Inflammation and stories on religion

The Lives and Livelihoods Fund board of the Islamic Development Bank has approved $242.6 million to finance several development projects. These projects were created to improve areas of health, agriculture and rural infrastructure in countries including Tajikistan, Sudan, Djibouti, Niger, Mauritania, Cameroon, Uganda and Guinea.

These projects strive to create healthier living standards for struggling communities, hoping to generate a lasting impact in the fight against disease and poverty in Muslim countries.

The Islamic Development Bank provides economic and social development to member countries through financial assistance and participating in equity capital and grant loans for development projects and enterprises.

Bandar Hajjar, president of the Islamic Development Bank, states that the fund’s goal is to assist in developing sustainable living conditions and more productive lives in the poorest communities throughout the Muslim world.

Over the next five years, the Lives and Livelihoods Fund will strive to help millions of people in 30 of the poorest Muslim countries lead healthy and productive lives. To do so, the Islamic Development Bank will provide $2.5 billion to develop several expansion projects. This fund is currently the largest multilateral development initiative in the Middle East and North Africa for poverty alleviation in the partnering nations of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Hassan Al-Damluji, head of Middle East Relations at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, states that out of the one billion people in the world that are facing extreme poverty, 400 million of them are living in the Islamic Development Bank’s member countries.

Although established in late 2016, the Lives and Livelihoods Fund has seen promising results, with $363 million already being allocated for the fund’s first operational year. In partnering with other donor organizations and regional governments, the fund strives to make a lasting impact and save millions of lives by addressing the issues of disease and poverty in Muslim countries.

Brandon Johnson

Photo: Flickr

Church of BangladeshThe Diocese of Kushtia (a sector of the Church of Bangladesh) has been making great strides towards educating women throughout the country, especially in the Meherpur region.

Traditional child marriages are one factor which keeps girls from finishing their schooling. According to the Daily Sun, girls who are married before the age 18 are one and a half times more likely to drop out of school than women who are married after becoming adults.

Meherpur used to be infamous for having the highest child marriage rate in the whole country, peaking at around 64 percent. However, this past year, citizens of the region pledged to remain child marriage free to protect local children and allow them to stay in school.

The Diocese of Kushtia, part of the Church of Bangladesh, owns two hostels where they host over 20 female students during their college studies. The students attend the nearby Women’s Degree College in Meherpur, which they would not be able to afford without the Church’s financial help.

Historically, female students in Bangladesh have faced higher dropout rates than their male counterparts. This means that women are less likely to continue onto secondary educational pursuits. In 2003, over 86 percent of women enrolled in secondary education throughout the country dropped out compared with 81 percent for men. Dropout rates are even higher in more rural regions like Meherpur.

The Bishop of Kushtia, Samuel Mankhin believes the focus on women’s education is very important because ”very few are higher educated. Both Muslims and Christian parents just ignored girls’ education even a few years ago, but things have been changing.” The diocese urges parents to support higher education pursuits for their daughters.

Mankhin is quick to point out the high quality living conditions in the hostel, sharing “…they are having all the facilities: they can have their meal together, they can have morning and evening prayer, they can go together to the college, they have library facilities provided by the hostel, they can have recreation, sometimes they can watch the television.” Both hostels also provide security and supervisors on site.

By speaking out against child marriages and placing women in an environment conducive to learning, the Church of Bangladesh hopes to provide local females with more successful futures.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Sadiq_KhanOn May 9, 2016, Sadiq Khan entered the London City Hall to commence his new role as London’s duly elected mayor. His ascension to this role over Europe’s financial capital was a historic moment for economic equality and progression within London.

In his acceptance speech, Khan said, “I am determined to lead the most transparent, engaged, and accessible administration London has ever seen, and to represent every single community and every single part of our city as mayor for all Londoners.”

Over the last year, Khan has risen from a relatively obscure character in the British parliament to a world-renowned figurehead. His campaign was fraught with controversy over his reputation, and many did not trust his intentions as a politician. Why? Who is Sadiq Khan, and what is it that makes him such a controversial figure in British politics?

