Click inside for the weekly religion news with items on an exhibit exploring the purpose of religious veils for women, the projected population of the Muslim population, "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" and more. Or check out these links:

On Jan. 25, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City opened an exhibit called “Veil(s): A Photographic Overview.”

The striking series of photographs illustrates various depictions and perceptions of veiled women in the Middle East. 

The photo collection is the work of Lebanese American University's Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World. The exhibit features veiled women across the region from the 19th century to the present.

"There is no singular definition of the veil," explained Mona Chemali Khalaf, the institute's director when “Veil(s)” was first assembled in 2005. "Veiling was, in fact, practiced widely in ancient Mesopotamia, Greco-Roman, Assyrian and Byzantine empires, where it was considered a mark of prestige and a symbol of status."

The women depicted in the exhibit are Christian, Jewish and Muslim, challenging the notion that only Muslim women wear the veil. The women come from all walks of life –– some are veiled for religious reasons, while others consider their veils part of a fashionable identity. Veils are also not limited to one economic class, as the wealthy, middle class and poor are all shown wearing some form of covering, just as they did in antiquity.

“Veil(s)” is part of a series of events underway at the church intended to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.

"In this volatile world, flash points between the major religious faiths seem to pop up at least once a week," said the Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston, senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. "Interfaith conversations and experiences lay the foundation for respect and trust."

The exhibit also examines the reasons women use the veil. Some say they feel liberated or closer to their beliefs for donning their veils. Others criticize what they say is excessive exposure of women in the West.

"I am the only woman in my family who is veiled," says K.B., a young businesswoman in Beirut and one of the women whose testimonies are included in the exhibit. "I feel completely transformed. I am in a way liberated, protected, more mature and, definitely, more serene."

"Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab," says N.M., a Canadian-born Muslim woman. "Reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose — to give back to women ultimate control of their own bodies."

This positive view of veiling is also challenged in the exhibit, as many women recount the experiences of their mothers and grandmothers, whose lives were heavily restricted by their veils. Cultural tradition demanded these women to be almost completely covered.

"What I love about both Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and LAU is how both institutions embrace the notion of inclusiveness, promote diversity and encourage dialogue," said Ron Cruikshank, a former trustee and elder at FAPC, as well as a former trustee at LAU and a current member of the IWSAW advisory board said. "These are extremely important attributes in this day and age and I'm proud to be associated with both of these great organizations and proud of the work that they do."

More information is available at www.fapc.org.

-- ReligionNews.com

Week in Religion

- Feb. 1, 772, Adrian I begins his reign as Catholic Pope.

- Feb. 2, 1235, Emperor Joseph II orders Jews of Galicia, Austria, to adopt family names.

- Feb. 3, 1653, Cardinal Mazarin returns to Paris from exile.

-- William D. Blake, Almanac of the Christian Church

Survey Says

The global Muslim population is expected to grow by about 35 percent in the next 20 years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030.

-- The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Good Book?

“Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” by Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong believes that while compassion is intrinsic in all human beings, each of us needs to work diligently to cultivate and expand our capacity for compassion.

The twelve steps Armstrong suggests begin with “Learn About Compassion” and close with “Love Your Enemies.” In between, she takes up “compassion for yourself,” mindfulness, suffering, sympathetic joy and more. Throughout, Armstrong makes clear that a compassionate life is not a matter of only heart or mind but a deliberate and often life-altering commingling of the two.

-- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Quote of the week

“She who kneels before God can stand before anyone.” – unknown author

The Word

Beltane: One of the four major Sabbaths celebrated annually by Wiccans and other Neopagans on the evening of April 30. It is based on an ancient Celtic seasonal day of celebration.

-- religioustolerance.org

Religion Around the World

Religious makeup of Israel

Jewish: 75.5 percent

Muslim: 16.8 percent

Christian: 2.1 percent

Druze: 1.7 percent

Other: 3.9 percent

- CIA Factbook

GateHouse News Service