FaithWorld

Libya war pushes Christian presence to the brink

(A view of a mosaic on the floor of the ancient Western Church of the Qasr Libya museum complex near Al-Bayda April 25, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

The Christian church in eastern Libya, which traces its roots back two millennia to the era of Christ, is fighting for survival because war has forced nearly all its worshippers to flee. But Muslims in Libya’s rebel-held east are keen to show that Christians are still welcome, drawing a contrast with the Christian community’s turbulent history under Muammar Gaddafi, whose rule in the east was ended by mass protests in February.

At the Coptic church in Libya’s second city of Benghazi, the main rebel stronghold, bearded and robed Father Polla Eshak swings an incense burner among mostly empty pews for the worshippers who have not fled the fighting. Many Christians in Libya are Copts, an Egyptian sect, and the number going to Eshak’s church has shrunk to about 40 from over 1,000 before the revolt began.

Eshak says it is fear of war, not persecution, that caused the exodus of Christians, nearly all of whom are foreign farmers, builders, nurses and other workers vital to Libya’s economy.

“The revolutionaries are good to us. They are afraid for us more than their own people. There’s a lot of affection between us and Libyans,” said Redha Thabit, a Copt in Benghazi.

Syria’s Christians fear for their religious freedom

(A Christian woman lights a candle during a mass to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas at Saint Serkis church in Damascus January 6, 2011/Khaled al-Hariri)

Syria’s minority Christians are watching the protests sweeping their country with trepidation, fearing their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic but secular rule is overthrown. Sunni Muslims form a majority in Syria, but under four decades of rule by Assad’s minority Alawites the country’s varied religious groups have enjoyed the right to practice their faith.

Calls for Muslim prayers ring out alongside church bells in Damascus, where the apostle Paul started his ministry and Christians have worshipped for two millennia. But for many Syrian Christians, the flight of their brethren from sectarian conflict in neighbouring Iraq and recent attacks on Christians in Egypt have highlighted the dangers they fear they will face if Assad succumbs to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

Harun Yahya’s Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

(Harun Yahya at a news conference in Istanbul May 12, 2011/Murad Sezer)

France’s staunchly secularist educational establishment was shocked four years ago when schools around the country suddenly began receiving free copies of a richly illustrated Muslim creationist book entitled the “Atlas of Creation.” The book by Istanbul preacher and publisher Harun Yahya had come out in Turkey the year earlier. After the French Education Ministry warned teachers not to use it and held a seminar on how to deal with creationist pupils, the issue dropped out of the public discussion. But the Harun Yahya group has been spreading its view in France and is now holding a series of conferences on them. Here is my feature after visiting one of the first meetings in the current series: Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

AUBERVILLIERS, France (Reuters) – Four years after they first frightened France, Muslim creationists are back touring the country preaching against evolution and claiming the Koran predicted many modern scientific discoveries.

Followers of Harun Yahya, a well-financed Turkish publisher of popular Islamic books, held four conferences at Muslim centers in the Paris area at the weekend with more scheduled in six other cities.

Indian Supreme Court suspends controversial Ayodhya mosque ruling

(Hindu militants storm a disputed mosque-temple site December 6, 1992 climbing atop the building's dome as they demolish it to clear the site for a Hindu temple/Sunil Malhotra)

India’s Supreme Court has suspended a High Court ruling over the partition of a disputed site that has been a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim clashes, throwing one of the country’s most religiously-divisive legal battles into uncertainty. A two-justice bench questioned the reasoning behind a ruling passed last year that divided the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque destroyed by Hindu rioters in 1992 into three separate plots for Hindus, Muslims, and a local Hindu trust.

The demolition of the 16th century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya triggered some of India’s worst riots that killed about 2,000 people. Over 200,000 police were deployed for the September ruling to guard against communal violence.

Violent Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram rejects amnesty offer

(Members of an local Islamic group lie on the ground at a police station after their arrest in the northeastern city of Bauchi, July 25, 2009/Ardo Hazzad)

A radical Islamist sect in remote northeastern Nigeria, blamed for almost daily killings and attacks, has rejected an offer of an amnesty. Kashim Shettima, governor-elect of Borno state, made the amnesty offer to the Boko Haram sect shortly after winning April elections to try to end months of attacks on symbols of authority including politicians and police officers.

