Category : Middle East

(Economist Erasmus Blog) A pivotal time for embattled religious minorities in the Middle East

Among supporters of the region’s religious minorities, Mr Trump’s announcement on December 19th that American troops would be withdrawn from Syria drew immediate cries of alarm. Father Emmanuel Youkhana, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East, said that for Christians in the area an abrupt American pullout could “open up the gates of hell” and reverse any benefit from the new American law. The Free Yazidi Foundation, based in the Netherlands, also voiced fears that minorities could again find themselves highly vulnerable. “In the event of a future Daesh storm gathering pace in Syria, Yazidi forces cannot be left again as sitting targets, to be attacked, slaughtered and raped,” it said.

Among the minorities and their friends, there are several specific fears. They worry that Turkey, with or without the agreement of other local parties, may overrun the area of north-eastern Syria that has been under Kurdish control, and pave the way for Sunni Jihadists to sweep into the territory. Life has not always been easy for long-established Christian denominations, along with a handful of Kurdish converts to Christianity, under Kurdish administration. Some Kurds were said to be chasing Syria’s Christians away and seizing their lands. But what has survived could be destroyed if hard-line Sunni factions march forward. “Leaving the fate of Syrian religious minorities to the tender mercies of Turkey would risk religious cleansing and likely negate the measures…of the new [American] law to help them,” says Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute, one of America’s leading religious-freedom watchers.

There are other scenarios. The Assad regime has close ties with Christian communities, and minority groups would probably cheer its return. But in the event of confrontation between Turkish-backed groups and Syrian and Iranian forces supporting Mr Assad, small religious minorities could be caught in the middle, says Johannes de Jong, of Sallux, a Dutch-based lobby group. In such a general flare-up, any success achieved in stabilising nearby northern Iraq, and making it safer for minorities, could rapidly be reversed, says Mr de Jong.

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Posted in Middle East, Other Churches, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Marlo Safi–Is Abdel Fattah Al Sisi Good for Egypt’s Christians?

Samuel Tadros, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, says Copts are blocked from nearly all important government positions: “Copts are excluded from Egypt’s intelligence service and state security, their percentage in the armed services and police force is capped at 1%, and they are similarly discriminated against in the foreign service, judiciary, education sector and government-owned public sector.” It’s no surprise, then, that the government hasn’t effectively responded to Copts’ pleas for better representation and prosecution of those who persecute their community.

Ms. Riad says neighbors are often doing the persecuting. Coptic homes are burned down. Some children change their names from conspicuously Christian ones such as George so they can play on private or national soccer teams. Coptic women face near-daily public harassment. “It doesn’t take ISIS to kill, and it could just be your neighbor because you’re Christian,” Ms. Riad says.

A 2016 law, implemented by Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s government, allows for the legalization of existing churches and the creation of new ones. The implementation of the law is another story. Mr. Tadros notes that the government has approved less than 17% of 3,730 requests submitted by the three major Christian groups—Coptic Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical Protestant. The law has instead fueled sectarian violence within Egypt.

Egyptians have rioted and protested against approved churches. In 2016, after Copts in the village of Manshiet El-Naghamish applied to build a church, locals organized and attacked the Christians. Egyptians looted and burned Coptic properties and assaulted Copts. This was only one attack in a string of many, which are often incited before a church is even built.

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Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Middle East, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Violence

(BBC) Why a Saudi woman can be arrested for disobeying her father

Saudi Arabia drew international plaudits last year when it lifted a longstanding ban on women driving.

However, restrictions on women remain – most notably, the “male guardianship system”, a woman’s father, brother, husband or son has the authority to make critical decisions on her behalf.

These restrictions were highlighted in early January, when a young Saudi woman fleeing her family barricaded herself in a hotel room in Bangkok saying she feared imprisonment if she was sent back home.

A Saudi woman is required to obtain a male relative’s approval approval to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, leave prison, or even exit a shelter for abuse victims.

“This is something that affects every Saudi woman and girl, from birth to death. They are essentially treated like minors,” the Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy told the BBC.

Read it all.

Posted in Islam, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Women

([London] Times) Iraq’s battered Mosul clears rubble to greet first Christian back from Isis exile

For as long as he can remember, every Christmas Eve Majdi Hamid Majid would go to the nearby Clock Church in Mosul with hundreds of other local families where they would light candles and sing carols and then eat sugary biscuits. “It was beautiful,” he said.