Sadiq Khan is the first Muslim to become mayor of a major Western city. And though some radicals believe the world is coming to an end with such a change, this historic event is generally viewed as a positive political breakthrough. London specifically sees this significance, but various countries throughout Europe and the West agree.

Originally planning to become a dentist, Khan instead pursued law after a teacher commented on his talent for arguing. A few years later, he graduated from the University of London and began his career as a human rights lawyer.

He quickly received attention from various high profile cases, but after a number of years as an attorney he left his practice in order to become more involved in politics. The rest is history.

In his new job as mayor, Khan plans to focus on two central points: significant reductions in poverty and inequality. CNN has observed that the divide between rich and poor in the financial powerhouse of Europe has been steadily increasing.

Statistics show that 27 percent of the nearly 9 million inhabitants are living below the poverty line. Additionally, prices for travel and housing are rising and jobs cannot compensate for the cost of living in London.

Khan has listed a number of strategies that he will implement to improve the current financial situation. First, he intends to attack the housing crisis currently facing London.

On his campaign webpage he writes, “For young families and individuals on average incomes, housing is increasingly unaffordable – with home ownership a distant dream.” Khan also intends to make affordable homes a focus of his tenure through construction reform. He plans on stopping the outsourcing of property to foreign investors.

Another problem that currently besets London is in-work poverty. Employers cannot give their workers sufficient pay raises to compensate for rising price inflation. Consequently, Khan intends to provide tax breaks to companies who pay their employees enough money to cope with London’s high living costs.

The new mayor also plans to address ethnic and gender inequality. Khan is committed to tackling each of these issues in order to help London stem the tide of its inflation while bringing poverty and inequality rates down.

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

Albania is known for its quirks and major differences if, indeed, it is mentioned at all. It is a smaller country that can be found in the Balkan Peninsula with a population of approximately three million. One of the first things to remember about this country is that a nod means “no” and shaking the head in the other direction means “yes.” The second thing to remember is if there is a stuffed toy hanging from a building, it ought not to be removed.

Yes, in this country, weather-beaten rabbits are hung by their ears, scarecrow-looking objects are posted by balconies and they are very important in keeping the peace of mind of Albanian cities. Like many Middle Eastern countries, these inhabitants seek to protect themselves against the Evil Eye.

The instrument that is used to provide this kind of protection is called the dordolec and the soft toys are also called kukull. Elizabeth Gowing, a reporter for the BBC, interviewed an owner of a furniture store: “‘It stops the evil eye from seeing our money,’… He explains that at first, he hadn’t hung a monkey up when he was building this place. ‘And then the police came. My son went out and bought a monkey and we’ve not had any trouble since.’”

The idea behind this practice is that the passer-by fixates on the dordolec and thus does not covet the property of the house it belongs to. There’s no direct correlation between these objects and a religious belief per se.

Michael Harrison from the U.K. says, “In Albania, such beliefs can be found in all religious communities, Muslim, Orthodox or Catholic – in fact, I encountered less examples of the dordolec in the north, in the area around Skhodër, where the Catholic Church is particularly strong.”

Religion doesn’t always relate directly to the customs of a country. A writer from the travel blog, A Dangerous Business, says, “In fact, most of Albania’s current reality can be traced back to that paranoid leader, Enver Hoxha, who ruled with increasing suspicion of the wider world until his death in 1985.” In driving through Albania, one might see numerous bunkers because Enver Hoxha generally isolated himself and had a strong fear of the outside world.

Now, visitors of Albania can expect to be welcomed with open arms with the natural expectation that national customs will be learned and respected.

Anna Brailow

Sources: BBC, Dangerous Business, Michael Harrison
Photo: Flickr

Faith-based organizations make up about 20% of agencies working to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and are responsible for over 40% of healthcare in some developing countries. However, faith-based care is not discussed in the world of global health academia, because it is not coming from a strictly scientific angle. But in many ways, the compassion involved in these organizations allows them to work all the more effectively.

For example, the U.S. charity Catholic Relief Services has over launched 164 sustainable agricultural projects in 34 countries, built over 700 water sources serving 2.1 million people and has provided treatment to 700,000 HIV patients worldwide. They also strive for accountability and efficiency, priding themselves on their Guidestar status, their transparency and their Pledge to Donors.

