FaithWorld

Islamic State’s purge of minorities re-draws the map of Iraq

(Iraqi refugees, who fled from the violence in Mosul, walk during sunset inside the Khazer refugee camp on the outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, June 27, 2014. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, called on the country's leaders on Friday to choose a prime minister within the next four days, a dramatic political intervention that could hasten the end of Nuri al-Maliki's eight year rule. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah )

(Iraqi refugees, who fled from the violence in Mosul, walk during sunset inside the Khazer refugee camp on the outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, June 27, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah )

A new map is being drawn across the plains of northern Iraq as Sunni militants of the Islamic State purge the rural landscape of religious and ethnic minorities that have co-existed for hundreds of years.

More than half a million people have been displaced across Iraq since June, when the north’s biggest city, Mosul, fell to Sunni insurgents who have have harried Shi’ite Turkmen and Shabaks, Yezidis and Christians.

Even before the fall of Mosul, Yezidis, who follow an ancient monotheistic religion with elements of nature worship and are branded devil worshippers by the hardline Islamists, hardly dared set foot in the city, which has been a nerve centre for the Sunni insurgency since 2003.

Now the Islamic State’s cleansing campaign has rid farmland and villages in the surrounding Nineveh province and beyond of longtime minority inhabitants, leaving the country’s north segregated along clear sectarian and ethnic lines.

U.N.’s Ban seeks advice on Iraq crisis from top Shi’ite cleric al-Sistani

(UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R), walks after a meeting with Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf July 24, 2014. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sought guidance from Iraq's top cleric on Thursday, as he urged Iraqi politicians to form an inclusive government that can confront a Sunni militant insurgency. Ban's meeting with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani underscored the 83-year-old cleric's vast sway in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is considered a polarising figure who has fueled sectarian tensions. A spokesman for Ban told Reuters the United Nations chief was meeting with Sistani in the city of Najaf to seek his wisdom on developments in Iraq. REUTERS/Ahmad Mousa )

(UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R), walks after a meeting with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf July 24, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmad Mousa )

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sought guidance from Iraq’s top cleric on Thursday, as he urged Iraqi politicians to form an inclusive government that can confront a Sunni militant insurgency.

Ban’s meeting with Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani underscored the 83-year-old cleric’s vast sway in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is considered a polarizing figure who has fueled sectarian tensions.

French Jews living in fear after pro-Palestinian protests, minister says

(French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrives for a meeting in Vienna July 13, 2014. Fabius on Sunday said that securing a ceasefire for the Gaza Strip and preventing an escalation of the latest outbreak of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians was top priority for France. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader )

(French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrives for a meeting in Vienna July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader )

Many members of France’s Jewish community are living in fear after pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks were marred by violence and use of anti-Semitic language, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East have often in the past added to tensions between the two communities.

Oil smuggling finances Islamic State’s new caliphate

(A fighter from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mans an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle in Mosul July 16, 2014. The Iraqi army and allied Shi'ite militia forces are trying to push back the Sunni insurgents of the al Qaeda offshoot, who swept through northern Iraq last month to within 70 km (45 miles) of Baghdad. The banner on the bridge reads: "Welcome to the State of Nineveh; There is no God but God and Mohammad is the Messenger of God". Picture taken July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer )

(A fighter from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mans an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the rear of a vehicle in Mosul July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer )

Islamic State militants seized four small oilfields when they swept through north Iraq last month and are now selling crude oil and gasoline from them to finance their newly declared “caliphate”.

Near the northern city of Mosul, the Islamic State has taken over the Najma and Qayara fields, while further south near Tikrit it overran the Himreen and Ajil fields during its two-day sweep through northern Iraq in mid-June.

from Photographers' Blog:

Waiting to die

Varanasi, India
By Danish Siddiqui

The River Ganges is sacred in Hinduism, and the city of Varanasi, which lies on its banks, is one of the oldest and holiest sites for Hindu pilgrims from all over the world.

Devotees believe that you can wash away your sins by taking a dip in the Ganges at Varanasi. What’s more, dying and having your ashes scattered here is a sacred thing for Hindus who believe that it brings “moksha,” or freedom for the soul from the constant cycle of death and rebirth. To attain this salvation, many travel to Varanasi to die.

A woman stands in a street outside the Mukti Bhawan (Salvation Home) at Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, June 17, 2014. Picture taken June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

“Mukti Bhavan,” or “Salvation House,” is a charity-run hostel for people who wish to pass away in the city. It has 12 rooms, a temple and small quarters for its priests. Lodging there comes with certain conditions: guests have two weeks to die or they are gently asked to move on.

