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(Photo: New York City skyline, December 12, 2009/Jessica Rinaldi)
Muslim parents, students and civic groups are campaigning to add two of their religious holidays to the New York City public school calendar, pinning their hopes on state lawmakers after failing to win over Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the idea. Supporters say there are more than 100,000 Muslim students in the public schools, or about 12 percent of the enrollment.
Putting Eid Ul-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, celebrating the end of
the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on the list of official school holidays will help ease suspicion and reduce anti-Muslim sentiment nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks, they say.
The school calendar currently has 13 observed holidays, including Jewish ones such as Rosh Hashana and Christian holidays such as Good Friday, but no Muslim holidays. Bloomberg has rejected the proposal, arguing city students cannot afford more days off. Just four in 10 students graduate on time and one in 10 drops out, according to statistics.
The French National Assembly begins debating a complete ban on Muslim full face veils in public next week and could outlaw them by the autumn. Belgium's lower house of parliament has passed a draft ban and could banish them from its streets in the coming months if its Senate agrees. The Spanish Senate has passed a motion to ban them after a few towns introduced their own prohibitions. (Photo: A veiled French woman outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels/Yves Herman)
Calls to ban "burqas" -- the word most widely in Europe used for full veils, even if most full veils seen are niqabs -- have also been heard in the Netherlands and Denmark. According to a Financial Times poll, the ban proposal also "wins enthusiastic backing in the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany".
(Photo: Professor Fabrizio Bisconti shows the image of an unidentified person on the ceiling of the catacomb chamber, with the four portraits of Apostles in circles in the corners of the ceiling, 22 June 2010/Tony Gentile)
Archaeologists and art restorers using new laser technology have discovered what they believe are the oldest paintings of the faces of Jesus Christ's Apostles. The images in a branch of the catacombs of St Tecla near St Paul's Basilica, just outside the walls of ancient Rome, were painted at the end of the 4th century or the start of the 5th century.
Archaeologists believe these images may have been among those that most influenced later artists' depictions of the faces of Christ's most important early followers. "These are the first images that we know of the faces of these four Apostles," said Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, the head of archaeology for Rome's numerous catacombs, which are owned and maintained by the Vatican.
(Photo: A Palestinian near the Israeli barrier in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem November 9, 2009/Darren Whiteside)
Alastair Macdonald has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years. As a foreign correspondent over the past 20, he has previously been based in London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Baghdad. As he ends his assignment in Jerusalem, he reflects in the following story on how he has watched people in the region build an array of barriers, both physical and emotional, to cut themselves off from each other.
With one last exit stamp in my passport, I end a three-year reporting assignment in the Holy Land that has been marked by images of frontiers, by a sense of walls going up and fewer and fewer people finding a way through.
Egypt will draft a new law to govern marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, a state newspaper reported, a move analysts see as an attempt to contain anger after a court overruled the Coptic Orthodox Church last month.
Egypt's Coptic church has long called for changes to the country's personal status laws, which say Islamic rules on marriage and divorce prevail except in cases where both husband and wife are non-Muslims and from the same religious denomination. Under the current law, for instance, a Catholic husband with a Coptic wife could be subject to Islamic law.
The Russian Orthodox Church has called for tougher rules to reduce the number of abortions carried out in a country struggling to combat its fast-dwindling population. Russia registered 1.2 million abortions and 1.7 million births last year, according to the Health Ministry.
Two Western aid organisations have denied allegations they were engaged in Christian proselytising in Afghanistan after the government suspended their activities following a television report. Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid said they had been operating in Afghanistan for decades and their work was entirely humanitarian.
"Norwegian Church Aid has no mandate to influence people's religious beliefs in any part of the world -- neither in Afghanistan," the organisation said on its website.
Afghanistan has launched an investigation into the activities of hundreds of aid groups after a local media report accused a Norwegian organisation of preaching Christianity, a crime punishable by death.
Foreign and Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in essential humanitarian projects across the country -- helping out in areas ranging from health to education -- but some Afghans remain skeptical of their motives and suspect they could be a front for proselytising.
An Egyptian court has ruled that divorced Copts have the right to remarry, contradicting the church's position and undermining its efforts to maintain its authority over the Christian community in Muslim-majority Egypt.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has attacked the country's judiciary as an obstacle to reform after its high court ruled it would be discriminatory to entrench kadhi courts -- Islamic courts that rule on the basis of sharia -- in Kenya's constitution. The ruling came three months before Kenyans vote in a referendum on a proposed new constitution, seen as an important step towards ensuring that post-election violence which shook east Africa's largest economy in 2008 is not repeated.