FaithWorld

Nigerian president appeals to Muslim leaders before vote

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(Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at a campaign rally in Kano, northern Nigeria, March 16, 2011S/Joe Penney)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has appealed to Muslim leaders to help ensure that elections next month, which risk stoking regional rivalries, pass off peacefully. Africa’s most populous nation holds presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections spread over three weeks in April, all of which are set to be fiercely contested.

Jonathan met on Sunday with the Sultan of Sokoto, one of Nigeria’s most influential Islamic leaders, and other senior figures from the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Muslim umbrella organisation Jamatul Nasir Islam in the northern city of Kaduna. Nigeria is home to the largest Muslim community in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for roughly half of the country’s 150 million people, as well as to more than 200 ethnicities, most of whom generally live peacefully side by side.

But ethnic and religious rivalries bubble under the surface and the candidacy of Jonathan, a Christian from the southern Niger Delta, has fuelled resentment from some in the north who believe the next president should be a northern Muslim. Jonathan is running for what would have been the second term of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner who died last year leaving Jonathan to inherit the country’s highest office.

His main rival in the presidential race is former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner whose reputation as a devout Muslim and a disciplinarian means he has strong grass roots support in large parts of the north.

Conservative bishops deliver blow to Anglican Covenant

rowan williamsConservative Anglicans have rejected a proposed landmark agreement designed to prevent splits in the worldwide Anglican Communion, just as the Church of England — the Communion’s mother church — moved a step closer to adopting it.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the 80 million Anglicans worldwide, has invested much personal authority in the proposed Anglican Covenant, which aims to prevent disputes over divisive issues such as gay bishops and same-sex unions. He has said the Anglican Communion faced a “piece-by-piece dissolution” if member churches failed to undertake to avoid actions that upset others. (Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams opens the General Synod at Westminster Abbey in London November 23, 2010/Dan Kitwood)

The General Synod, the Church of England’s governing body, voted in favour of the deal, although it still has a number of stages to go before adoption, which would be no earlier than 2012.

Pope words on condoms bolster AIDS fight in Africa

pope lichtPope Benedict’s qualified backing of condom use to help prevent AIDS marks a small breakthrough for efforts to fight the scourge in Africa, giving health workers and clergy more scope to broach a still-taboo subject.

News of the pontiff’s comments in a book came days before a U.N. report on Tuesday showed that even Africa was making inroads into the epidemic, with a fall in infection rates over the past decade coinciding with greater availability of condoms. (Photo: Pope Benedict with book, 23 Nov 2010/Osservatore Romano)

“It does open the opportunity for discussion,” Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said of the pope’s statement, citing past confusion among many African Catholics over the Church’s approach to AIDS.

Condoms sometimes permissible to stop AIDS: Pope

pope seatedThe use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS may be justified in certain cases, Pope Benedict says in a new book that could herald the start of sea
change in the Vatican’s attitude to condoms.

In excerpts published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Saturday, the pope cites the example of the use of condoms by prostitutes as “a first step toward moralization” but says that condoms were “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.”

While some Roman Catholic leaders have spoken in the past about the limited use of condoms in specific cases to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS as a lesser of two evils, this is the first time the pope has mentioned the possibility.

Christian-Muslim crisis response group to defuse religious tensions

wcc 1 (Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC – Mark Beach)

Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up “rapid deployment teams” to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world’s two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.

Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.

“We call for the formation of a joint working group which can be mobilised whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict,” the leaders said in a statement after their four-day meeting.  “Religion is often invoked in conflict creation, even when other factors, such as unfair resource allocation, oppression, occupation and injustice, are the real roots of conflict. We must find ways to disengage religion from such roles and reengage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice,” said the statement issued in Geneva.

French “Satanic defenestration” story thrown out the window

devil 1Apart from the strikes against pension reform, one of the big stories in France that made headlines around the world these past few days has been about 12 people of African origin who reportedly jumped out of an apartment window in a Paris suburb to flee from a man they thought was the devil. A four-month old baby died in the incident. The initial stories spoke of satanic rituals, maybe something to do with voodoo, and a crazed collective leap into the dark. (Images: The Devil, by Polish sculptor Jan Graczyk, 2005/Michal Graczyk)

The drama was said to have begun when a woman awoke late at night to find her husband walking in the bedroom naked. As one report put it:

She began screaming ‘it’s the devil! it’s the devil!’, and the man ran into the other room where 11 others adults and children were watching television. One woman grabbed a knife and stabbed the man before other family members pushed him out through the front door.

Malawi Muslims burn Gideons Bibles in protest

bibleMuslims in southern Malawi have been burning Bibles in protest against their distribution in Islamic schools by Gideons International, a senior Muslim Association of Malawi official said on Tuesday.

Sheikh Imran Sharif, the association’s secretary general, said the burning of Bibles was carried out by a few Muslim fanatics and the association has ordered them to stop. The Muslim protest has been widely criticised in secular Malawi, which has had little religious friction. (Photo: Bible, 14 Dec 2008/Edgeurged)

Malawi has 1.7 million Muslims, mostly living in the south of the country, that has a population of about 15 million.

Congo’s children battle rising tide of witchcraft accusations

CONGO DEMOCRATICWhen Pascal’s little brother got sick, his family accused him of witchcraft and took him to a pastor who forced him to drink pigeon’s blood and oil. Denied food and beaten for three days, the ten-year-old managed to escape, joining some 250,000 other street children in Congo for three years until he was scooped up by a children’s centre in Kinshasa’s tough east end. (Photos: Congolese boys play in Kinshasa, November 7, 2006/Goran Tomasevic)

“(The pastor) wouldn’t let me eat or drink any water — he said it would increase the power of the witch,” Pascal, not his real name, said in the centre where nearly 100 other children, most accused of witchcraft, have also sought shelter.

UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s charity, says accusing children of sorcery is a fairly new and growing trend in Africa, despite long-held traditional and mystic beliefs on the continent. “The phenomenon of ‘child witches’… occurs in urban areas, where it has grown constantly in the last thirty years,” according to a UNICEF study published this month.

South Africa Muslims look to welcome Muslim World Cup fans

cape town mosqueSouth Africa’s Muslim community says as many as 130,000 Muslim fans could visit for the World Cup and it has set up welcome centres and a website to inform visitors where to eat and pray close to stadiums.

In Cape Town, local Muslims are expecting to welcome Muslim supporters from Algeria, who will play England in Cape Town on Friday, as well as fans of Muslim faith from competing nations such as Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.

Just minutes from Cape Town’s Green Point stadium is the Bo-Kaap district, one of the city’s oldest residential quarters and traditionally associated with the Muslim community.

Latest Anglican bid to mediate gay dispute meets with skepticism

williamsThe Archbishop of Canterbury’s latest proposal to mediate a gay rights dispute splitting the worldwide Anglican Communion seems to be falling on deaf ears in the opposing camps he is trying to discipline. Archbishop Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, suggested last week that member churches approving gay bishops and same-sex unions and those actively opposing them be sidelined from official doctrinal committees.

The initiative was sparked by the consecration of an openly lesbian bishop in California last month. Williams also said conservative churches — mostly in Africa — that appoint bishops to serve in other countries would also be sidelined.

The proposal, if accepted in the Communion, would be the first time such sanctions would be imposed on dissident national churches. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism is a federation of churches whose head has no direct power over all members.