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(Photo: United Nations General Assembly hall, 23 Nov 2006/Jérôme Blum)
The United Nations General Assembly passes a stack of resolutions every year and many of them go all but unnoticed. One such document just approved in New York established a new World Interfaith Harmony Week. High-minded resolutions put most news junkies to sleep, so it's probably no surprise this one got such scant media coverage (see here and here). But there's more to this one than meets the glazed-over eye.
The resolution, accepted by consensus on Wednesday, urged all member states to designate the first week of February every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week. It asked them to "support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week based on Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or based on Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions." (Photo: Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, addresses Vatican synod of bishops, 14 )ct 2010/Osservatore Romano)
Amid the standard legal wording of U.N. resolutions, that phrase "Love of God and Love of the Neighbour" stands out both as a rare example of religious belief in an official document like this and an unmistakable hint at the authorship of this text. Readers of this blog will recognise it as a trademark phrase of the Common Word group, the Muslim scholars who have been pursuing better interfaith understanding through dialogue with Christian churches. They've held a number of conferences with different churches and two of the manifesto's signatories last week became the first Muslims to address a Vatican synod of bishops. Now the group is pursuing its mission on the diplomatic stage with an appeal to governments to help foster interfaith contacts.
(Photo: King Abdullah at the United Nations, September 23, 2010/Jason Reed)
Jordan's King Abdullah proposed the idea to the General Assembly on Sept. 23: "It is ... essential to resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust, especially among peoples of different religions. The fact is, humanity everywhere is bound together, not only by mutual interests, but by shared commandments to love God and neighbour, to love the good and neighbour ... What we are proposing is a special week during which the world's people, in their own places of worship, could express the teachings of their own faith about tolerance, respect for the other and peace."
Egypt has temporarily shut 12 satellite channels and warned 20 others for reasons ranging from insulting religions to broadcasting pornography, although an analyst said the real target seemed to be strict Islamic trends.
The government last week tightened TV broadcast rules, a move critics said was part of a crackdown on independent media before a parliament election in November and a presidential poll next year. Four channels were closed. The government denied any political motivation.
(Photo: Presidents Christian Wulff (R) and Abdullah Gül, followed by wives Bettina (R) and Hayrünnisa, during official welcome in Ankara October 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)
When German President Christian Wulff recently declared that Islam "belongs to Germany," Christian Democratic politicians there howled and Muslims living in Germany and Turkey cheered. Now Wulff, on an official visit to Turkey, has told the Turkish parliament that "Christianity too, undoubtedly, belongs to Turkey." This time there was applause in Germany, and silence from the Turkish deputies listening to him in Ankara on Tuesday.
In both cases, Wulff's words could not have come at a better time. (Photo: President Wulff address the Turkish parliament, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bagis (L) in the background/Umit Bektas)
Germany is in the grip of an emotional debate about Islam and Muslim integration. When Wulff said in his Oct. 3 German Unity Day address that Islam was now part of German society, given the large number (about 4 million) of Muslims living there, it was demographically obvious and politically risky. Several of his fellow Christian Democrats have challenged his view and insisted Germany had a "Judeo-Christian heritage" that Islam did not share. But Wulff, who was considered something of a lightweight for the ceremonial role when he was elected last July, has taken a clear stand on a political and moral issue -- just like Germans want their head of state to do. He is, as the Financial Times Deutschland entitled its editorial on Wednesday, "Finally A President."
(Photo: Crystal Cathedral, 21 June 2005/Nepenthes)
The Southern California megachurch founded by televangelist Robert Schuller filed for bankruptcy court protection, saying a number of creditors had opted not to prolong a moratorium on debt payments.
Crystal Cathedral Ministries, best known for its weekly "Hour of Power" television program that it claims has 20 million viewers, listed assets and debts of between $50 million and $100 million each, according to documents filed on Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana, California. Its largest creditors include several U.S. television stations.
Germany's inflamed public debate about Islam and integration risks serious overheating as politicians compete to make ever tougher statements criticizing Muslims immigrants they accuse of refusing to fit in here.
The escalating row, sparked off when a Bundesbank board member slammed Muslims as dim-witted welfare spongers, has mixed some social problems and some Muslim customs into a vision of Islam as a looming menace to German society.
Christian emigration from the Middle East is impoverishing Arab culture and Muslims have a duty to encourage the presence of Christian minorities, a Lebanese government adviser has told a Vatican summit. (Photo: Muhammad Al-Sammak (R) at the synod for the Middle East bishops, October 14, 2010/Osservatore Romano)
Mohammad Sammak, a Sunni Muslim who is secretary general of Lebanon's Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, told a synod of bishops on Thursday the declining number of Christians in the region was a concern for all Muslims.
(Photo: Bishops at a Mass opening of the synod of bishops from the Middle Eastern at the Vatican, 10 Oct 2010/Tony Gentile)
The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced together, a senior cleric told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.
At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.
The YouTube video that helped push Brazil's presidential election to a second round begins with Paschoal Piragine solemnly telling his flock: "In 30 years as a pastor, I've never done this before." He then warns them that the ruling Workers' Party wants not only to legalize abortion, but would make divorce easier, permit the spread of pornography, and continue to allow tribes in the Amazon to bury alive "thousands of children."
The video, which includes disturbing images and has received nearly 3 million views, concludes with the Baptist preacher telling his followers not to vote for the Workers' Party in upcoming elections. "Otherwise, God will judge our land," Piragine says.
(Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)
Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. "If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe ... it is a miracle that nothing has happened," said Bishop Camillo Ballin.
These churchgoers represent only the tip of the iceberg. Ballin reckons his flock in Kuwait numbers around 350,000 out of a total of half a million Christians in the country.
After a panicky mass flight from his Christian village, Sami Abi Daher watched from across the valley as Syrian-backed Druze fighters burned and looted it. That was back in 1983 when battles forced tens of thousands of Christians from their homes in the Aley and Shouf hills near Beirut in a bloody postscript to Israel's 1982 invasion. (Photo: Supporters of Christian Lebanese Forces commemorate the Lebanese Resistance Martyrs in Jouniyeh, north of Beirut, September 25, 2010./ Mohamed Azakir)
Abi Daher, a former Christian militiaman, has never returned to live in his village, Rishmaya, instead working and bringing up his three children in a Christian district of Beirut.