This year the former stonemason will sit alone on a makeshift bed of planks in the ruins of his house, sip a Pepsi and smoke a cigarette under the postcard of the Virgin Mary he has stuck on the wall.

Majdi, 43, is the first Christian to move back to the Old City since Isis took it over four years ago, driving out his family and about 10,000 more from one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.

The Iraqi city was recaptured almost 18 months ago after a massive battle that left its ancient heart on the west bank of the Tigris a nightmarish vision of bombed-out buildings, twisted metal and staircases to nowhere. Last week a few bulldozers were pushing stones back and forth, making little difference to what the UN describes as 10m tons of rubble that will take 10 years to clear.

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Posted in Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

(NPR) Iranians Are Converting To Evangelical Christianity In Turkey

In a hotel conference room in Denizli, Turkey, about 60 Iranians sing along to songs praising Jesus mixed with Iranian pop music. When the music stops, American pastor Karl Vickery preaches with the help of a Persian translator.

“I’m not famous or rich. But I know Jesus. I have Jesus,” he says, with a Southern drawl. The Farsi-speaking Christian converts shout “Hallelujah!” and clap.

Vickery, who’s part of a visiting delegation from Beaumont, Texas, then offers to pray for each person in the room.

Women with hair dyed blond and short skirts and clean-shaven men in slacks stand up to pray in unison. Vickery puts his hand on one woman’s head and speaks in tongues. One man closes his eyes as tears fall. Another woman raises her hand and shouts “Isa,” Jesus’ name in Arabic and Persian. The room smells of sweat.

Among the parishioners are Farzana, a 37-year-old hairdresser from Tehran, and her daughter Andya, 3, who runs around, taking photos with her mother’s cellphone.

“It feels good. Our relationship to God becomes closer,” Farzana says. She doesn’t want to give her last name because she says her family in Iran might face persecution for her conversion. Her family knows she is a convert and they’re scared for their own safety inside Iran.

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Posted in Evangelicals, Evangelism and Church Growth, Immigration, Iran, Religion & Culture, Turkey

The Full Text of Archbishop Justin Welby’s Sunday Telegraph Article–We must not forget Christians in the Middle East

At this point you may be wondering: what needs to be done to address this deeply alarming situation?

First, everyone can remember Christians in the Middle East and pray for them. At the beginning of Advent our eyes turn towards Bethlehem in the West Bank, to Nazareth, to Egypt and to other places in the Christmas story. It’s a time to pray with special focus and dedication for those Christian communities who trace their roots right back to the time of these stories. God is faithful and hears our prayers.

Second, we must understand their plight and not present it as simple or with obvious solutions. For example, to ask Syrian Christians to choose between President Assad, under whom they were tolerated, and the unimaginable horrors and threats of so-called Islamic State, is to impose a choice that we would not accept for ourselves, and which we should not judge too easily.

Third, we must support and help them in every way we can. Where they wish to leave, they will be refugees in need of asylum. Where, courageously and by the grace of God, they choose to remain, they need publicity and external, visible support. Whether in large and flourishing communities, such as in Lebanon or Egypt, or smaller, struggling Churches, they need the protection and encouragement of governments and people at home and abroad. and foreign popular expression. Without this they cannot live out their vocation as citizens of their native lands in co-operation with other religious groups.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Middle East, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(Sunday Telegraph) Christians on brink of extinction in Middle East, warns Archbishop of Canterbury

Christians who were the first founders of the church are on brink of “imminent extinction”, the Archbishop of Canterbury warns today.

Describing the “daily threat of murder” faced in the Middle East, the Most Reverend Justin Welby says Christians are experiencing “the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th Century”.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Archbishop Welby, the most senior clergyman in the Church of England, calls on the Government to take in more refugees.

It comes as figures have revealed just one in 400 Syrian refugees given asylum in the UK last year were Christians despite them being subjected to “horrendous persecution”.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Middle East, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(NYT) Bakers From Baghdad, Who Fled Violence Against Christians, Pursue a Sweet Dream

The marriage of Nael and Manar al-Najjar was forged in sugar.

Mr. Najjar grew up working in his family’s Baghdad sweet shop. When he proposed, three months after meeting his future wife at a family wedding, he traveled six hours to her hometown, carrying 15 boxes of confections: baklava, kenafeh and Turkish delights.