The American Jewish World Service raises over $50 million a year. They sent emergency aid to organizations that educated over 30,000 households on how to prevent becoming infected with the Ebola virus.

Tearfund, a Christian organization, has helped over 17 million people through community development projects and has helped to change over 175 policies that kept poor communities from receiving justice.

Islamic Relief USA has received several awards from charity and business auditors, including GreatNonprofits and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.

A recently published report called “Keeping the Faith” showed that religious leaders were able to reach many places that NGOs and governments could not reach during the Ebola epidemic because they were a trusted source of information. For example, many communities attached to the traditional burial practice were only willing to switch to the practice of cremation (to stop the spread of the disease) once faith leaders began to participate in this safer alternative. A UN staff member called their involvement “a real game-changer.”

Science and religion will always diverge on certain points. But they can absolutely work side by side. And despite the tendency for religion to be viewed as less practical and more archaic, there are areas in which religious principles can be applied quite practically.

For example, the concept of subsidiarity is the idea that help should be provided at the lowest level possible because situations can be handled more effectively by those who are closest to the problem.

Even with different ideologies, religious and secular organizations can work together towards the same noble goals (such as ending severe poverty and promoting sustainability). The truth of it is, they work best when taken together. Statistics, cures and data are important in a different way from how genuine kindness and heartfelt aid are. Both can transform the outlook and life of a person in poverty.

At a conference held in July which discussed building partnerships between policymakers and religious groups, Marin Mauthe-Kaeter, head member of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, said, “This has given us a chance to think differently about development– not just about financial and technical issues, but about values.”

Em Dieckman

Sources: CRS, Guidestar, Scidev, Tear Fund, The Lancet, World Bank
Photo: Newswire

Most Muslims who fast during the month-long Islamic festival of Ramadan do so under direction from the Quran, but those who abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours may also experience health benefits as a result.

If done right, those who participate in fasting during Ramadan can not only see a rise in spirituality and giving, but also health benefits such as weight loss and overcoming addictions.

It’s possible to see benefits from fasting during Ramadan because food consumption is often different from usual diets, as malnutrition and insufficient calorie intake are avoided during the religious holiday.

Fasting during Ramadan can help lead to weight loss because the body’s energy is replaced during the eating periods. Instead of using glucose as the principal source of energy, the body instead turns to fat, which prevents muscle from breaking down for protein.

Using fat as energy instead of glucose preserves the muscles, in turn reducing cholesterol levels, helping with weight loss. In doing so, blood pressure can improve and be controlled better.

A study by the Annals of Nutrition Metabolism in 1997 showed just this. Results of the study revealed that, by fasting, LDL cholesterol levels, the bad lipoproteins, dropped by 8%, whereas HDL cholesterol levels, the good lipoproteins, rose by 14.3%.

Such a phenomenon can be explained by the eating and exercise behaviors of those who fast during Ramadan. Studies have shown that people often turn to healthier options during the holiday, which reduces saturated fat consumption.

Such studies have also seen an increase in physical activity during Ramadan, as exercise from the night prayers, known as “tawarih,” may be equivalent to moderate physical activity for some.

Fasting can also help those with addictions. Though self-restraint, another teaching of Ramadan, the body goes through a detoxification process, which in turn can help those who fast overcome additions such as smoking.

By understanding the teachings of self-restraint and learning from them, those who fast may find it easier to forget addictions during the day when fasting occurs.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Al Arabiya News, Mosque of Tucson, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, National Health Service of England
Photo: Flickr

A new series published in a U.K. medical journal demonstrates the growing role of religion in global health.

The three-part series from The Lancet focuses on faith-based healthcare and how religious organizations can play a crucial role in helping health coverage become universal. The series suggests a lack of evidence about the abundance of health services faith-based organizations provide and represent. However, the series also validates the important role faith-based health providers play in immunization, prevention of mother and child deaths, HIV services and antimalarial campaigns.

The role of religion in global health is even more crucial in areas with fragile health systems.

