’m just hearing it for the first time. Those are outrageous statements. Whoever is doing it, I’m going to ask him to stop.”

However, NY Daily News reported that Campaign Finance Disclosures showed that Team Lhota had paid one Dany Esquilin more than $26,000 in two payments last month.

They recorded the sound truck loop here:

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-10 »

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How Billy Graham became an American icon

Opinion by Molly Worthen, special to CNN (CNN) – Under ordinary circumstances, Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch are probably not in the habit of attending the birthday parties of elderly Christian preachers in the North Carolina mountains. But they were both among the hundreds of well-wishers at the party on Thursday marking Billy Graham’s 95th birthday. […]

Read the original article at CNN Belief Blog  2013-11-10 »

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These Dazzling Blinged Out Skulls Will Leave You Yearning For The Afterlife

There was a time when we assumed our post-mortem days would be of the drab variety, that once all our earthly possessions had disintegrated into the earth only a measly skeleton would remain.

That time is no longer, thanks to an intoxicating photo series by Los Angeles based art historian Dr. Paul Koudounaris.

St. Felix, Gars-am-Inn, Germany

The collection, entitled “Heavenly Bodies,” explores a treasure trove of underground tombs, all thought to hold the remains of early Christian martyrs.

Skeletons of these supposed saints were subsequently sent to Catholic churches and religious houses in German-speaking Europe to replace holy relics that had been destroyed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation,” explains Koudounaris’ book of the same name. Basically, after much of the religious art was destroyed by Protestants, the 16th century church decided to treat selected skeletons as if they were saints. The lucky skeletons were then blinged out from skull to toe, drenched in wigs, crowns, jewels, furs and armor.

Koudounaris’ photographs allow a glimpse into the Baroque corners of the most glamorous human remains we could ever imagine, traversing burial grounds from Bolivia to Switzerland to Indonesia. The stunning photographs capture a dark and decadent ritual just on the heels of Dia de los Muertos. We haven’t been so entranced and creeped out at the same time since riding Pirates of the Caribbean. See for yourself below.

St. Konstantius, Rorschach, Switzerland

St. Pancratius, Wil, Switzerland

St. Hyacinthus, Gutenzell, Germany

Bone house with plague crucifix (Pestkreuz), Leuk, Switzerland

Burial cave, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Skull with flowers, Fiesta de las ñatitas, La Paz, Bolivia

Skulls in coffin outside burial cave, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

St. Coronatus, Heiligkreuztal, Germany

Heavenly Bodies” is on display at La Luz De Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles until December 1, 2013.

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-09 »

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Swastikas, Slurs And Torment In Town’s Schools

The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student’s face.

Read the original article at Religion News on The Huffington Post  2013-11-09 »

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