FaithWorld

A week after riots, Thai capital prays for peace

bangkok

Buddhist monks receive alms in Bangkok on May 26, 2010 during a gathering for peace prayers/Yannis Behrakis

Thousands of Thais prayed for peace and unity in Bangkok on Wednesday, a week after a deadly military crackdown on protesters sparked a terrifying night of arson and riots that levelled buildings and killed 54 people.

But analysts say without major reforms to a political system that protesters claim favours an “establishment elite” over the rural masses, such prayers and forgiveness will not end a polarising crisis costing the economy billions of dollars.

Hundreds of saffron-robed Buddhist monks received food from well wishers along a shopping mall occupied by anti-government protesters for six weeks until they were dispersed by troops and armoured vehicles last week.

Next to them were Christian, Muslim and Sikh leaders, who also conducted prayers to bless the riot-torn city of 15 million people as predominantly Buddhist Thailand grapples with widening social and political rifts that have spiralled dangerously into the open in the past five years.

Morocco expels proselytising Christians ‘to prevent conflict’

rabat church

Saint Pierre Cathedral in Rabat, November 12, 2008/Rafael Marchante

Morocco has expelled foreign Christians who tried to convert Muslims because, as a moderate Islamic state, it wants to foster “order and calm” and avoid a clash between faiths, its Islamic affairs minister has  said.

The government has expelled around 100 foreign Christians since March, many of them aid workers, in what Western diplomats have called an unprecedented crackdown on undercover preaching.

“These incidents (expulsions) were prompted by the activism of some foreigners who undermined public order,” Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday. “There are some who hide their proselytism and religious activism under the guise of other activities.”

Cyprus Maronites reviving language link to Jesus

aramaic

Maronite Sunday mass in Kormakitis, 21 May 2002/Ayla Yackley

As the archbishop walks down the church aisle a melodic hymn rises from the congregation in an ancient tongue that Jesus would have recognized. The Aramaic language of the earliest Christians lives on in the church services of a tiny village on the Turkish Cypriot side of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where a hybrid dialect of Aramaic is commonly spoken by just 1,000 people who are striving to keep it alive.

Maronites from the village of Kormakitis, on a sun-baked peninsula in northwestern Cyprus, have for centuries used a unique language to communicate now codified by experts as Cypriot Maronite Arabic, or CMA.  Rooted in Aramaic, CMA evolved with influences from Arabic, Latin, Turkish and Greek.

Locals admit that not many in the congregation understand the meaning of the words in the Syriac-Aramaic hymns they were taught from infancy.  Like their own CMA language, it has been passed down to them phonetically. But in an attempt to boost dwindling numbers of people using CMA, an alphabet was established three years ago.

Egyptian Christians want action on “insulting” novel

copts

Egyptian Copts celebrate the Feast of Assumption in Dronka, 400 km (310 miles) south of Cairo on August 21, 2008/Amr Dalsh

Egyptian Christians have called for government action against the author of a widely read novel they say insults Christianity, in an unusual case that puts freedom of expression in Muslim-majority Egypt under fresh scrutiny.  Government investigators are looking into the complaint filed by a group of Egyptian and some foreign Copts against Youssef Ziedan, a Muslim who wrote the 2008 award-winning novel Azazeel (Beelzebub).

Azazeel, which won the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, backed by the Booker Prize Foundation, tells the story of a 5th-century Egyptian monk who witnesses debates over doctrine between early Christians. Mamdouh Ramzi, a Coptic lawyer, said the author insulted priests and bishops and said many things with no proof or evidence from books or history … He is not a Christian man, what does he know about the Church?”

Visitors banned from Kashmir shrine some claim is tomb of Jesus

kashmir

A Kashmiri Muslim woman prays at the Rozabal Shrine in Srinagar on April 22, 2010/Danish Ismail

Who is buried at a small shrine in Kashmir? Jesus or two medieval Muslim scholars?

Renewed debate over whose remains are actually in the Rozabal shrine, which attracts hundreds of tourists to the capital of lndia’s only Muslim-dominated region, has led caretakers to close it to visitors after allowing access for several years.

Secular Lebanese protest against Muslim-Christian sectarianism

beirut 3

About 3,000 people marched in Beirut on Sunday to demand a secular system in place of the Muslim-Christian sectarianism that permeates politics, employment and family status matters in Lebanon.  “Civil marriage, not civil war” was among the banners carried by the mostly young, educated protesters who gathered in response to a campaign on Internet social networking sites. It was Lebanon’s first such demonstration in favor of secularism.

Many wore white T-shirts with “What’s your sect?” written on the front and “None of your business” on the back.

Lebanon, whose five million people are split into 18 sects, developed a power-sharing system enshrined in a 1943 national covenant which gave Christians a majority in parliament and said the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shi’ite Muslim.

In Indonesia, keeping the religious status quo

indonesia muslim

Youths read the Koran in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province September 5, 2008/Yusuf Ahmad

 Even though Indonesia is officially secular, belonging to a religious group is part of your national identity — to the point of being listed on your identity card.

But don’t try to spread a religion that isn’t one of six recognised by the constitution or you could be accused of blasphemy.

Malaysia plans interfaith committee as tension rises

malaysia cross

Burn marks on the wall of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur January 9, 2010, one of several struck in a row over the use of the word "Allah"/Bazuki Muhammad

Malaysia will set up an interfaith committee to promote religious harmony, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday, after a series of religious disputes have fueled tensions in the mainly Muslim country.

The interfaith committee will look into religious groups’ disputes with one another and promote understanding among them, Koh Tsu Koon, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, was quoted by the online version of the Star newspaper as saying.

Jerusalem: heart of the Mideast conflict

jerusalem

Jerusalem, December 8, 2009/Ammar Awad

Next week is the time of year when millions of people around the world look to Jerusalem as the source of inspiration for the Christian festival of Easter and Jewish Passover celebrations. But this week the city is also the recurrent focus of bitter dispute. The United States has directed rare strong criticism at Israel over its plans to expand Jewish settlements there, saying the building undermines U.S. efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

SETTLEMENT2Want to know more? Following are links to a sampling of recent Reuters stories about Jerusalem and a Reuters graphic on new Israeli construction in East Jerusalems:

LATEST NEWS

Israel awaits word, signs are no deal with US

Israel, undeterred, to build in East Jerusalem

FEATURE STORIES

Jerusalem struggle goes on, years after war

Researchers dig up controversy in Jerusalem

ANALYSIS/BACKGROUND

Leaders’ Jerusalem rhetoric mirrors conflict

Q+A-Jerusalem: What’s at stake? Why does it matter?

Jerusalem clashes could signal more trouble

Jerusalem, focus of faith, conflict

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

Christian-Muslim identity tags in Nigerian struggle for land

nigeria 1

A funeral of victims in Dogo Nahawa village near Jos in central Nigeria, March 8, 2010/Akintunde Akinleye

Bloody clashes between Christian and Muslim gangs in Nigeria have led to media headlines about “religious violence” that leave readers wondering just what role faith plays in this conflict. As our copy from Nigeria points out, the terms Christian, Muslim and animist are often used to identify the groups in this conflict, but they are not fighting over the divine nature of Jesus, prophethood of Mohammad or sacredness of a tree or rock. They are mostly struggling for land in the fertile central region of the country.

Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups and several different languages, but its population is divided almost equally between Muslims and Christians.