FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

A convert to Islam

By Danish Siddiqui

London to me, as a photographer, is a uniquely diverse place to capture on camera in terms of its people and their stories. It amalgamates a lot of complexities that make for compelling narratives.

A couple months back I went to London from Mumbai as part of a short assignment, to get some experience out of my usual domain. I worked closely with the Reuters UK team and specifically Andrew Winning on the production of a multimedia piece that would tell the story of young Muslim converts in London.

In an age where there is a lot of skepticism around Islam, empirical evidence has proved otherwise. A study, for instance, has suggested that more than 100,000 people converted to Islam in the last decade. London is one such melting pot. And the city made for an interesting background to follow the life of one such convert.

But it wasn’t easygoing from the start. People in London aren’t that forthcoming, especially if there is a camera involved. The contacts that Andrew had lined up for me backed out without warning. Upon landing in London, I’d have to start all over again.

After a few days of futile negotiations and making new contacts, I met Jason Thomas, a Muslim convert re-christened Hussain Thomas. Raised by a single parent and subjected to a rough teen life, Hussain joined a gang at a very young age and was involved in robberies, drugs, etc. Due to this, he spent the next few years of his life in and out of court probation, community service, police stations and jail.

Archbishop of Canterbury praises “unpretentious” Kate and William

(Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton watch a demonstration by students, during their visit to the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy (DACA), in Darwen, northern England April 11, 2011. A large crowd of well-wishers braved a downpour in northern England on Monday to cheer Prince William and Kate Middleton as they took part in their final official engagement before their wedding. REUTERS/Adrian Dennis)

(Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton in Darwen, northern England April 11, 2011/Adrian Dennis)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who will marry Prince William and Kate Middleton next week, said on Thursday he had been struck by their wedding preparations, describing the couple as courageous and unpretentious. Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the Church of England, praised the couple’s “simplicity” and the way they had dealt with the build-up to next Friday’s wedding, which is set to be watched by an estimated two billion people worldwide.

“I’ve been very struck by the way in which William and Catherine have approached this great event,” Williams said in a short film released by his Lambeth Palace office, adding it had been a “real pleasure” to get to know the couple. “They’ve thought through what they want for themselves, but also what they want to say. They’ve had a very simple, very direct picture of what really matters about this event.”

British Christian couple loses foster ruling over gays stance

london court

(The Royal Courts of Justice, 18 April 2003/Michael Reeve)

A British Christian couple opposed to homosexuality because of their faith lost a court battle in London on Monday over the right to become foster carers. The couple, who are Pentecostal Christians, had gone to court after a social worker expressed concerns about them becoming respite carers after they said they could not tell a child that a “homosexual lifestyle” was acceptable.

Eunice and Owen Johns, both in their 60s and from Derbyshire in the English midlands, asked judges to rule that their faith should not be a bar to them becoming carers, and that the law should protect their Christian values.

But Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation “should take precedence” over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds, the Press Association reported.

Anti-Muslim bias now the social norm, UK cabinet minister says

warsiPrejudice against Muslims has “passed the dinner-table test” and become socially acceptable in Britain, says the Conservative Party’s chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

Warsi, a Pakistan-born minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, will say in a speech at the University of Leicester on Thursday evening that dividing Muslims into “moderate” and “extremist” fuels intolerance, according to prepared remarks published in the Daily Telegraph. (Photo: Baroness Warsi at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, October 3, 2010/Toby Melville)

“It’s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of ‘moderate’ Muslims leads; in the factory, where they’ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: ‘Not to worry, he’s only fairly Muslim,’” according to the first Muslim woman in a British cabinet. “In the school, the kids say: ‘The family next door are Muslim but they’re not too bad’. And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burka, the passers-by think: ‘That woman’s either oppressed or is making a political statement.’”

New Catholic subdivision for ex-Anglicans will not be a ghetto

anglicans (Photo: Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, (C REAR) follows former Anglican bishops (L-R) John Broadhurst, Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton after their ordination as Roman Catholic priests at Westminster Cathedral in central London, January 15, 2011/Andrew Winning)

The new Roman Catholic Church body set up to house disaffected Anglicans would not become a ghetto within the Church, the priest appointed to lead the group said on Monday. The ordinariate, a special subdivision in the Church created by the Vatican to allow the converts to retain some of their Anglican customs, would also seek to evangelise while maintaining good relations with Anglicans, the former Church of England bishop Keith Newton told reporters.