The couple settled in Baghdad, opened a bakery and started a family. As Catholics, though, they faced discrimination and threats of violence. When those threats turned deadly, they fled and sought asylum in America.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Iraq, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

(NYT) ISIS Claims Credit for Attack that Kills Christians in Egypt

Islamist gunmen killed at least seven Coptic Christian pilgrims in Egypt on Friday and wounded at least 16 in an attack later claimed by the Islamic State.

The attack — an ambush on two buses — ended a nearly yearlong lull in major attacks on Copts in Egypt, and may signal a resumption of the Islamic State’s campaign to sow sectarian divisions in Egyptian society.

It was also a setback for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has put security concerns at the heart of his autocratic style of rule and has repeatedly vowed to protect Christians, a minority in the country, from attack.

The shooting occurred as two buses carrying pilgrims left the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor, 85 miles south of Cairo, in Egypt’s Western Desert.

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Posted in Coptic Church, Death / Burial / Funerals, Egypt, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(AS) Bill Murchison–Is Anti-Semitism Creeping Back Under Episcopal Church Auspices?

I return to the so-called Israeli question: the acid test of logic, saying nothing of decency and generosity. The infection of anti-Semitism appears to be spreading. As if “the Jews” somehow — as used to be asserted by the brain-deprived — league and conspire and plot and plan to take over the world. I think we must not tax my fellow Episcopalians — at this present time —with outright anti-Semitism; that is, with the desire to put the Jews in their place. At General Convention, they affirmed, formalistically, Israel’s right to exist within secure borders. Then, without a sideways glance at Palestinian vows to eradicate Israel, and at the street violence constantly to be feared, and often witnessed, the Episcopal resolutions slammed Israel for measures intended to keep the peace: measures sometimes violent, sometimes ham-handed but generally efficient.

The problem is not American in isolation. It is international. It is political. In the July/August issue of Commentary, Melanie Phillips, the British journalist, asks whether the Jews of Europe should ponder leaving — given the recrudescence in their homelands of squalid anti-Semitism, practiced by the left. The same left, more or less, that dominates the national hierarchy of the Episcopal Church. “The symbiosis,” she writes, “between hatred of the Jewish state and hatred of the Jews is now part of the DNA of the progressive world.” It arises “because the West is in trouble. And a society in trouble always turns on the Jews.”

The Phillips thesis delves deeply into the moral flabbiness that seems, in 2018, to characterize judgment of rights and wrongs in the relationships of nations and people jostling each other in the communist twilight, seeking to distinguish friend from adversary and competitor.

A certain clarity in foreign policy — so he claims — lights up the mind of Donald J. Trump. More than anything else, it underscores the unclarity, the confusion muddying up 21stcentury life.

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Posted in Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, General Convention, Israel, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Egyptian Legislation treats social-media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, opening Twitter and Facebook users to prosecution

Egypt’s parliament passed a law giving the government sweeping powers to regulate traditional and social media, a move critics say will boost the Sisi regime’s ability to crack down on free speech and dissent.

The measure allows authorities to penalize traditional media like television and newspapers for spreading what the government terms fake news. It also treats social-media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, opening Twitter and Facebook users to prosecution on vague charges including defaming religion and inciting hatred.

Most prominent media outlets in Egypt are pro-government, and some analysts and rights groups see the law as an aggressive attempt to restrict social media, which remains one of the few remaining arenas of free expression in a country where independent news websites are often blocked and unauthorized street protests banned.

“These laws would legalize this mass censorship and step up the assault on the right to freedom of expression in Egypt,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa campaigns director at Amnesty International, commenting on the law and related legislation ahead of the vote.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Egypt, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Media, Middle East

(CC) Bobby Ross Jr–Wissam Al-Aethawi’s long road from Baghdad

The story of Al-Aethawi’s unlikely journey from Baghdad to Dearborn goes back to 1979.

That was the year Saddam Hussein rose to power — and the year Al-Aethawi was born to a poor family who lived in a mud house with steel sheets as the roof. In the winter, rain dripped on the young boy, his sisters and parents as they slept.

Each Friday, Al-Aethawi went to a neighborhood mosque to pray.

But he never felt comfortable with a religion he believed called him to hate people he didn’t know and offered no hope after his 4-year-old sister, Amina, died of food poisoning in 1996.

Wissam Al-Aethawi, right, enjoys fellowship with Steve Spiceland after preaching at the Sunset Church of Christ in Taylor, Mich. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)References to Bible verses in American novels that Al-Aethawi read piqued his curiosity, as did Tom Cruise picking up a Gideon Bible and reading from Job 3:14 in the movie “Mission: Impossible.”