Chinese police clash with Christian protesters over cross removal

(Girls run past the Catholic church in traditional Chinese architecture style ahead of a mass in Xiliulin village near the city of Taiyuan, Shanxi province, December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Lee )

(A Catholic church in traditional Chinese architecture style in Xiliulin village near the city of Taiyuan, Shanxi province, December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Lee )

Police in eastern China clashed in the middle of the night with Christian protesters massed around their church on Monday, but failed to carry out a government order to remove a cross from the building, according to witnesses and online accounts.

Several people were injured in the two-hour melee.

Dozens of churches in the wealthy province of Zhejiang have received government notices in the past few weeks demanding the demolition of church buildings or removal of crosses in what the government says is a campaign aimed at illegal structures, the U.S.-based Christian group ChinaAid says.

Turkey’s top cleric calls new Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ illegitimate

(Grand Mufti of Turkey Mehmet Gormez shakes hands with a onlooker after an inauguration ceremony in front of the Gazi Husrev Begova mosque in Sarajevo, November 15, 2012. Newly elected Husein Kavazovic is the 14th Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will be on duty over the next seven years. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic )

(Mehmet Gormez, head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, shakes hands with a onlooker during a visit to the Gazi Husrev Begova mosque in Sarajevo, November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic )

Islamic State, an armed group formerly allied to al Qaeda that has captured swathes of territory across Iraq, last month declared its leader, Ibrahim al-Baghdadi, “caliph” – the historical title last held by the Turkish Ottoman sultan who ruled much of the Muslim world.

“Such declarations have no legitimacy whatsoever,” Mehmet Gormez, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, the highest religious authority in Turkey, which, although a majority Muslim country, has been a secular state since the 1920s.

Greek Orthodox church in Gaza shelters Muslims fleeing Israeli shelling

(Palestinians gather in the courtyard of the Saint Porfirios Christian Orthodox church, where they are taking refuge from fighting in areas around Gaza City, July 23, 2014. Israeli forces pounded multiple sites across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, including the enclave's sole power plant, and said it was meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists, as diplomats sought to end the bloodshed. Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes by Hamas Islamists, which was angered by a crackdown on its supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank and suffering economic hardship because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly )

(Palestinians gather in the courtyard of the Saint Porfirios Christian Orthodox church, where they are taking refuge from fighting in areas around Gaza City, July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly )

About 1,000 Palestinian Muslims fleeing Israeli shells devastating their Gaza neighborhood have found shelter in a building they otherwise would rarely if ever enter, the city’s 12th-century Greek Orthodox Church.

Despite its thick walls dating back to the Crusades, the Church of Saint Porphyrius was still not a very safe haven. Shortly after they arrived, Israeli aircraft bombed a nearby field, spraying shrapnel on the church and damaging graves.

from Photographers' Blog:

Uighurs of Shanghai

Shanghai, China
By Aly Song

The traditional home of China’s Muslim Uighur community is the far western state of Xinjiang, a region that has been plagued by violence in recent years.

The government blames a series of attacks on Islamist militants and Uighur separatists, who it says want to set up an independent state called East Turkestan. But human rights activists say that government policies - including restrictions on Islam - have stirred up the unrest, although the government strongly denies this.

Uighur men visit the Bund in Shanghai, April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Aly Song

Some members of the Uighur community have chosen to move elsewhere around the country and Shanghai, the city where I am currently based, had 5,254 Uighur residents as of 2010, according to a government website.

Iraq Chaldean Catholic leader says Islamic State worse than Genghis Khan

(Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul, pray at the Mar Afram church at the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh, July 19, 2014. The ancient Christian community of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul had all but fled by Saturday, ending a presence stretching back nearly two millennia after radical Islamists set them a midday deadline to submit to Islamic rule or leave. The ultimatum by the Islamic State drove out the few hundred Christians who had stayed on when the group's hardline Sunni Muslim fighters overran Mosul a month ago, threatening Christians and the diverse city's other religious communities. REUTERS/Stringer)

(Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul, pray at the Mar Afram church at the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh, July 19, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer)

The head of Iraq’s largest church said on Sunday that Islamic State militants who drove Christians out of Mosul were worse than Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his grandson Hulagu who ransacked medieval Baghdad.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako led a wave of condemnation for the Sunni Islamists who demanded Christians either convert, submit to their radical rule and pay a religious levy or face death by the sword.