FaithWorld

Vatican synod to mull Middle East Christian exodus

baghdad churchWith Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.

For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region’s many Christian churches. (Photo: Worshippers light candles after Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad October 3, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians — Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants — has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.

While conditions for Christians vary from country to country, the overall picture is dramatic. Christians made up around 20 percent of the region’s population a century ago, but now account for about five percent and falling.

“If this phenomenon continues, Christianity in the Middle East will disappear,” said Rev. Samir Khalil Samir, a Beirut-based Egyptian Jesuit who helped draw up the working document for the October 10-24 synod at the Vatican.

Christians in Middle East much more than a numbers game

Franciscan Father David Jaeger is one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most authoritative experts on the Middle East. Until a few weeks ago, he was the delegate of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in Rome. A convert from Judaism who became a Roman Catholic priest in 1986, he is  a noted canon lawyer. He was part of the Vatican team that negotiated diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994 and is part of the Vatican team that is still ironing out the final subsidiary details of that accord. He spoke to Reuters and Reuters Television about the upcoming Mideast synod in the atrium of Antonianum University in Rome. Here is a transcript of parts of the conversation.

jaegerWhat do you expect from the synod?

I think it is intended to be a very significant step forward in the development of the witness of the Church in the Middle East.  Synods are convened not simply, or not necessarily, in response to a current affairs concerns but as a moment for the Church to grow, in faithfulness and in effectiveness of  witness. (Photo: Fr. David Jaeger in a screengrab from a Reuters Television interview in Rome, 6 Oct 2010)

The moment in the  Middle East is particularly appropriate for this further development. There is hope for new ecumenical relations. There is a growth of the Church itself in the Middle East, in awareness of fundamental values of Vatican II, such as religious freedom and the civic responsibility of Christians. I don’t think people in the West appreciate to what extent the thematics of the synod are totally new to so much of the Church in the Middle East. Religious freedom some decades ago was not even a known concept. It had never been experienced in 13 centuries. It had always been presupposed that it could not be attained,  yet now it is being spoken of in the preparatory documents of the synod as a serious subject, not as something already existing of course, but as  something realistically to be looked forward to.

Constitution, not sharia, is supreme law in Germany – Merkel

merkelChancellor Angela Merkel has said Muslims must obey the constitution and not sharia law if they want to live in Germany, which is debating the integration of its 4 million-strong Muslim population.

In the furore following a German central banker’s blunt comments about Muslims failing to integrate, moderate leaders including President Christian Wulff have urged Germans to accept that “Islam also belongs in Germany.” (Photo: Angela Merkel at a CDU conference in Wiesbaden, 6 Oct 2010/Alex Domanski)

Merkel , the daughter of a Protestant pastor brought up in East Germany who now leads the predominantly Catholic CDU party,  said Wulff had emphasised Germany’s “Christian roots and its Jewish roots.”

Can halal cosmetics outgrow their Islamic beauty niche?

halal cosmeticsThursday evening at a luxury, Pharaonic-themed spa in Dubai. Emirati women, colorful eye makeup contrasting with their black robes, wait by a bronze statue of a smiling Cleopatra for their weekend beauty treat.

The mineral-based skincare range used at the spa is free of pork and alcohol derivatives.  Supplier Charlotte Proudman hopes to register it as compliant with sharia, or Islamic law, tapping into a growing trend for “halal cosmetics” in the mostly-Muslim Middle East and among the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims. (Photo:  Halal makeup applied to Sabah Zaib in Birmingham, central England, July 28, 2010/Darren Staples)

“I really want to put this onto our packaging so that our clients can be reassured that our products are halal, and that they can feel consistent in their religious beliefs,” Proudman said at the spa she launched in 2008.  “I really feel that halal cosmetics have a future. I don’t think that a Muslim man or a Muslim lady should compromise their beliefs for a skincare range that will work well for them.”

