FaithWorld

Voices of Mideast Christians and Muslims about Pope Benedict’s visit to Beirut (pix)

(Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful from his Pope-mobile upon his arrival to conduct an open-air mass service at Beirut City Center Waterfront September 16, 2012. REUTERS/ Stefano Rellandini)

Whenever he travels abroad, Pope Benedict delivers a series of speeches that journalists scan for their relevance to the situation in the country he’s visiting. This aspect has been especially important here in Lebanon, a multi-faith country that suffered through a 15-year-long civil war (1975-1990) fought along sectarian lines and now watches nervously as Syria’s bloody civil war unfolds along sectarian lines only 50 km (30 miles) from Beirut. So the majority of our stories have focused on his calls for an end to the violence in Syria and greater efforts to promote peace and religious co-existence in the region.

Another part of the story is the enthusiastic welcome Christians and some Muslims have given the pope as a messenger of peace. We’ve quoted several of them in our news stories. But our journalists, especially Erika Solomon, an Arabic-speaking American, have gathered so many of these quotes that I wanted to post a large selection of them here. They give more of the human flavour of the visit and what it means for the Christians who hear the pope’s message.

(A giant rosary made of balloons rises in the sky over peoplel gathering at Bkerke in Harissa near Beirut before the Pope Benedict XVI meets the youth September 15, 2012. REUTERS/ Stefano Rellandini)

On Saturday evening, Pope Benedict addressed a youth rally outside the Maronite Patriarchate, which sits atop a mountain north of Beirut, overlooking the Mediterraneaan Sea (here’s our news story). There was a group of about 250 Iraqi Chaldean and Syriac Christians who had come from Baghdad and Irbil and were waving Iraqi and Kurdish flags. Iraq once had about 1.5 million Christians but the number are now believed to have dropped to fewer than 850,000 out of a population of around 30 million because of killings by militant Islamists and emigration abroad following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Click here for more on Iraqi Christians.

Boko Haram Islamists, after hitting churches, warn of more attacks on media

(Burnt newspaper copies are seen in the rubble of a destroyed This Day newspaper building in Abuja April 28, 2012. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

Islamist group Boko Haram released a video late on Tuesday celebrating its bombing of a Nigerian newspaper and warning of more attacks on local and foreign media if they published reports that were biased to the sect or insulting to Islam.  Suicide car bombers targeted the offices of This Day in the capital, Abuja, and northern city of Kaduna last Thursday, killing at least five people in apparently coordinated strikes.

Boko Haram has been fighting a low-level insurgency for more than two years and has become the main security threat facing Africa’s top oil producer, although most attacks have been in the largely Muslim north, far from southern oil fields. The sect, which wants to impose an Islamic state on Nigeria’s more or less evenly mixed population of Muslim and Christians, has been blamed for hundreds of killings since its uprising against the government in 2009.

from The Great Debate:

How to tackle the child marriage crisis

By the end of today another 25,000 young children will have been robbed of their childhoods, cheated of their right to an education, exposed to life-threatening health risks, and set on a path that often leads to a life of servitude and poverty. Their plight is the result of widespread and systematic human rights violations. Yet the source of the injustice they suffer is hidden in the shadows of debates on international development: They are child brides.

Each year, 1.5 million girls -- many just starting their adolescent years -- become child brides. It was shocking for us to discover the sheer scale of the problem and to understand its impact on human rights and the life cycle of opportunities, and most tragically of all, on maternal and infant death rates.

Early marriage is a hidden crisis. Because the victims are overwhelmingly young, poor and female, their voices are seldom heard by governments. Their concerns do not register on the agendas of global summits. But early marriage is destroying human potential and reinforcing gender inequalities on a global scale. It is subjecting young girls to the elevated health risks that come with early pregnancy and childbirth. It is reinforcing the subordination of women. And it is holding back progress toward the United Nation’s 2015 goal of universal primary education. Without educating girls who are not in school today and preventing them from marrying, we cannot ever hope to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Would-be presidents court Senegal’s holy kingmakers

(A woman walks past a mural of Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood's figurehead and spiritual guide, the late Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacke, in Dakar, January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Penney )

It is not everyday that Senegal’s octogenarian president Abdoulaye Wade lets the television cameras into his bedroom. But Wade, seeking a new term in next month’s election, was quick to usher them in when his visitor was Serigne Abo Mbacke, a leader of the Mourides, 129-year-old Sufi order of Islam that counts millions of devotees in his West African country.

The ensuing images of two men demurely perched next to each other on a king-size divan may not have made great television. But the photo opportunity was not lost to voters as proof of the intimate link between Senegal’s Sufi fraternities and the body politic of this Muslim but staunchly secular state.