At the massive Al-Mutanabbi flea market in Baghdad in 1997, Al-Aethawi — then an engineering student at the University of Baghdad — bought the Gospel of John….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Iraq, Other Churches, Religion & Culture

The Gafcon Chairman Archbp Nicholas Okoh’s June 2018 Letter

My dear people of God,

The ‘Songs of Ascents’ (Psalms 120-134) express a deep sense of longing, hope and confidence in the living God. For ancient pilgrims it was wonderful to be standing together within the gates of Jerusalem and for us today it is no less wonderful because in Jesus the hope which Jerusalem and its temple represented has been fulfilled.

Some 2,000 delegates will be welcomed to Jerusalem this month and many more will be able to share in GAFCON 2018 as it unfolds with reports through each day and live streaming accessed through the Gafcon website.  We thank the Almighty God for the privilege of being able to gather in this city where the great events of our salvation were enacted, but it is not now necessary to go on pilgrimage to encounter the living God. Through God’s Word and by the power of God’s Spirit, every local church becomes the household of God and an anticipation of the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is why our conference matters so much for the many of you who are not able to attend in person, yet have a vital role to play. Our purpose is to see faithful Anglicans everywhere equipped and empowered so that the churches of our global Anglican Communion, from parishes to provinces, will be united in one gospel and with one voice will serve the purpose of our conference theme ‘Proclaiming Christ faithfully to the Nations’.

A major way in which this great task will be carried forward beyond the conference is through the launch of nine key networks: Theological Education, Church Planting, Global Mission Partnerships, Bishops Training, Youth and Children’s Ministry, Women’s Ministry, Sustainable Development together with an Intercessors Fellowship and a Lawyers Task Force.

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Posted in Church of Nigeria, GAFCON, Israel

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Followers of Jesus fail to agree about his homeland

Hundreds of millions of followers of Jesus Christ are about to celebrate the annual feast of Pentecost, which celebrates an event in Jerusalem roughly 2,000 years ago, when it is believed that cultural and ethnic barriers were miraculously overcome. The festival, which falls on May 20th in this year’s western Christian calendar and a week later in the Orthodox one, commemorates what many regard as the establishment of the Christian church. A new kind of divine inspiration, including the ability to communicate with speakers of any language, is said to have come over the disciples who had gathered in the holy city for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which falls seven weeks after Passover.

So there is sad irony in the fact that people who cherish that sacred story seem more divided than ever, with some rejoicing in Jerusalem’s rising earthly status and others expressing the very opposite view.

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Posted in Israel, Middle East, Religion & Culture

(Washington Post) Bernard Lewis, eminent historian of the Middle East, dies at 101

Bernard Lewis, a preeminent scholar of Middle Eastern history whose work profoundly shaped Western views of the region — including fears of a “clash of civilizations” — but also brought scorn from critics who considered his views elitist and favoring Western intervention, died May 19 at an assisted-living facility in Voorhees, N.J. He was 101.

The death was confirmed by his romantic partner and co-author, Buntzie Churchill, who did not cite a specific cause.

Dr. Lewis’s prolific scholarship — including more than 30 books, hundreds of articles and competence in at least a dozen languages — traced fault lines that define the modern Middle East, such as sectarian divisions, the rise of radical Islamists and entrenched dictatorships, some backed by the West.

Along the way, Dr. Lewis often gained a privileged vantage point for events in the region during a life that spanned the era of T.E. Lawrence, oil discoveries in Arabia and showdowns against the Islamic State.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, History, Middle East, Religion & Culture

(NYT) The ISIS Files–We unearthed thousands of internal documents that help explain how the Islamic State stayed in power so long

The commander who strode in sat facing the room, his leg splayed out so that everyone could see the pistol holstered to his thigh. For a moment, the only sounds were the hurried prayers of the civil servants mumbling under their breath.

Their fears proved unfounded. Though he spoke in a menacing tone, the commander had a surprisingly tame request: Resume your jobs immediately, he told them. A sign-in sheet would be placed at the entrance to each department. Those who failed to show up would be punished.

Meetings like this one occurred throughout the territory controlled by the Islamic State in 2014. Soon municipal employees were back fixing potholes, painting crosswalks, repairing power lines and overseeing payroll.