Faith-based organizations have a unique opportunity because of their experience, strengths and capacities. According to The Lancet, the chance to play a vital role in global heath arises from their wide geographical coverage, infrastructure and influence. For a faith-based organization to have an impact on global health, it needs the support and trust of its community. This is where religious leaders play a role.

Religious leaders tend to have lots of authority at the grass roots within a community, as well as the ability to shape people’s opinions. Leaders of faith-based organizations, along with having substantial social and political sway, also have a network of people they inspire, in turn mobilizing congregations to make a difference. For example, Channels of Hope, a project of the Evangelical Christian aid organization World Vision International, mobilized almost 400,000 local leaders to transform health and development in their communities.

Religious leaders are also a reliable source when it comes to information about medical programs. Some vocal minorities may use religious arguments and possible distrust of government to advocate against immunizing children, but by enlisting the help of leaders in the religious sector, medical programs can extend their reach.

Such an occasion was seen in both Angola in the late 1990s, and India in the late 2000s. In both instances, religious leaders helped to educate those who distrusted government officials.

Muslim leaders in India helped to reverse opposition to polio vaccines in certain areas where rumors and misconceptions about the government were rampant. In Angola, churches helped to end polio by making sure messages reached isolated populations — the same areas that often saw high illiteracy rates and poor media coverage.

Partnerships also play a key role in global health, as shown by case studies examined in The Lancet series.

When religious leaders partner with groups including government organizations, public-sector agencies and international development actors, effectiveness is often boosted.

Such an instance occurred in Sierra Leone in the 1980s when Muslim and Christian leaders united with UNICEF and led a campaign to increase immunization rates in children under the age of 1. By combining forces, rates increased from six percent to 75 percent.

By joining forces, not only can it be made possible that every child is vaccinated, but a successful partnership can also help generate long-term support for necessary health services for children.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Medical Xpress, UNICEF
Photo: Cross Catholic

Pope Brings Strong Poverty Focus to Latin American Tour-TBP
Pope Francis has been entertaining a wide variety of topics on his current Latin American tour, but poverty has remained at the top of his list.

“Do we realize that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farm workers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?” the Pope said in Spanish at a stop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. “Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?”

The Pope’s focus on poverty rings especially true for many living in the countries he’s speaking in. In Ecuador, over 25% of the population lives below the poverty line; that number jumps all the way up to 60% in Bolivia.

According to the Vatican, the overarching theme of the Pope’s visits is to bring “the Church for the poor.” The Pope is reaching out to the poverty-stricken people and regions of his native South America.

“The human environment and the natural environment are degrading together, and we can’t adequately confront human and social degradation without paying attention to the underlying causes,” the Pope said at a stop in Quito, Ecuador. “In today’s world, among the most abandoned and abused poor, we find the most oppressed and damaged land.”

– Alexander Jones

Sources: Big News, CNN, Telesur
Photo: BBC

Fighting_Ebola_in_Sierra_LeoneIt is the holy month of Ramadan in Sierra Leone and attendance at religious services was up from the rest of the year on Friday. Sermons provide the best platform for educating the general population about the Ebola epidemic and religious leaders are using faith to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone.

In a country that has witnessed Ebola’s devastating effects, religious leaders from all walks of life have come together to work to end the epidemic. Of the 27,479 confirmed cases of Ebola reported by the World Health Organization, over 13,000 have been reported in Sierra Leone.

The Freetown-based NGP, Focus 1000 came up with the idea to use interfaith dialogue to educate citizens about the dangers of Ebola.  In a country that is 78 percent Muslim and 21 percent, Christian, it has been one of the most successful means of combating the deadly disease.

One of the main causes of the unprecedented spread of Ebola was the lack of understanding that Ebola spread through bodily fluids even after the victim had died. Muslim and Christian burial rites composed of family members washing the deceased patients. Coupled with mistrust of the government and aid worker’s body disposal protocols, it created a situation where infections were being passed along routinely.

Ramadan Jollah, the chief Imam of the Jam’iyatul Haq Mosque in Freetown explained, “Sierra Leone has a clear understanding of what religion really is — that religion is not there to create problems between people but instead to bring people together.” Together, Muslim and Christian leaders have used their anointed trust to help their communities follow health protocols.

