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Matters of faith: Updates on the world of religion

Prominent Muslim thinkers are responding to Washington Post readers online through July 27.

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Online dialogue about islam

Despite the plethora of news media today, most Americans say they know little about Islam, and most Muslims say the media doesn't make room for their voices to be heard. This week, a major news company is going all out to try to change that.

Through "Muslims Speak Out," an online open forum with clerics and scholars from around the globe, The Washington Post Company has invited Muslim leaders to address the issues most on the minds of ordinary Americans. For example:

What would you tell suicide bombers who invoke Islam to justify their actions? Is it permissible for a Muslim to convert to another faith? What are the rights of women in Islam? Under what conditions does Islam sanction the use of violence?

From July 22-27, some 20 prominent Muslim thinkers are responding to these and other questions from readers via the Post's online "On Faith" discussion. Since all were asked to answer the same questions and some do so at length, poring through them can be repetitive, but also highly enlightening.

Disappointing so far is the quality of readers' comments, which tend toward misinformed, uncivil venting rather than a serious interest in dialogue. Where are the Americans who want a genuine, respectful conversation?

The site also provides helpful background information on Islam as well as the latest data from polls taken in the United States and in Muslim countries. Thought-provoking articles from citizens at home and abroad add a very human touch based on personal experiences. Other Post media outlets have joined in the ambitious project: Slate.com is offering daily articles and Islam is the cover story in this week's Newsweek.

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