Frankincense production is doomed, scientists warn

(Foreign visitors extract perfumed gum from a frankincense tree the Socotra island March 27, 2008. Socotra that is located in the Arabian Sea, 380 km (238 miles) south of mainland Yemen and 80 km west of the Horn of Africa. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Trees that produce frankincense, a fragrant resin used in incense and perfumes and a central part of the Christmas story, are declining so fast that production could be halved over the next 15 years, scientists said on Wednesday.

In a study published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology, ecologists from the Netherlands and Ethiopia looked at large-scale field studies and predicted that tree numbers could decline by 90 percent in the next 50 years. If fire, grazing and insect attack, the most likely causes of decline, remain unchecked, then frankincense production could be doomed altogether, they warned.

Pope Benedict expresses shame for Christian violence in history

(Pope Benedict XVI (C), Wande Abimbola (R) of Nigeria, Rabbi David Rosen (2nd R), Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (L) and Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodox Church Bartolomeo I attend the "Prayer for Peace," a inter-religious meeting in the Italian pilgrimage town of Assisi October 27, 2011. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito)

Pope Benedict, leading a global inter-religious meeting, has acknowledged “with great shame” that Christianity had used force in its long history but said violence in God’s name had no place in the world today. Benedict spoke as he hosted some 300 religious leaders from around the world – including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Taoists, Shintoists and Buddhists – in an inter-faith prayer gathering for peace in the city of St Francis.

“As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith,” he said in his address to the delegations in an Assisi basilica on Thursday.  “We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature,” he said.

from Africa News blog:

Could Islamist rebels undermine change in Africa?

Creeping from the periphery in Africa’s east and west, Islamist militant groups now pose serious security challenges to key countries and potentially even a threat to the continent’s new success.

The biggest story in Africa south of the Sahara over the past few years hasn’t been plague, famine or war but the emergence of the world’s poorest continent as one of its fastest growing – thanks to factors that include fresh investment, economic reform, the spread of new technology, higher prices for commodity exports and generally greater political stability.

Nigeria and Kenya, the most important economies in West and East Africa respectively, are pillars of the change in Africa as well as having the largest and most easily accessible markets for foreigners.

Factbox on Anwar al-Awlaki, U.S.-born al Qaeda cleric killed in air strike

(Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, gives a religious lecture in an unknown location in this still image taken from video released by Intelwire.com on September 30, 2011/Intelwire.com)

Yemen’s Defence Ministry said on Friday that Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim preacher linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, had been killed, in what a security official said was an air strike. Awlaki had been implicated in a botched attempt by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in 2009 and had contacts with a U.S. Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at a U.S. military base the same year.

U.S. authorities have branded him a “global terrorist” but Sanaa had previously appeared reluctant to act against him. It was not immediately clear if Awlaki had been killed in a Yemeni air raid or a U.S. drone strike. A U.S. drone aircraft targeted but missed him in May. Yemeni officials had previously reported that Awlaki had been killed in late 2009.

Report shows rise in world restrictions on religion

Nearly a third of the world’s population lives in countries where it is becoming more difficult to freely practice religion, a private U.S. research group has reported. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life said government restrictions and public hostility involving religion grew in some of the most populous countries from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

“During the three-year period covered by the study, the extent of violence and abuse related to religion increased in more places than it decreased,” according to the report “Rising Restrictions on Religion.” Only about one percent of the world lives in countries that saw more religious tolerance during those years, it said.

The Pew Center review of 198 countries found those deemed restrictive or hostile in the previous report were growing even more so, while the opposite was found for those with more religious tolerance. A substantial rise in public hostility toward religious groups was seen in China, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam and Britain, while government restrictions rose substantially in Egypt and France.

Egyptians want more Islam in politics, according to Pew poll

sign

(Anti-Mubarak graffiti in Cairo's Tahrir Square February 1, 2011. The Arabic writing reads "Down with Mubarak."/Yannis Behrakis )

With so much speculation about what role the Muslim Brotherhood might play in any future political system in Egypt, it’s worth looking at some opinion polling data to see what they say they think about the role of Islam in politics.  One recent poll says they want a bigger role for Islam in politics, they want democracy and they reject Islamist radicals such as Osama bin Laden.  Respondents also showed quite high levels of support for traditional Islamic punishments such as stoning for adulterers, cutting off thieves’ hands and death for apostates from Islam.

Whether and how the views mirrored in these results get turned into policy naturally depends on many factors, so this poll the Pew Research Center published in December cannot be any kind of projection of what to expect. Still, it provides at least some data on what Egyptians may want to see from a future government.