“We had no choice but to go back to work,” said Mr. Hamoud. “We did the same job as before. Except we were now serving a terrorist group.”

The disheveled fighters who burst out of the desert more than three years ago founded a state that was acknowledged by no one except themselves. And yet for nearly three years, the Islamic State controlled a stretch of land that at one point was the size of Britain, with a population estimated at 12 million people. At its peak, it included a 100-mile coastline in Libya, a section of Nigeria’s lawless forests and a city in the Philippines, as well as colonies in at least 13 other countries. By far the largest city under their rule was Mosul.

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Posted in City Government, Ethics / Moral Theology, Iraq, Middle East, Terrorism

(NYT Op-ed) Mustafa Akyol–How Islamism Drives Muslims to Convert out of Islam

As a Muslim who is not happy to see my coreligionists leave the faith, I have a great idea to share with the Iranian authorities:

If they want to avert more apostasy from Islam, they should consider oppressing their people less, rather than more, for their very oppression is itself the source of the escape from Islam.

That truth is clear in stories told by former Muslims, some of which I have heard personally over the years. Of course, as in every human affair, motivations for losing faith in Islam are complex and vary from individual to individual. But suffering from the oppression or violence perpetrated in the name of religion is cited very often.

Take, for example, the words of Azam Kamguian, an Iranian former Muslim, in “Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out,” a collection of memoirs. “I have lived thousands of days in Iran when Islam has shed blood,” he wrote, referring to the violence of the Islamic Revolution. “Islam ruined the lives, dreams, hopes and aspirations of three consecutive generations.” The perpetrator of the mass killings or jailings he talks about was, of course, not “Islam”; it was the Islamic Republic of Iran. But apparently it is easy to conflate the two, extending a resentment of a theocratic regime to the theology it claims to represent.

This trend is certainly not limited to Iran. Authoritarianism, violence, bigotry and patriarchy in the name of Islam are alienating people in almost every Muslim-majority nation….

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Posted in Iran, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Politics in General, Psychology

(Express) Christianity on the brink: Religion DECIMATED from its Middle eastern birthplace – ‘We NEED help’

Christianity, a leading Catholic charity has warned, could be reduced to a “token religion” in the country unless worshippers receive urgent aid.

Islamic extremists have driven tens of thousands of Christians from their homes, with Islamic State (ISIS) destroying towns and churches.

As the sick death cult retreats further and further in Iraq and Syria, some Christians are returning home to find devastation and destruction, with urgent funds needed to rebuild communities.

However despite this, foreign governments are giving “no help” to Christian communities, leading to tens of thousands of believers to abandon their homelands.

One priest said believers could leave Iraq for good unless desperately needed aid was given to help rebuild nine Christian towns.

Read it all.

Posted in Middle East, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(CBS) Marking 7 bloody years since the Syrian civil war

Take the time to watch it all and pray for the end to this unimaginable tragedy.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Syria, Uncategorized, Violence

Archbishop Justin Welby and Cardinal Vincent Nichols call on Israeli government to protect Jerusalem holy sites

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, have called on the Israeli government to protect the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.

In a joint letter to the Israeli Ambassador to London, Mark Regev, the two faith leaders expressed their deep concern at the events unfolding in Jerusalem of unprecedented, punitive and discriminatory taxation of Christian Institutions, and their fears that this dispute could inflict long-term damage on relations between the two communities.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Ecumenical Relations, Israel, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(ACNS) Bishop Mouneer Anis receives Archbishop of Canterbury’s award for peace and reconciliation

The Bishop of Egypt, Mouneer Anis, has received an official award from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, for his “invaluable” contribution to the work of peace and reconciliation. The Hubert Walter Award for Reconciliation and Inter Faith co-operation was presented to Bishop Mouneer last night (Wednesday) during a meeting of the Anglican Inter Faith Commission in Cairo. He was presented with the award by Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, on behalf of Justin Welby at Cairo Cathedral.

The citation for Bishop Mouneer’s award recognises his relationship with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the leading Islamic mosque and educational institution in Alexandria. It says that Bishop Mouneer “has made a unique contribution and example through his ability to establish deep relationships; this is largely because of his openness, creativity and ambition to move people towards reconciliation. At times, this inevitably makes him a counter cultural voice within his setting.

“Particularly of note is his role as a bridge builder between the most important official international Christian-Muslim dialogue that the Anglican Church has with al-Azhar al-Sharif and is a most highly trustworthy representative for Archbishop Justin to the Grand Imam himself.

