FaithWorld

Muslims pray to turn Turkey’s greatest monument back into a mosque

(Local and foreign visitors, with the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia in the background, stroll at Sultanahmet square in Istanbul August 23, 2013. The number of foreign visitors arriving in Turkey grew at its slowest pace for eight months in July, as the impact of anti-government protests and the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan took their toll, data showed on Friday. Foreign arrivals rose 0.48 percent year-on-year last month to 4.59 million people, according to the Tourism Ministry figures, the lowest rise since November. The number of visitors rose 4.93 percent the previous month. REUTERS/Murad Sezer )

(Hagia Sophia in Istanbul August 23, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer )

It has served as the exalted seat of two faiths since its vast dome and lustrous gold mosaics first levitated above Istanbul in the 6th Century: Christendom’s greatest cathedral for 900 years and one of Islam’s greatest mosques for another 500.

Today, the Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Turkish, is officially a museum: Turkey’s most-visited monument, whose formally neutral status symbolizes the secular nature of the modern Turkish state.

But tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathering there on Saturday hope it will again be a mosque, a dream they believe Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan can fulfill.

There are even rumors – denied by the government – that Erdogan, a religious conservative who is seeking the presidency at an election in August, could lead prayers there one day soon.

“This is a serious push to break Ayasofya’s chains,” said Salih Turan, head of the Anatolia Youth Association, which has collected 15 million signatures to petition for it to be turned back into a mosque.

Russian Orthodox Church the absent player at Pope-Patriarch Jerusalem summit

(Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department, attends an interview with Reuters in Moscow May 16, 2014. Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine's crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion said on Friday. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

(Metropolitan Hilarion during an interview with Reuters in Moscow May 16, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

When Pope Francis meets the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians next week, the speeches and symbolism will focus on how these ancient western and eastern wings of Christianity want to come closer together.

After almost a millennium apart, however, the key to the elusive unity they seek does not lie in Jerusalem, where the Catholic pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will embrace on May 25. If anywhere, that key lies in Moscow.

Saudi Arabia may curb Dutch trade ties over Wilders’ anti-Islam slogans

(Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders speaks during an interview with Reuters in The Hague April 17, 2014. Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders blamed the crisis in Ukraine on the European Union on Thursday, accusing it of inciting violence by dangling the "carrot" of EU integration. Wilders, whose party is second in Dutch opinion polls, said the European Union had no business adopting a joint foreign policy towards its giant eastern neighbour and that EU sanctions against Russia would be ineffective. To match Interview EU-ELECTION/DUTCH-WILDERS REUTERS/Michael Kooren)

(Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders in The Hague April 17, 2014. REUTERS/Michael Kooren)

Saudi Arabia is considering trade sanctions against the Netherlands because of stickers printed by far-right politician Geert Wilders which display anti-Islam slogans in the colours of the Saudi flag, a Dutch foreign ministry spokesman said.

Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Dutch Freedom Party, is tied in first place with the Democrats in national opinion polls before European Parliament elections that will be held in the Netherlands on Thursday.

Church can help heal Scottish independence divisions, says Queen Elizabeth

*(People stand at the main entrance of Canongate Kirk in the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland March 9, 2011. Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter Zara Phillips will marry the captain of England's rugby team, Mike Tindall, in July, Buckingham Palace said on Wednesday, becoming the monarch's second grandchild to get married in the space of a few months. Buckingham Palace said Phillips, 29, and Tindall would wed at Canongate Kirk, the parish church of Edinburgh Castle. REUTERS/David Moir )

(Canongate Kirk, the parish church of Edinburgh Castle, in Edinburgh, Scotland March 9, 2011. REUTERS/David Moir )

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth sent a message to the Church of Scotland on Saturday, recognising the role it can play in helping to heal divisions opened up by the increasingly bitter debate over Scottish independence.

Elizabeth, 88, who celebrated 60 years on the throne in 2012, has not publicly entered the political debate on whether Scotland should end its 307-year-old union with England and leave the United Kingdom.

