Category : Middle East

(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.

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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?’

Read it all.

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.”

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

Posted in Egypt, Middle East, Other Churches

Bishop of Egypt Mouneer Anis responds to the Terror Attack On the Al-Rawda Mosque

From there:

It was reported that a group of terrorists bombed the mosque, and opened fire on the people during the Friday prayers at 1.30 pm. It is said that most of the people killed are Sufis. It is known that militant Salafi and Jihadist groups consider Sufis as heretics. They used to target policemen, soldiers and Christians but now Muslims are also targeted. No group is exempt. This massive bloody attack is the largest during the last few years.

Many world leaders condemned the attack and expressed their support to Egypt in its war against terrorism. We, Egyptians, are determined to fight terrorism and support President Abdel Fatah El Sisi who is leading the war against terrorism in the region.

Terrorism is a great threat to the whole world. This fact puts the responsibility on the international community to stop all groups and organisations which financially support these terrorist groups. These organizations take advantage of the freedom in the European countries to raise funds to support terrorists to carry out their bloody attacks on human beings.

Please pray for the families who lost their loved and the injured.

Posted in Egypt, Islam, Jerusalem & the Middle East, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Religion & Culture, Violence

(NYT) Militants Kill 305 at Sufi Mosque in Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack

 Militants detonated a bomb inside a crowded mosque in the Sinai Peninsula on Friday and then sprayed gunfire on panicked worshipers as they fled, killing at least 305 people and wounding at least 128 others. Officials called it the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.

The scale and ruthlessness of the assault, in an area racked by an Islamist insurgency, sent shock waves across the nation — not just for the number of deaths but also for the choice of target. Attacks on mosques are rare in Egypt, where the Islamic State has targeted Coptic Christian churches and pilgrims but avoided Muslim places of worship.

The attack injected a new element into Egypt’s struggle with militants because most of the victims were Sufi Muslims, who practice a mystical form of Islam that the Islamic State and other Sunni extremist groups deem heretical. And it underscored the failure of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has justified his harsh crackdown on political freedom in the name of crushing Islamic militancy, to deliver on his promises of security.

Read it all.

Posted in Egypt, Islam, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(Christian Today) Pressure mounts on Boris Johnson to approach Pope and Archbishop over British mother jailed in Iran

A former foreign office minister and a senior Catholic have urged Boris Johnson to heed the advice of Tom Tugendhat MP and approach Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury to help negotiate the release of the British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is imprisoned in Iran.

The support for Tugendhat’s suggestion comes as Christian Today has learned that neither Lambeth Palace nor Pope Francis has, at the time of writing, received any approach from the Foreign Office. Christian Today has approached the Foreign Office for comment.

Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs committee of MPs and Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, put it to the Foreign Secretary that religious leaders be used to negotiate Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release with the Islamic clerics who run Iran’s judicial system.

‘This poor woman is being used as a political football not only sadly here but in Iran,’ Tugendhat, who is a Catholic, told MPs in the House of Commons yesterday.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Politics in General, Pope Francis, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(Guardian) Tension mounts in Lebanon as Saudi Arabia escalates power struggle with Iran

Now, more than at any point in modern history, Iran and Saudi Arabia are squared off against each other as a race to consolidate influence nears a climax from Sana’a to Beirut and the tens of thousands of miles in between.

The standoff is seeing new ground conquered, previously unimaginable alliances being mooted and the risk of a devastating clash between two foes whose calculations had long been that shadow wars through proxies were safer than facing up directly.

The shift in approach has been led from Riyadh, where a new regime determined to put Saudi Arabia on an entirely different footing domestically, is also trying to overhaul how the kingdom projects itself regionally – and globally.

The ambitious, unusually powerful, crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been given a mandate by his father, King Salman, to take on what the kingdom and its allies in the United Arab Emirates see as an Iranian takeover of essential corners of the Sunni Arab world.

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Saudi Arabia

(Christian Today) It is as if prayer is a crime: Egypt’s Christians appeal for help after church closures

Following the closure of a number of churches in recent weeks, Coptic Christians in the south of Egypt have renewed calls on local authorities for an end to discrimination.

Two churches in two separate villages in the southern province of Minya have been shut down by the authorities, a statement by the Minya diocese said.

It said worshippers were harassed at both churches and pelted with rocks at one of them.

‘We have kept quiet for two weeks after the closure of one of the churches, but due to our silence the situation has worsened … it is as if prayer is a crime the Copts must be punished for,’ said the statement, which was released on Saturday.

A third church was closed following rumors of a pending attack, but the diocese said no attack has taken place since and the church remains closed.

Read it all.

Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Middle East, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Violence

(CH) Coptic Priest Samaan Shehata Killed in Cairo Attack

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church says a priest has been killed in a knife attack in a poor Cairo district, the latest deadly assault on members of the country’s Christian minority.

The church says the attack took place on Thursday. The priest was identified in the media as Fr Samaan Shehata.

Security officials say the attacker struck the priest’s head with a cleaver and fled the scene, but was later arrested. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

The motive was not immediately known.

Bishop Angaelos, Britain’s Coptic Orthodox bishop, said Fr Shehata, a priest from the Upper Egypt region, had been visiting his family in Cairo and collecting aid for the needy in his parish. He had left his mobile phone at a church and was walking back to reclaim it.

Read it all.

Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Bloomberg) Forget Oil. Religion Is Big Business in Saudi Arabia

Read and listen to it all.

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