The ordinariate, announced by Pope Benedict in 2009, allows those Anglicans opposed to women bishops, gay clergy and same-sex blessings to convert to Rome while keeping many of their traditions. Newton said there was a danger that people would think of it as an ex-Anglican ghetto within the Catholic Church, but “we want to make clear it is not.”

“There are no second-class Catholics,” he added.

Newton, who will be the ordinary or leader of the ordinariate, was ordained into the Catholic Church on Saturday along with two other former Church of England bishops, John Broadhurst and Andrew Burnham.

London marchers confront Pope Benedict in biggest protest of any of his trips

satprotest 1 (Photo: Protest against Pope Benedict in London, 18 Sept 2010/Stefan Wermuth)

Pope Benedict faced the biggest protest of his 17 trips abroad on Saturday when more than 10,000 people marched in London attacking his treatment of the abuse scandal in the Church, women priests and homosexuality. Some of the demonstrators were dressed in costumes, including black leather nuns’ habits and red cardinals’ robes. Posters bore the message: “Pope Go Home.”

The pope has faced protests throughout his four-day visit to England and Scotland, often competing for attention with the faithful who are solidly supportive of the trip, only the second by a pope in history.

The loudest and most colourful was on Saturday when secularists, atheists, pro-gay groups and human rights campaigners joined forces in a Protest the Pope march from Hyde Park Corner to Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s comments on Newman and to the elderly

hyde park (Photo: Crowds gather at Hyde Park for prayer vigil with Pope Benedict, 18 Sept 2010/Chris Ison)

At a prayer vigil in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday evening, Pope Benedict said the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom he will beatify on Sunday, showed the way for Christians to live at a time of intellectual and moral relativism.

Here are some excerpts from his sermon:

“…At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life.

“Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied…

Pope apologizes for “unspeakable crimes” of sexual abuse

papal flag (Photo: Girl waves papal flag before a Mass with Pope Benedict in London September 18, 2010/Kevin Coombs)

Pope Benedict apologized to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying pedophile priests had brought “shame and humiliation” on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. It was the 83-year-old pontiff’s latest attempt to come to grips with the scandal that has rocked the 1.1 billion-member Church, particularly in Europe and the United States.

“I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes …,” he said in his sermon in  Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics here in the late 19th century to assert their rights after the Reformation.

“I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation that all of us have suffered because of these sins,” he said, adding that he hoped “this chastisement” would contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the Church.

Pope supporters and detractors duel in liberal London

protest 9 (Photo: Supporters and protestors hold a signs while waiting for Pope Benedict to arrive at Westminster Abbey in London September 17, 2010./Suzanne Plunkett)

Pope Benedict is usually greeted by adulating crowds when he travels in Italy and other Catholic countries but he was treated to a mixed reception in London. Protesters, many angered by a sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide, shouted “anti-Christ” and “Pope will go to hell” as the pope drove through the heart of London on Friday in a bullet-proof popemobile.

Hundreds booed aggressively as he arrived at Westminster Abbey in London’s historic core to celebrate Evening Prayer — one of the religious focal points of his four-day visit to Britain. Papal supporters at times tried to steal the momentum by chanting “We love you pope” but in most cases were quickly drowned out by boos and whistles.

protest 7 Photo: Protesters outside St Mary’s University College in London, September 17, 2010/Andrew Winning)

Waving banners reading “Betrayed”, protesters included activists rallying against child sex abuse allegations as well as Protestants, gays and women rights campaigners.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s speech to Catholic pupils in London

pope pupils (Photo: Pope Benedict meets school children in London September 17, 2010/Steve Parsons)

Pope Benedict urged Catholic schoolchildren in London on Friday to strive to become saints and to aim for more than just just money or fame.

Here are excerpts from his speech:

“…I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. … Let me explain what I mean. When we are young, we can usually think of people that we look up to, people we admire, people we want to be like. It could be someone we meet in our daily lives that we hold in great esteem. Or it could be someone famous. We live in a celebrity culture, and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?

“When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue one limited goal and ignore all the others. Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.