“Moreover, Bishop Mouneer is incredibly generous with his time: cultivating relationships with those from different faiths and background whilst running the Cathedral in Cairo, all within a context in which Christians are a vulnerable minority. He also maintains good contact across different institutions, with charitable and political leaders and is able to bring together all of these networks for the common good.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Egypt, Inter-Faith Relations, Middle East, Pastoral Theology, The Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

(Christian Today) Holy Sepulchre closed because Israel’s Christians believe they are under threat, says Bishop of Southwark

The Bishop of Southwark has called on Christians around the world to show ‘solidarity’ over the indefinite closure of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in protest at a bill affecting church lands and new taxes on churches that are ‘unfair, inappropriate and arbitrary’.

Speaking to Christian Today from Galilee on the final day of a pilgrimage with 84 people from the south London Anglican diocese, Bishop Christopher Chessun also expressed his disapproval of a bill in the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, supported by Israeli settlers, that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private real estate firms in recent years.

‘The bill going through the Knesset is of course at the instigation of particular groups and it is very important that the powers that be recognise the significance of the status quo which governs the relationship formally between the church and the state,’ Chessun said.

‘So if there are actions taken by different groups of settlers or whatever else and that leads to poor leadership by the powers that be then there will be massive consequences.’

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ethics / Moral Theology, Israel, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Taxes

(Guardian) Patriarch Theophilos III–Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land

[Yesterday]…7 January, is Christmas, according to the Orthodox Christian calendar. And Orthodox Christians are keeping the feast in the Holy Land, where Christmas – and Christianity – began.

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff.

Christians have lived a history in the Holy Land that spans more than two millennia. We have survived countless invasions, and have flourished under many different forms of government. We know that our survival has depended on the principle that the holy places must be shared by and be accessible to all. For it is the holy places that have given meaning to the region for both inhabitants and conquerors of all faiths. The protection and accessibility of the holy places are understood through a set of rules called the “status quo”, which has been followed by all religious and governmental authorities of the region through the ages.

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Posted in Church History, History, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Reuel Marc Gerecht–The Secular Republic of Iran

Few organizations still carry the revolutionary torch. The Revolutionary Guards are willing to kill and die in Syria. The Basij, a “mobilization” force of club-wielding thugs under the command of the Guards, has been willing to murder its own countrymen to preserve the clerical state. But its commitment appears so sharp precisely because Iranian society as a whole has moved on.

Mosques all over Iran are empty at prayer times. In 2015 a Revolutionary Guard commander, Ziaeddin Hozni, revealed that only about 3,000 of the country’s 57,000 Shiite mosques were fully operational. And of the 3,000, some were only functioning during the religious months of Ramadan and Muharram. The Shiites have usually been less diligent than Sunnis in mosque attendance, but lack of attendance is striking in an explicitly Shiite state run by mullahs.

Do not underestimate how these trends influence the protests. Youth unemployment and the ever-rising price of food matter. But even more important is the collapse of the revolution’s civilizing mission among the college-educated children of the ruling elite and the poorly educated urban working class. Nothing in the nuclear accord can revive the fraternity that once bound Iranians together. The current eruptions may well fail to unseat the mullahs. Yet as the great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun warned, there is always another asabiyya, or galvanizing spirit of a superior force, waiting outside the capital, gaining unstoppable momentum.

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Posted in Iran, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(WWM) Egypt teenager’s murder ‘aimed to intimidate Copts ahead of Christmas’, says his pastor

The church’s pastor, Rev. Adel Rafaat, told World Watch Monitor: “Ishak was a very good young man, he was one of our church members. He was loved by all of us and he loved everybody. He always had a smile.

“Ishak was targeted and killed because of his faith, because he is Christian. They wanted to spoil the joy of our coming Christmas. Extremists chose a young man from our village specifically because our village is a big Christian village and their aim was to turn Christmas joy of the villagers to sadness.”

Read it all.

Posted in Egypt, Middle East, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Economist Erasmus Blog) [Some] Evangelicals and Catholics react in different ways to the president’s proclamation about Jerusalem

Paula White, a megachurch pastor from Florida who is a member of the president’s faith advisory council, said: “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends.” She has repeatedly hailed Mr Trump as a man uniquely sensitive to God’s “divine plan” and willing to take counsel from Christian leaders like herself as to how that plan should be helped along.