“We reject any offer of dialogue or so-called amnesty from Kashim Shettima for two reasons,” a spokesman for the group said in a statement broadcast on the BBC Hausa service, a local language radio station in northern Nigeria, on Monday. “First we do not believe in the Nigerian constitution and secondly we do not believe in democracy but only in the laws of Allah,” the spokesman said, speaking in Hausa.

Egypt vows crackdown after 12 die in Christian-Muslim strife

(Soldiers stand guard near the Saint Mary church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Egypt’s government announced measures to curb religious violence on Sunday after 12 people died in clashes in a Cairo suburb sparked by rumors that Christians had abducted a woman who converted to Islam. The fighting on Saturday was Egypt’s worst interfaith strife since 13 people died on March 9 after a church was burned, and it threw down a new challenge for generals ruling the country since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf canceled a tour of Gulf Arab states to chair a cabinet meeting where the government decided to deploy more security near religious sites and toughen laws criminalising attacks on places of worship.

Egyptian Salafists honor bin Laden with death prayer

(An Egyptian Islamist cries as people hold a funeral prayer over the death of Osama Bin Laden, in a mosque in Cairo May 6, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Hundreds of Islamist Salafists defied security forces and held special prayers Friday for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan this week. Some Islamists regard Saudi-born bin Laden, who was inspired by Egyptian militants, as a martyr.

“We will pray, we will pray,” some 200 men chanted as police tried to stop the special prayers at the Salafist-run al-Nour Mosque in the Abbasiyah quarter of Cairo after regular Friday noon prayers. Salafists call for a fundamentalist version of Islam based on that practiced by its earliest followers.

U.S. Muslims hope for better days after bin Laden

(People cheer and wave U.S. flags outside the White House as President Barack Obama delivers remarks to the nation on the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, in Washington May 1, 2011/Jim Young)

Many U.S. Muslims were as relieved as most Americans to hear of Osama bin Laden’s death, though they feared the stigma attached to their community since the September 11 attacks will not disappear so quickly. U.S. Muslims have grown frustrated that their condemnations of bin Laden and al Qaeda have gone unheard as some Americans associate Islam with his message of violent jihad.

“It has been a nightmare to try to constantly explain to ordinary Americans that we are not associated with bin Laden. We have tried very hard to convince people that Muslims are not one monolithic group standing behind this monster,” said Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida. “We were also victims of bin Laden’s ideology of hate,” he said. “The man hijacked our religion, committed crimes in the name of our religion and caused the greatest damage to the American Muslim community and Islam.”

Osama’s Islam-violence link weighs heavy on Muslims

(A video grab from an undated footage from the Internet shows Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden making statements from an unknown location. CNN said on July 14, 2007 that the video was intercepted before it was to appear on radical Islamist Web sites/REUTERS TV)

Osama bin Laden’s radical Islamism has had a devastating impact on Muslims around the world by linking their faith with violence and using religious texts to justify mass killings. His “jihadist” strategy has claimed the lives of many thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as in the United States, Europe and Africa. It has also tarred Muslims with suspicion and helped feed prejudice against them. Especially in the West, many Muslims felt pressured to denounce a man they never identified with.

“The link he made between violence and Islam made people think this was a religion of terrorists,” said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. “In Western countries, we’ve had to show on a daily basis that Islam is not violent and Osama bin Laden does not represent Muslims,” he said. France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority of about five million people.

Timeline: Life and Death of Osama bin Laden

(Osama bin Laden speaks in this still image taken from video released on a website September 7, 2007. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital Islamabad, a U.S. source said on May 1, 2011/Reuters TV)

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan and his body was recovered, President Barack Obama announced on Monday.

Here is a timeline of major events in bin Laden’s life.

1957 – Osama bin Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden born in Riyadh, one of more than 50 children of millionaire businessman. There are conflicting accounts of his precise date of birth.