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Reporting and analysis of the religious forces that drive and influence global news. 

Spanish prime minister drops restrictive abortion bill after dissent

Reactions to the quashing of the bill are as divisive as the attempt to reform the law.
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Bare-breasted activists of feminist movement Femen protest, chained to a cross, against a reform of the country's abortion law at the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid on June 13, 2014. (Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week Spain’s prime minister abandoned an abortion reform bill that would have become one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, prompting cheers, jeers and the resignation of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the bill’s architect.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Tuesday rejected the proposal, which was presented in December of last year and would have effectively overturned a 4-year-old law allowing women access to free abortions up to the fourteenth week of pregnancy. 

"As president of the government, I have taken the most sensible decision," Rajoy said in a press conference to reporters in Madrid.

Gallardón on the same evening announced the end of his political life, saying it is his “duty to [resign] given that I have not been able to turn the bill into law.”

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Head rabbi slams publication of Western Wall prayer slips on Facebook

A Facebook page that claims to have published notes lifted from Judaism's holiest site has angered Jewish believers. But were the notes real?
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Thousands of Jews perform the Selichot prayer at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in the old city of Jerusalem late on September 23, 2014, in the lead up to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. For hundreds of years, devotees have left private notes and prayers to God in the wall's cracks and crevices. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — In mid-August a Facebook page called, “Notes I took from the Western Wall” started to take off as a user who described himself as “Amos, 41 years old” began to post pictures of prayer slips he supposedly lifted from the cracks of the holiest site in Judaism.

The notes were often deeply personal and usually signed. Some asked to meet a husband or to bear a child, others for peace or for the strength to be more religiously observant. Some weren’t directed at God at all, but at a loved one or a politician.

The page gained more than 10,000 followers in a few weeks but it ignited an angry backlash from the religious community.

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Saudi recognition of Shia minority’s grievances requires adjustment in government

Commentary: Gradual reform vis-à-vis women can provide roadmap for greater integration of Shia into Saudi society.
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Saudi Shiite Muslim men take part in Ashura mourning rituals to commemorate the killing of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed, in the mostly Shiite Qatif region of Eastern Province on December 6, 2011. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

TEL AVIV — The Shia minority in Saudi Arabia, comprising 10 to 15 percent of the population, has what can best be described as a rocky relationship with the ruling Sunni Al-Saud family.

Located primarily in the oil-rich Eastern Province, there remain deep-seated perceptions among many Sunni citizens that Shiism is heretical. The Shia population counters with allegations of institutionalized discrimination.

Shia demands for change have triggered periods of increased demonstrations, including on a larger-scale in 1979 and 1980, and again in 2011 and 2012 when they coincided with unrest across the region referred to as the “Arab Spring.”

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Worshippers grow weary in battle over Egypt’s mosques

A fractured, more politicized Islam is leaving Egypt's young Muslims disillusioned.
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Egypt's military-installed authorities are tightening their grip on mosques by laying down the theme for the weekly Friday sermons, in the latest move to curb Islamist dissent. The religious endowments (Waqf) ministry in late 2013 dismissed 55,000 imams (prayer leaders) who did not hail from the state-controlled Al-Azhar university, the most prestigious institution in Sunni Islam. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

CAIRO — The call to prayer rings out over Sherif El-Sabbahy’s neighborhood just before noon, echoing across the urban landscape, drowning out the honking traffic and the chatter of the street market. From his window, El-Sabbahy, 20, can see the stream of men, prayer mats slung over their shoulders, heading to the mosque. But he doesn’t follow.

He nudges his 17-year-old brother. “You ready to go?”

His brother doesn’t look up from the game of “Throne Rush” he is playing on Facebook. “Five minutes,” he says.

According to the Quran, the Friday sermon is obligatory, and El-Sabbahy is the kind of Muslim who once took such responsibilities seriously. But his faith, like that of many young Egyptians of his generation, has become more complicated since the country’s 2011 revolution.

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The faith of James Foley and Steven Sotloff

The religiosity of both journalists is inspiring many who mourn them.
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University of Central Florida students Alastair Baines and Johanna Hauck hold candles during a candlelight vigil held for journalist Stephen Sotloff on September 3, 2014 in Orlando, Florida. Sotloff, a journalist taken captive in Syria, was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in a video released last week. (Gerardo Mora/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — In what first appeared to be a side note to catastrophe, the world learned after their violent deaths that both James Foley and Steven Sotloff managed to spirit letters out to their families while in captivity.

The content of these letters is anything but tangential, like the many acts of faith we now understand both men undertook before their murders by the Islamic State.

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Muslim majority must stand up against Islamic extremists

Arab intellectuals and moderate Muslims need to condemn Muslims who kill other Muslims.
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Iraqi Shiite volunteers from the University of Basra that have joined government forces to fight Sunni jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) take part in a graduation ceremony in the southern port city of Basra on August 23, 2014. Jihadist-led militants launched a major offensive in June, overrunning large areas of five provinces and sweeping security forces aside. (HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI /AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL, Afghanistan — As the flames of war burn terrible scars into Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Syria and beyond, a viable path to peace presents itself. It has little to do with the US military or President Obama.

The solution lies in the Arab world itself.

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Pope Francis splits hairs on whether the US should bomb Islamic State

Francis endorses 'stopping' but not 'bombing' the militant group, invoking 'just war theory.' What is a reasonable moral limit on military violence in the face of terror?
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A Peshmerga fighter gestures from an armed military vehicle as he guards a post in the strategic Jalawla area, in Diyala province, which is a gateway to Baghdad, as battles with Islamic State (IS) jihadists continue on August 25, 2014. (Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images)

The day before the beheading of US journalist James Foley became a catalytic event in the Obama administration’s response to the Islamic State, Pope Francis spoke in carefully calibrated terms about the deteriorating situation in Iraq with reporters on the return flight from South Korea to Rome.

A reporter asked if he approved of the American bombing in Iraq.

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Islamic State continues onslaught as US mulls military intervention

Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims remain under threat as IS thrives.
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Fauzi Ali and her 2-day-old baby fled the ISIS attack last week and arrived in the Kurdish region of Iraq. (Reese Erlich/GlobalPost)

FISH KHABUR, Kurdistan Region, Iraq — In the wake of the brutal murder of American journalist James Foley, hawks in Washington have increased calls for US military intervention in the region as the perpetrators tightened hold of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic State extremist militant group, which distributed a digital video recording of Foley's beheading to global astonishment last week, seized a stretch of the Sunni areas of northern Iraq in June and consolidated its control of Syria's Raqqa province on Tuesday.

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Pope Francis calls the Foley family, whose faith breaks through ISIS-inflicted horror

Journalist James Foley's execution stunned the world, but his family continues to find strength in their Roman Catholic devotion.
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John and Diane Foley, parents of James Foley, listen to a panel discussion about the importance and dangers of reporting on world conflicts at a Free James Foley event on May 3, 2013 in Boston. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalist James Foley's execution stunned the world, but his family continues to find strength in their Roman Catholic devotion.
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American nuns congregate as standoff with Vatican officials continues

Two years after the nuns were accused of "radical feminism" and assigned a male minder, will either side finally blink?
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Nuns kneel in prayer at the end of Easter Mass service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on April 20, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Andrew Burton/AFP/Getty Images)

When Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the superiors who represent 80 percent of American nuns, open their four-day summer convention Tuesday in Nashville, key members of the US Catholic hierarchy will be on hand, notably the Vatican-assigned overseer of the sisters’ group, Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain.

The big question will be whether one side blinks.

Vatican officials and certain US bishops are in a standoff with the liberal leadership of the mainstream communities of American religious sisters.

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