Wilders’s anti-Islam film screened in Dutch court

wilders wednesdayThe hate trial of Dutch anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders, who will have a powerful shadow role in the Dutch government, resumed on Wednesday with a showing of his controversial film that criticises the Koran. (Photo: Geert Wilders (R) in court with his lawyer Bram Moszkowicz (L)  in Amsterdam, October 6, 2010/Marcel Antonisse)

The screening in court of Wilders’s 2008 film “Fitna,” which accuses the Koran of inciting violence, threatened to interrupt the trial for a second time in a week when defence lawyer Bram Moszkowicz objected to comments from presiding judge Jan Moors.

When one complainant said she did not wish to see the film, which accuses the Koran of inciting violence, Moors said: “I can understand that” — prompting a sharp response from Moszkowicz who said such a remark is simply not allowed. Moors stressed he was not expressing any judgement over the film.

Islamic finance relies on too few of its scholars

saudi traderThe Islamic finance industry is not short of qualified sharia scholars to meet growing demand, but it relies too heavily on a handful of them, limiting growth potential and raising regulatory concerns, experts say.

Islamic finance experts have previously said the nearly $1 trillion industry is struggling to find scholars with the business acumen, technology and language skills necessary to help the sector evolve. (Photo: A trader at the Saudi Investment Bank in Riyadh, March 18, 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

But consultancy Funds@Work found that more than 300 scholars sit on the sharia boards of Islamic institutions. However, it said that just 20 of these scholars appear on 54 percent of such boards.

Algerian court clears Christians of charge of flouting Ramadan by eating during day

ramadan 1Two Christian men on trial in Algeria for eating during daylight in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan were acquitted on Tuesday, a verdict their supporters said was a triumph for religious freedom.

The two men, members of Algeria’s small Protestant community, were charged with offending public morals for eating at the building site where they were working before the Ramadan fast had been broken for the day. (Photo: Food shoppers in Algiers on first day of Ramadan, August 11, 2010/Louafi Larbi)

After the judge in the small town of Ain El-Hammam, about 150 km (93.21 miles) east of the Algerian capital, ruled they were innocent, a group of about seven Protestants standing on the steps of the courthouse shouted “Hallelujah!”

Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Wilders challenges judges at hate speech trial

wilders trial (Photo: Geert Wilders (C) at his trial in Amsterdam, 4 Oct 2010/Marcel Antonisse)

Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, a key player in efforts to form a new government, has accused judges trying him on charges of inciting hatred of scandalous bias and demanded they be replaced.

Wilders, who has 24-hour police guard because of death threats, went on trial Monday over comments including a comparison he made between the Islamic faith and Nazism.

“I have said what I have said and I will not take one word back, but that doesn’t mean I’ve said everything attributed to me,” Wilders said before invoking his right to remain silent. That stance prompted the presiding judge to say that Wilders had been accused by others of making statements while avoiding debate and that it appeared he was doing the same in court.

German president welcomes Islam in 20th anniversary Unity Day speech

imam (Photo: An imam leads prayers at a mosque in Dortmund on German Unity Day, October 3, 2010./Ina Fassbender)

German President Christian Wulff said Sunday that Islam had a place in Germany, during a speech celebrating two decades of the country’s reunification.

The president, who holds a largely ceremonial position but is considered a moral authority for the nation, used the televised ceremony to wade into a debate over immigrant integration that has captivated public attention for weeks.

“First and foremost, we need adopt a clear stance: an understanding that for Germany, belonging is not restricted to a passport, a family history, or a religion,” he told an audience in the northern city of Bremen.  “Christianity doubtless belongs in Germany. Judaism belongs doubtless in Germany. That is our Judeo-Christian history. But by now, Islam also belongs in Germany.”

Dutch government pact sealed with ban on “burqas” to win Wilders support

veil (Photo: A Muslim woman protests against France’s ban on full face veils outside the French Embassy in London September 25, 2010/Luke MacGregor)

Two centre-right parties agreed on Thursday to ban full face veils in the Netherlands as the price for parliamentary support from the anti-Islam Freedom party for their planned minority government.

The Netherlands would become the second European Union country to ban Muslim veils — known collectively as burqas in many European countries — after France, in what many see as a shift to the right which has dented the bloc’s reputation for tolerance and may increase security risks.

The draft agreement tightens the rules on immigration and boosts the number of police officers in a concession to far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, who is on trial for inciting hatred against Muslims.