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VIDEO: Roundup of Ramadan starting in Turkey, Asia, Afghanistan

Below is a Reuters video roundup of the start of Ramadan in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Afghanistan:

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Turkey offers citizenship to Orthodox archbishops to help patriarch succession

bartholomewTurkey has offered citizenship to Orthodox Christian archbishops from abroad to help the next election of the ecumenical patriarch, the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox faithful, officials said.  Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has quietly led the gesture to the Orthodox, who face a shortage of candidates to succeed Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 70, and serve on the Holy Synod, which administers patriarchate affairs. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I leads the Easter service at the Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, April 4, 2010/Murad Sezer)

Turkish law requires the patriarch to be a Turkish citizen. But the Orthodox community in Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, has fallen to some 3,000 from 120,000 a half-century ago, drastically shrinking the pool of potential future patriarchs.  There are now only 14 Greek Orthodox archbishops, including Bartholomew, who are Turkish citizens. Bartholomew himself is in good health.

Seventeen metropolitans from countries including Austria, France, the United States and Greece have applied for passports, said Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopulous, the patriarchate spokesman.  Another six may still apply, and the See hopes the first archbishops will receive their papers by Christmas, he said.

Turkey reopening ancient Armenian church to heal wounds

akdamar 1 (Photos: The Church of the Holy Cross, Akdamar Island, 27 June 2010/Umit Bektas)

Swallows dart around the dome of the 10th century Armenian church rising from Akdamar Island set amid the turquoise waters of Lake Van.  Tombstones with ancient Christian inscriptions and crosses lie scattered among the weeds in the garden, where day-trippers picnic in the shade of almond trees and sunbathe after a swim.

The serenity of the scene belies a traumatic past that haunts Turkey and Armenia to this day.  The Church of the Holy Cross, which is now a state museum, has become a symbol of a tortuous reconciliation process as Turkey prepares to open the site on Sept. 19 for a one-day religious service that could become an annual event.

“This church is very important for Armenians, not only in Turkey, but across the world,” said Archbishop Aram Ateshian, a spiritual leader from Turkey’s surviving Armenian community.  “For decades, we could not say mass or have a religious service because it was forbidden by the government.”

Greek faithful return to pray in ancient Turkish homeland

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew leads prayers at St Theodore in central Turkey on June 27/Photo by Simon Johns

About 1,000 Greek Orthodox gathered in central Turkey this weekend for a pair of emotional liturgies led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the Greek faithful seek to reclaim a cultural and religious link to their ancient homeland.

Elderly women wept as black-clad nuns and monks recited mournful chants on Sunday in the 19th-century St Theodore’s Church in Derinkuyu, a sleepy hamlet Greeks once called Malakopi in the popular tourist region of Cappadocia. Most of the worshippers were the descendants of Greeks who were expelled from Turkey almost 90 years ago with the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at St Theodore’s Church in Turkey, 27 June 2010/Simon Johns)

Bartholomew of Constantinople faced the altar flanked by three crowns: Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece and Archbishop Hilarion, the head of Russian Orthodox external relations. Hilarion has been a key player in a rapprochement between the Churches of Moscow and Istanbul. Bartholomew said Hilarion came on a pilgrimage to Cappadocia.

Bishop’s murder in Turkey shocking and worrying

padoveseJournalists are supposed to be a pretty thick-skinned bunch, but it’s hard not to be shocked and saddened when you find out that one of your contacts has been murdered. That was the case for me when I heard that Bishop Luigi Padovese had been stabbed to death at his home in southern Turkey on Thursday. Although I never met him in person, we spoke several times over the phone about his efforts to reopen the church in Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul. Click here for that story. (Photo: Bishop Luigi Padovese at a religious service in Iskenderun, southern Turkey, in this undated photo/Anil Bagrik/Anatolia)

Padovese was always courteous, helpful and positive about his difficult mission there. According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) charity group, he finally won approval for regular religious services to be held in the Tarsus church recently. “He sounded so happy,” said ACN’s Projects Head for Asia-Africa Marie-Ange Siebrecht, who got a call from him less than two weeks ago. “Ever since the Year of St. Paul he had wanted to enable services to be held regularly at this important place of pilgrimage for the Church.”

