FaithWorld

Pressure rises on Christians in Jordan, Algeria

Evangelical Christians at a baptism in the Jordan River, 1 Oct. 2007/Yonathan WeitzmanRising tension between Christians and Muslims in the Arab world have come out in the open with the expulsion of foreign Christian charity workers from Jordan and the conviction of a Catholic priest in Algeria. Although the cases seem different, the background is similar. Evangelical Christians have been increasingly active in the Islamic world, doing charity and development work and also seeking to convert Muslims. The missionary part is usually a crime in Islamic countries and local authorities — rightly or wrongly — often suspect the charity part is a cover for this proselytism. This sets the stage for clashes over religious freedom, national laws, Christianity, Islam and modernity — an increasingly frequent mix in a globalised world. It also has serious effects on the long-established but fragile Christian communities living in those Muslim countries.

In Jordan, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said this week that Christians had come to Jordan under the “pretext of charitable and voluntary activities, but they had violated the law by undertaking preaching activities and were expelled”. This followed a long report by Compass Direct News, an agency that focuses on persecution of Christians around the world, that Jordan had “deported or refused residence permits to at least 27 expatriate Christian families and individuals in 2007, a number of them working with local churches or studying at a Christian seminary“.

One report said those involved were from the United States, South Korea, Egypt, Sudan and Iraq. “It is puzzling that certain small groups with a few hundred members and which are foreign to Christians in Jordan and to the history of Muslim-Christian relations, permit themselves to speak in the name of Christians and act as protectors of Christianity as if it were in danger,” it quoted the Council of Churches, the highest Christian body in Jordan, as saying. AsiaNews says: “According to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, the group of eight missionaries was distributing Christian material among the Bedouins to the north and east of the capital Amman.”

Inside Notre Dame d’Afrique, the Catholic basilica in Algiers, 2 April 2005/Zohra BensemraThe Catholic Archbishop of Algiers Henri Teissier told William Maclean, our chief correspondent for North Africa, that increased activity by evangelical Christians in Algeria had caused problems for Catholics. “For the last two years, we have serious difficulties made for us by the Algerian administration every two or three months,” he said this week. “I think it’s due to the fight against the proselytising by evangelical groups … We are not responsible for this evangelism. But the administration continues to take measures against us … (Evangelicals) have arrived in Africa. And the first to have suffered from the actions of these groups are Catholics.”

Teissier was commenting on the case of French priest Pierre Wallez, who was given a suspended one year prison sentence last month for praying with Christians in western Algeria in a place not authorised for religious worship. The Christians were illegal migrants from Cameroon based on the border with Morocco, part of a shifting community of mostly Ghanaian, Nigerian and Cameroonian migrants who have been visited by Roman Catholics priests in the area for years.

Q&A: Karen Armstrong on Pakistan, Islam and secularisation

Karen Armstrong at an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, 3 Feb. 2008/Mian KursheedKaren Armstrong, the best-selling British writer and lecturer on religion, has given a long interview to Reuters in Islamabad after addressing a conference in the Pakistani capital. A former Catholic nun who now describes herself as a “freelance monotheist,” she has written 21 books on the main world religions, religious fundamentalism in these faiths and religious leaders such as Mohammad and Buddha. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography. The short version of what she said is in the Reuters story linked here. We don’t publish the Q&A text of our interviews on our news wire, but we can do it here on the blog.

Q:You were last in Pakistan in 2006. What brought you back this time?

A: There is a really poignant hunger here, as well as in other parts of the Muslim world, to hear a friendly Western voice speaking appreciatively of Islam. It is a sad thing for me that this should be such an unusual event, but given the precarious state of relationships between so-called Islam and the West it seems something that is important to do.

Q: Pakistan seems to be a crucial place for the future of Islam at the moment. How do you see the impact of events in Pakistan in terms of developments in Islam as a whole?

Did Egypt torpedo a Muslim-Jewish meeting in Rome?

Rome’s chief rabbi Di Segni (C) visits capital’s main mosque, 13 March 2006/Chris HelgrenIt would have been a first. The imam of Rome’s mosque was due to visit the city’s synagogue on Wednesday, but unexpectedly called off the meeting on Tuesday, citing unspecified logistical problems. Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni visited the mosque in 2006, so Imam Ala Eldin al Ghobashy would have been returning the compliment. It would have been an important symbolic step forward for inter-religious dialogue, right in the Vatican’s backyard.

Di Segni told journalists there had been “alarming signals from Egypt” indicating opposition to the visit among Islamic scholars there because of Israel’s recent blockade of the Gaza Strip. Italian newspapers said the signals came from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the leading centre of Sunni Islamic learning. Muslim leaders in Rome denied any intervention from abroad and blamed the delay on “excessive interest in the visit”.

Di Segni has said he hopes logistical problems were “the only motives that determined what we hope is a temporary delay”. We reported the reason given by Abdellah Redouane, secretary general of the Islamic Cultural Centre attached to the mosque, because that’s how he explained the decision. We’re trying to find out more, but this kind of story is notoriously difficult to nail down.