FaithWorld

Arab Christians face political Islam threat-official says

synod bishops 1 (Photo: Bishops at a Mass opening of the synod of bishops from the Middle Eastern at the Vatican, 10  Oct 2010/Tony Gentile)

The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced together, a senior cleric told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.

At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.

“Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world,” said Naguib. “This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together.”

“Difficulties in the relations between Christians and Muslims generally arise when Muslims do not distinguish between religion and politics,” Naguib said. “Christians sense an uneasiness at being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they have called these countries ‘home’ long before Islam.”

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Iraqi Christians flee homeland even as war fades

iraq christians (Photo: Family and friends mourn a Christian student killed in attack on Iraq’s Christian minority in Mosul, May 11, 2010/Khalid al-Mousuly)

Bassam Hermiz has slashed prices to clear his stock of electrical appliances, close his shop and join many thousands of other Iraqi Christians abroad. Once numbering some 750,000 in this mainly Muslim country of 30 million, Christians have been trapped in the crossfire of sectarian strife ignited after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship in 2003.

Alarmed that their flock could face extinction, Iraqi Christian leaders appealed to the Vatican for help. Pope Benedict, also worried about the shrinking Christian presence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, has called a synod of bishops for October 10-24 to discuss how churches can work together to preserve Christianity’s oldest communities.

Post-invasion bloodshed and chronic insecurity have spooked Iraqi Christians, many of whom feel they have no future here. “We decided to leave after we lost hope of living in peace in Iraq. It was not our choice,” said Hermiz, the shopkeeper who is taking his family from the volatile northern city of Mosul to Holland, where his brother already lives.

Orthodox Christians flock to once-banned holy site in Turkey

sumela 4 (Photo: Orthodox Christians at Sumela Monastery, 15 August 2010/Umit Bektas)

Europe Papadopolous’s grandparents were children when they fled their village in northeast Turkey and settled in Greece almost 90 years ago, yet she still felt she was in exile.

TURKEY-ORTHODOX/

Papadopolous, 45, was one of thousands of Orthodox faithful who journeyed to Sumela Monastery, built into a sheer cliff above the Black Sea forest, on Sunday to attend the first mass here since ethnic Greeks were expelled in 1923. (Photo: Sumela Monastery, 15 August 2010/Umit Bektas)

“Being apart from this place feels like Ulysses: always searching for your home,” Papadopolous said, tears streaming down her face and adding that even though her grandparents are dead, she was sure they could see her “homecoming.”

Ultra-Orthodox protest against Israeli ruling to integrate Jewish schools

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Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel Thursday against a court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together.

Demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb with a large population of religious Jews, before some 80 Ashkenazi parents, Jews of European origin, were to report to jail for defying the Supreme Court ruling.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority has long been at odds with the Jewish state’s highest judicial authority over edicts which some devout Jews say interfere with their religious lifestyle.

Malaysia court hears landmark dispute on religious conversion

kl skyline

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.

Iraq’s Arab neighbours wary of Shi’ite sway after vote

iraq shi'ites

Shi'ites mark the religious ceremony of Arbain at Imam Abbas shrine in Kerbala, 5 Feb 2010/Mushtaq Muhammed

Iraq’s Arab neighbours fear a split Iraqi election could further marginalise minority Sunnis and hope any coalition government formed by the Shi’ite frontrunner will resist Iran’s sway. Many Sunni Arabs had wanted a stronger showing by secularists, who they now hope will bring cross-sectarian balance to any coalition government that could be formed by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

“These election results show that there is a Shi’ite wave in the region which threatens Arab security in the region. Iran has a hidden role in the Arab region and it supports Shi’ite elements in the area, particularly in Iraq,” said Magid Mazloum from the Centre for Gulf Studies in Cairo.