Categotry Archives: Religious Leaders

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Canaan Banana

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Categories: Criminals, Politicians, Religious Leaders

Canaan Sodindo Banana, the first black president of Zimbabwe, died from cancer. He was 67.

The son of a Malawian migrant worker and a Zimbabwean woman, Banana earned a diploma in theology from Epworth Theological College. Ordained in 1962, he became a radical priest who published his own version of the Lord’s Prayer and encouraged Africans to resist white supremacy.

Banana joined the fight to oust the country’s white-only regime, and in 1975, was imprisoned for his political activities. When the country gained its independence in 1979, Banana was released and named Zimbabwe’s first black president. He served as a figurehead leader from 1980 to 1987.

Upon retiring from public office, Banana became a diplomat for the Organization of African Unity and the head of the religious department at the University of Zimbabwe. He spent a decade in relative quiet until a gay sex scandal caused him to flee the country and hide from authorities in South Africa.

After President Nelson Mandela persuaded him to return home, Banana was arrested, tried and convicted of 11 counts of sodomy, attempted sodomy and other “unnatural acts” with the men who staffed the State House during his presidential tenure. He was sentenced to 10 years incarceration, but only spent six months in an open prison; the rest of his sentence was suspended.

The scandal cost Banana his university post, his religious ordination and his popularity. Until his death, he continued to deny being gay or a rapist, declaring the charges were “a mortuary of pathological lies and a malicious vendetta of vilification and character assassination.”

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Dharmachari Aryadaka

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Categories: Religious Leaders

Dharmachari Aryadaka, Washington state’s first paid Buddhist prison chaplain, died on Oct. 6 from liver disease caused by Hepatitis C. He was 55.
Born Philip S. Miller, Aryadaka left the United States in the 1960s to avoid serving in Vietnam. He traveled the world, trekked the Himalayas and served 22 months in prison in Finland for a drug offense. It was in jail that Aryadaka found enlightenment.
In 1984, Aryadaka was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order and took his new name, which means “noble skygoer.” He returned to Seattle and began doing volunteer religious work. After co-founding the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order/Seattle Buddhist Center, he became Washington’s first paid Buddhist prison chaplain. Each week, he traveled over 100 miles to teach prisoners meditation and useful ways to deal with negative mental states.

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Ephraim Oshry

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Categories: Religious Leaders

Ephraim Oshry, a rabbi whose family was exterminated during the Holocaust, died on Sept. 28. Cause of death was not released. He was 89.

Oshry was a rabbinical scholar in Lithuania when the Nazis invaded in 1941. During the occupation, he held secret worship services for Jews and guarded a warehouse filled with books for a future exhibit of “artifacts of the extinct Jewish race.”

After the war ended, Oshry used the knowledge he obtained from the exhibit to publish several volumes of religious analysis in which he interpreted Jewish law to answer questions of survival. For example, Oshry determined that even to save his own life, a Jew could not buy a Christian baptism certificate or commit suicide. Two of these volumes won National Jewish Book Awards.

Oshry also set up schools for religious instruction in Rome and Montreal. In 1952, he became rabbi at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, one of the oldest synagogues in New York City.

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Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim

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Categories: Religious Leaders

Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, an influential Shi’ite Muslim cleric, died on Aug. 29 when a car bomb exploded in Najaf, Iraq. He was 63. The bombing outside the Mausoleum of Imam Ali killed 82 others and wounded 125.
Hakim was born in 1939. His father was Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim, the spiritual leader of the Shi’ite world from 1955 to 1970.
In the late 1950s, Hakim and Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqer al-Sadr joined forces with other scholars to form the Islamic political movement in Iraq. For his efforts, Hakim was arrested and tortured by the government in 1972, and again five years later. Although he was sentenced to life in prison without a trial, Hakim was released in 1979 due to public pressure on the Hussein regime.
When Sadr was murdered by that regime, Hakim fled to Iran and spent 23 years in exile. There he formed the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. In retaliation, the regime executed 18 members of his family.
After the American and British forces invaded Iraq and toppled the Hussein government, Hakim returned to his homeland, where he was welcomed by thousands of supporters. Although he disagreed with the occupation, Hakim ordered his brother, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, to keep his fighters from attacking U.S. troops. He also refused to meet with American and British authorities, but agreed to speak with the United Nation’s envoy, Sérgio Vieira de Mello. Vieira de Mello was killed on Aug. 19 when a truck bomb exploded in front of the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.

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Bill Bright

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Categories: Religious Leaders

bbright.jpgWilliam R. Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, died on July 19 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 81.
In 1947, Bright found religion. With the help of his friend, the Rev. Billy Graham, Bright launched Campus Crusade at UCLA. The organization’s goal was to spread Christianity to college students.
Fifty years after it started, Campus Crusade has become a worldwide organization worth $374 million. It has a staff of 26,000 people in over 190 countries.
“He has carried a burden on his heart as few men that I’ve ever known. A burden for the evangelization of the world,” said Graham.
Video Message From Bright

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