Those sentiments are typical of an inner circle of evangelicals that helped to bring Mr Trump to power and that has pressed him to keep his Israel-friendly promises.

Meanwhile Pope Francis spoke of his “deep concern” about the situation created by Mr Trump’s move, given the disruption of a delicate equilibrium in the governance of the sacred city and its holy sites. “I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations,” he said on December 6th. Some 13 leaders of Jerusalem’s traditional Christian communities, including the Orthodox and the Catholics who are guardians of the city’s holy places, warned of “increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land” as a likely result of Mr Trump’s initiative.

These contrasting reactions typify two utterly different schools of Christian theology.

Read it all.

Posted in Evangelicals, Israel, Pope Francis, Roman Catholic, Theology

(ACNS) Archbishop calls for tolerance, harmony and mutual respect in the Holy City of Jerusalem

The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Archbishop Suheil Dawani, has called for tolerance, harmony and mutual respect for all in the Holy City of Jerusalem. He made his comments in a sermon preached at St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem yesterday, the second Sunday in Advent.

Reflecting on the Gospel story of John the Baptist, he said that his voice “echoes in the wilderness”, calling the people “into ways of justice and peace.” The prophet’s message today, he said, might be difficult to hear or digest. “Its message may require us to sacrifice some of the things we hold dear,” he said. “We know that the prophets throughout the ages asked difficult questions – Isaiah, Elijah, Amos, Micah. They had messages that were delivered to people who did not like the message.”

Archbishop Suheil said: “We do not know what the future of this land is. For many centuries people have suffered here under different regimes; and they are suffering again today. The young and the old are fearful of the future. Many say – ‘what shall we do?’ or ‘what can we do?’

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Posted in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Middle East

(NYT) Praise and Alarm From American Jews Over President Trump’s Jerusalem Move

If he was hoping for thunderous applause from American Jews, President Trump may be disappointed.

His announcement on Wednesday that he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital went down well with those on the political right, who have urged the step for years. They will be telling him so at the White House Hanukkah party on Thursday, they said.

But other Jewish leaders said they were more worried than glad, fearing that the precipitous step would inflame tensions in the region, provoke more terrorism, put peace with the Palestinians even farther out of reach, and worsen the diplomatic isolation of both Israel and the United States. They say they wish he had held off, as previous presidents have done.

“Jerusalem has always been the most delicate issue in every discussion about peace,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism. “So we’re very concerned that the announcement will either delay or undermine the very, very important resuming of a serious peace process.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Other Faiths, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle

(Globe+Mail) Sheema Khan–Women need to play a role in ‘restoring’ Saudi Islam

In a wide-ranging interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a. “MBS”) discussed, among other topics, the recent anti-corruption drive and liberalization of Saudi society. Call it a kinder, gentler form of authoritarianism – with a progressive touch. Notably, MBS refused to address his country’s interference in Lebanese politics or its unconscionable scorched-earth policy in Yemen.

Nonetheless, Mr. Friedman was effusive of MBS’s plans to veer Saudi Islam to a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.” The Prince calls it a “restoration” of the faith to its origins – namely the Prophetic period in the early 7th century. This has the potential to reverse the puritanical strain (Wahhabism) currently at the heart of Saudi society, where, for example, a woman is under male guardianship from cradle to grave.

The late Sunni scholar Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa chronicled in his comprehensive study of the Koran and authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim women were far more engaged in society during the Prophetic era. They had more rights and opportunities to build a vibrant society, in partnership with men, than many contemporary Muslim cultures (including Saudi Arabia).

Mr. Friedman believes this “restoration” project “would drive moderation across the Muslim world.” In fact, most of the Muslim world has soundly rejected Wahhabism. Yet, the deeply entrenched patriarchy of Saudi society finds parallels in many Muslim countries.

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Posted in Islam, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Women

(WWM) Egypt: 21 churches receive long-delayed government approval to build

Twenty-one churches in Egypt’s southern rural Minya governorate can restore, expand and rebuild their churches after receiving approval from the Minya Governor.

Governor Essam al-Bedeiwi approved the 21 applications over the last six months. Some of the churches had been waiting for more than 20 years for a permit to come through.

On 17 November an evangelical church in Tama, Sohag governorate, also received permission to renovate its building.

Some analysts note that the approvals have preceded several visits by international evangelical delegations to Cairo.

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Posted in Egypt, Middle East, Other Churches