In Modi’s India, a case of rule and divide

(Muslim boys play cricket in a ground in the Muslim dominated Johapura area in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad February 28, 2014. Narendra Modi's critics depict him as an autocratic Hindu supremacist who would tyrannize the country's minority Muslims if his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. Modi himself insists he is a moderate who will create a prosperous India for people of all creeds. Picture taken February 28, 2014. To match Special Report INDIA-MUSLIMS/ REUTERS/Ahmad Masood )

(Muslim boys play cricket in a ground in the Muslim dominated Johapura area in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood )

Ali Husain is a prosperous young Indian Muslim businessman. He recently bought a Mercedes and lives in a suburban-style gated community that itself sits inside a ghetto.

In Gujarat, it is so difficult for Muslims to buy property in areas dominated by Hindus even the community’s fast-growing urban middle class is confined to cramped and decrepit corners of cities.

Sudanese woman sentenced to death for converting to Christianity

(Al-Nour mosque, Khartoum)

(Al-Nour mosque, Khartoum, 19 December 2011/simsimt)

A Sudanese court has sentenced a 27-year-old woman to death for converting to Christianity, judicial sources said.

Mariam Yahya Ibrahim had been ordered to abandon her newly adopted Christian faith and return to Islam. She had also been charged with adultery for marrying a Christian man.

Judge Abbas al Khalifa asked Ibrahim whether she would return to Islam. After she said “I am a Christian,” the death sentence was handed down, the judicial sources said.

Religious tensions deepen Ukraine splits – Russian Orthodox official

(Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department, attends an interview with Reuters in Moscow May 16, 2014. Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine's crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion said on Friday. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov )

(Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, at an interview with Reuters in Moscow May 16, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov )

Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine’s crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, a senior official of the Moscow-based church said on Friday.

Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian Church’s foreign relations department, said other churches had clearly lined up behind the Kiev government and he cited religious differences for its decision to refuse him entry to Ukraine last week.

In Indonesia, moderate Islamic party returns to political center stage

(Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo looks on during PDIP party campaign in Jakarta March 16, 2014. In a sign Indonesians are coming to assume that the hugely popular Jakarta governor Widodo will be their next president, even the outgoing leader is pressing him to be more explicit about his policies before he is in office. Picture take March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta)

(Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo looks on during PDIP party campaign in Jakarta March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta)

Indonesian presidential frontrunner Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has joined hands with the country’s most popular Islamic party, cementing the surprise resurgence of Muslim parties in this year’s election and possibly renewing their voice in the new government.

The National Awakening Party (PKB) on Saturday became the latest party to back Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic-Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and his bid for president on July 9.

Attacks on churches in Israel are “poison” before pope’s visit, patriarch says

(Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, pauses during a news conference in the northern city of Haifa, called due to recent attacks dubbed "price tagging", May 11, 2014. Twal said on Sunday a spate of attacks he described as acts of terror against the church were poisoning the atmosphere ahead of this month's visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to arrest more perpetrators. REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

(Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, pauses during a news conference in the northern city of Haifa, May 11, 2014. REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said on Sunday a spate of attacks against the Church had poisoned the atmosphere ahead of this month’s visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to crack down on the perpetrators.

Fourteen attacks by suspected far-right Israelis have been reported in the past year. Several have been carried out over the last month, including a death threat daubed in Hebrew at the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center in East Jerusalem.

Top Russian Orthodox cleric Hilarion says refused entry to Ukraine

(Pope Francis (L) poses with Metropolitan Hilarion, the foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church, during a private meeting at the Vatican March 20, 2013. Pope Francis urged members of all religions and those belonging to no church on Wednesday to unite to defend justice, peace and the environment and not allow the value of a person to be reduced to "what he produces and what he consumes". REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

(Metropolitan Hilarion (R), the foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church, with Pope Francis (L) at the Vatican March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

A top cleric from the Russian Orthodox Church said he was refused entry to Ukraine this week amid an escalating stand-off between Moscow and Kiev over separatist unrest in Ukraine’s east.

The church’s Department of External Relations said its head, Metropolitan Hilarion, was turned back on Friday at the airport in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk where he came to award a prize to a local cleric.