The Imam has used verses of the Qur’an to appeal to Ebola prevention tactics. The Qur’an allows Muslims who are martyred to be buried in their clothing without being washed. He quotes the Prophet of Islam imploring Muslims to wash their hands regularly.

Similarly, Reverend Christiana Sutton-Koroma addresses her congregation in a small church. The Reverend quotes passages from the Bible’s Book of Numbers – prohibiting people from coming into contact with corpses that can infect them.

She dispels myths of burial washing and also avoiding seeking care in case of infection.  Members of her congregation take her message very serious and many go home to spread the message to their families, friends, and neighbors.

International NGOs such as World Vision have followed suit, creating venues for Muslim leaders to address Christian congregations and vice versa.  It is not uncommon in Sierra Leone to have multi-faith families.  Christians pray for their sick Muslim neighbors in churches and Muslims pray for their Christian counterparts in mosques.

The tactics are working. Sierra Leone, while having the most cases of confirmed Ebola, has also the least mortality percentage in comparison to their neighbors in Guinea and Liberia.  New cases have begun to rapidly decline.  In May 2015, the country declared itself Ebola-free for the first time.  Although it did not last long, progress is being made.

USAID has pledged to send the US $126 million to the three countries-Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea- to strengthen their health care systems by providing crucial support such as vaccines and vitamins.  The United Nations says US 88.1 million dollars is needed to support the “last mile” of the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  Foreign Aid, coupled with faith, is fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, and together they are winning.

– Adnan Khalid

Sources: Al Jazeera, Ebola Deeply, USAID, World Health Organization, World Vision International 1, World Vision International 2
Photo: Caritas

Bindis-Iron-Deficiency-in-IndiaIodine deficiency is a problem for approximately 350 million Indians. In developed nations, most are able to get iodine through iodized salt in their diets or by taking supplements if necessary. However, in India, many crops are grown in iodine-deprived soil. Also, iodized salt is not widely available in rural areas, and supplements are often too expensive for those who need them most.

Iodine deficiency can cause health problems such as goitre, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, and other thyroid conditions that can lead to breast cancer or fibroids. Iodine is especially important for pregnant women, who generally require double the amount than is typically needed. Pregnant women with iodine deficiencies can give birth to children with developmental problems or neurological conditions such as cretinism.

Iodine does not have to be ingested for one to receive the nutritional benefits. It can also be absorbed through the skin. This was the idea behind the Life Saving Dot, a bindi designed by the Grey for Good organization and the Neelvasant Medical Foundation and Research Center.

The bindi has religious significance for Hindus, but Indian women often wear it as a fashion statement regardless of religious affiliation. Bindis can be applied with colored powder, but many now wear sticker bindis, which come in endless shapes, colors, and sizes. The Life Saving Dot looks exactly like a real bindi, yet doubles as an iodine patch.

This bindi slowly releases the necessary amount of iodine, 150-200 micrograms, over the course of the day. It fits easily into the daily routine of any woman who normally wears a bindi, making it a convenient source of iodine. These bindis have been put into circulation by medical facilities in 100 villages and have been distributed to about 30,000 Indian women. Women receive a month’s supply, which costs 10 rupees or 16 cents.

While the Life Saving Dot shows success, there are concerns that the iodine solution will evaporate and leave very little to be absorbed by the body, especially in the harsh sunlight. Therefore, they may need to carry a larger dose than the standard 200 micrograms. Many tests will need to be done before it can be certain that the bindis are effective. These include estimations for urinary iodine, radio-iodine uptakes and thyroid hormones.

Even if the bindis do not make a significant impact on iodine deficiency in India, the organization has already achieved another goal. They wanted to bring more attention to the issue of iodine deficiency, as many do not understand its importance. In order to reach more women, Grey for Good is beginning more widespread distribution efforts, and in time, the Life Saving Dot could help end iodine deficiency in India.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: About Religion, GOOD Magazine, NPR, Scroll, Times of India
Photo: Fashion Lady