FaithWorld

Qaeda threat to Egyptian Christians may stir militants

egypt 1 (Photo: Demonstrators at the Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque in Cairo claiming a Christian woman had converted to Islam and was being held prisoner by a Christian church, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Militants may feel emboldened by an al Qaeda threat against Egypt’s Christians, even if the network itself might struggle to mount such an assault.

The al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which launched an attack on a Baghdad church on Sunday that left 52 dead, has also threatened Egypt’s church.

While there are no signs of a re-emergence of a 1990s-style Islamist insurgency, Egypt remains alert to anything that could stir communal tension that sometimes boils up over issues such as cross-faith relationships and conversions.

egypt 2 (Photo: Riot police stand guard outside the Al-Fath Mosque in Cairo on October 1, 2010 as Muslims protest against the Coptic Church over the alleged kidnapping of a Christian woman believed by many to have converted to Islam/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptian authorities were quick to condemn the al Qaeda threat and to boost security at churches in the country, where Christians make up 10 percent of the 78 million people, the biggest Christian population in the Middle East.

“This threat is not directed only at Christians but at the Egyptian state. Egypt’s security ended terrorism in the 1990s and it is capable today of eradicating these threats,” said Father Abdel Maseeh Baseet of the Coptic Orthodox church, the biggest Christian community in Egypt.

Libya’s Gaddafi upsets Italy with bid to convert women to Islam

gaddafi 1Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s attempt to convert dozens of young women to Islam during a visit to Italy led to an angry reaction from Italian media on Monday. The mercurial Gaddafi invited a large group of young women hired by a hostessing agency to an event at a Libyan cultural centre in Rome on Sunday and tried to convert them to Islam.

“What would happen if a European head of state went to Libya or another Islamic country and invited everyone to convert to Christianity?” asked the daily Il Messagero. “We believe it would provoke very strong reactions across the Islamic world.” (Photo: Italian woman with Koran at Gaddafi meeting, 30 August 2010/Max Rossi)

gaddafi 2Press reports said three women had converted, but there was no way to verify if that was true. The event, due to be repeated on Monday, followed a similar reception involving some 200 women on a previous visit by Gaddafi to Rome last year.

Malaysia court hears landmark dispute on religious conversion

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Kuala Lumpur, August 25, 2009/Bazuki Muhammad

Malaysia’s highest court has begun proceedings on a landmark inter-religious child custody dispute whose outcome could further raise political tension in this mainly Muslim country.  The Federal Court heard objections by lawyers for an ethnic Indian couple fighting each other for custody of their two children and adjourned for two weeks before hearing the case.

A Hindu woman, Shamala Sathiyaseelan, won temporary custody of her two children in 2004 following her husband’s conversion to Islam. She is seeking full custody and a declaration that it is illegal under Malaysia’s constitution for a parent to convert a minor to Islam without the other’s consent.

Malaysia’s dual-track legal system where Muslims fall under Islamic family laws while non-Muslims come under civil laws has led to overlaps and unresolved religious disputes that have fuelled minority unhappiness and raised political tensions.

UK court accused of interfering in Jewish identity

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UK Supreme Court in London, 14 Sept 2009/Andrew Winning

Britain’s top court was accused of interfering in religious matters after it ruled on Wednesday that a Jewish school was guilty of discrimination by refusing entry to a boy whose mother was a Jew by conversion, not birth.

The Supreme Court said the policy employed by the popular JFS school in London broke race laws by using ethnicity to decide which pupils to admit.  “Essentially we must now apply a ‘non-Jewish definition of who is Jewish’,” said Simon Hochhauser, president of the United Synagogue.

The case was brought after the school refused to admit a boy, known as M, whose father was a practicing Jew and whose mother had converted to Judaism at a non-orthodox synagogue. The over-subscribed school gave precedence to children recognized as ethnically Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth.

Egypt Christian group seeks to change Muslim status

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Egyptian Copts pray in a Cairo church , 21 April 2006/Goran Tomasevic

Ayman Raafa, an Egyptian born a Christian, was nine months old when the father he never knew converted to Islam. Now 23, Raafa is fighting to get the Christian faith he professes recognised by the state and registered on his identity documents vital to daily life.

Raafa was raised a Christian but the state says children automatically become Muslim on a father’s conversion, a policy that places dozens of people in limbo in a society that does not — in practice — recognise conversion away from Islam.  He is one of a group of 40 facing the same identity conundrum and now filing a lawsuit to have their Christian faith recognised, touching a raw spot in relations between Muslims and 10 percent of Egypt’s 77 million people who are Christian.