Given the difficulties that religious minorities still face in Turkey, it was probably natural that some kind of nationalist or Islamist extremist was behind the murder.  Both the Vatican and the local government quickly rejected that, saying the main suspect, Padovese’s driver, had been depressed and confused. “Political motivations for the attack, or other motivations linked to socio-political tensions, are to be excluded,” chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Vatican Radio.

New Turkish opposition party leader sacks secularist old guard

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Istanbul, 24 May 2008/Tom Heneghan

Turkey’s new opposition leader has purged key hardline secularists and set a tentative reformist course in a bid to regain ground lost to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party government, which critics accuse of secretly pursuing an Islamic state.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a 62-year former civil servant, was elected chairman on Saturday following the resignation of veteran party leader Deniz Baykal over a sex tape scandal. The CHP delegates elected the new party assembly on Sunday.

While courting the more militant secularist elite, the CHP has lost support among urban, middle-class voters by firmly resisting AK’s European Union-inspired reform steps to pare back army influence and liberalise the economy. The CHP has vigorously opposed moves by AK, which denies Islamist ambitions, to reform a constitution born of a 1980 military coup.

Out with the old? Turkish secularists seek new vision and leader

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Republican People's Party (CHP) congress with portrait of Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Ankara May 22, 2010/Umit Bektas

Turkey’s secular opposition is expected to choose a new, younger leader this weekend at a congress that will usher out an old guard who had posed little threat to the Islamist-leaning ruling party’s hold on power.  The Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s oldest party and the voice of the secularist elite, is seeking a makeover in the hope of stopping Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan from winning a third consecutive term in an election due next year.

Having been trounced by Erdogan’s AK Party — which has its roots in political Islam — in the last two general elections, CHP delegates will meet Saturday and Sunday in Ankara, where they are widely expected to choose Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a moderate, as new chairman, party insiders say.

French foreign minister gets ready for criticism over planned burqa ban


(French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Europe 1 radio, 2 May 2010/Dailymotion)

France hasn’t even presented its draft bill to outlaw Muslim face veils yet — in contrast to Belgium, which has started voting on its ban — but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is already preparing for the wave of criticism from abroad it will provoke. He told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that he’d already warned the government at a cabinet meeting about what to expect.

“The United States are very attached to religious liberty and there will be lots of NGOs and American foundations that will want to point out our mistake,” he said (in the video above in French). “I think they’ll also be convinced that we are for religious liberty but there is no religious recommendation to veil one’s face.

Muslim scholars recast jihadists’ favourite fatwa

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An Indonesian Muslim uses magnifying glass to read Koran verses printed on lamb parchment, Jakarta, July 27, 2005/Beawiharta

Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith and civil rights.  A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a “house of Islam” and “house of unbelief” no longer applies.

Osama bin Laden has quoted Ibn Taymiyya’s “Mardin fatwa” repeatedly in his calls for Muslims to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and wage jihad against the United States.

A “model” Islamic education from Turkey?

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Turkish girls at the Kazim Karabekir Girls' Imam-Hatip School, 10 Feb 2010/Murad Sezer

In the Beyoglu Anadolu religious school in Istanbul, gilded Korans line the shelves and on a table lies a Turkish translation of “Eclipse,” a vampire-based fantasy romance by U.S. novelist Stephanie Meyer. No-one inside the school would have you believe this combination of Islamic and western influences demonstrates potential to serve as a ‘moderate’ educational antidote to radical Islam.

But there is fresh outside interest in schools like this, which belong to the network known as imam-hatip.  Some people, particularly officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan, have suggested the Turkish system can light the way to a less extremist religious education for their young Muslims.