“I graduated last year and I cannot get a job because I do not have a national ID,” Raafa said at his lawyer’s office, near a well-known Coptic Christian church and hospital in Cairo.

Israel to fund Reform conversions to Judaism? Not so fast.

An Israeli demonstrator holds up a sign in Jerusalem as an Orthodox man prays behind him. Reuters photograph.

The latest front in the ongoing conflict in Israel between ultra-Orthodox Judaism and less observant movements — the subject of a brief blog yesterday on Faithworld — heated up with a front page article in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday that quoted an ultra-Orthodox parliament member calling Reform Jews, among other things, “trecherous backstabbers to Judaism”.

The rather harsh, though not unprecedented, comments were reportedly made by Moshe Gafni from the religious United Torah Judaism party. Gafni is chairman of Israel’s finance committee and was quoted in a phone interview following a high court decision that ordered federal funding of non-Orthodox Jewish conversions.

Gafni’s office could not be reached to confirm the quote.

It’s not clear if Gafni will have any influence in this specific ruling, but his promise to try to block any attempts to allocate funds could certainly take the quarrel up a notch.

Reform Judaism in Israel wins small battle for recognition

Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance at a wedding in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen (JERUSALEM)

The Reform Judaism movement in Israel claimed a small victory in its fight for recognition when the High Court this week ruled in favor of state funding for non-Orthodox conversions.

For years Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel have been trying to break the monopoly of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinic Court, which is the sole authority for Jewish ceremonies like weddings and conversions. That’s an especially big responsiblity in a country where there is no civil marriage, essentially forcing all Jewish Israelis to seek an Orthodox rabbi when they wish to wed — or go abroad.

The more modern, liberal movements have a less strict interpretation and observance of Jewish law than the Orthodox, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

U.S. troop conversion allegations diplomatic minefield

U.S. President Barack Obama may face a new minefield on the battlefields of Afghanistan — one that combines a potent mix of religion and culture.

Explosive allegations have emerged that U.S. soldiers have been attempting to convert Afghanis to Christianity, a scenario sure to stir passions and even anger in the overwhelming Islamic country. You can see our story on the issue here by my colleague Peter Graff in Kabul.

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The U.S. military denied Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages.

What’s in a name: Are God and Allah the same?

malaysia-feature“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of Allah.”

Malaysian Catholics recite this prayer in Malay daily at Masses across the country such as a recent one in St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Keningau, a sprawling timber town in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island that Niluksi Koswanage visited for this feature about tensions between Christians and the majority Muslims.

Muslims object to Christians using the word “Allah” in their services and publications, even though it is the normal word for God in Malay. The Muslims say it could undermine Islam and aims to convert Muslims. The row over the use of Allah to describe the Christian God feeds into a long-running feud over conversions between the government of a country where all Malays must be Muslims, and other faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism that are practised by ethnic Indians and Chinese. (Photo: Mass at St. Francis Cathdral in Keningau, Malaysia, 22 Feb 2009/Bazuki Mohammad)

It is illegal in Malaysia to convert from Islam to any other religion, although conversions to Islam are allowed. Malaysian Muslim activists and officials see using the word Allah in Christian publications including bibles as attempts to proselytise. Those concerns led to a ban on the main Catholic newspaper in Malaysia, the Catholic Herald, on using the word “Allah” to denote God. The government partially lifted the ban in mid-February, only to reimpose it later that month. The Herald is now suing the government to overturn the ruling.

Traditional Anglicans at the Vatican gates? Not so fast

Amid all the controversy over the Vatican’s handling of the return of four excommunicated ultra-traditionalist bishops, some newspapers are reporting that Pope Benedict is now preparing to welcome a far larger group into the Church — the 400,000-strong Traditional Anglican Communion. We noted speculation about this last June. The Italian daily La Stampa wrote today that this group would be accepted into the Roman Catholic Church by Easter. Its headline was “Goodbye Canterbury, Benedict Takes Back Even the Anglicans.”

But it doesn’t look like it’s going to be that way. The Vatican can wait, something it normally is very good at. The arguments I’m hearing here against such a move anytime soon are:

    Large group conversions can be unwieldy and full of surprises. After the controversy over the botched PR for the lifting of bans on the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) bishops, you can bet a lot more homework will be done on this one first.