Interfaith News Roundup
June 15, 2018
The Egyptian government ordered 20,000 smaller, ‘storefront’ mosques to refrain from all preaching and teaching during Ramadan, and scores of imams have been fired for not conforming to state-approved subjects. The Ministry of Religious Endowments justifies these action as “a precautionary measure to prevent extremist violence,” in particular the incitements of the Muslim Brotherhood, which wishes to bring Sharia law back to the country. Of Egypt’s 110,000 mosques, the smaller ones tend to be where extremist theology is propagated.
Austria is expelling 40 imams and closing seven mosques with Turkish connections, on the grounds that “they lack a positive mindset towards Austria.” Turkish President Erdogan reacted angrily, saying that “these measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent.”
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reputation for progressive reforms, particularly regarding women’s rights, has taken a hit. The plan was to let women drive cars starting June 24. But late last month 13 women activists who had promoted the new legislation were arrested. At this point, no one knows the back-story, but hope for reform is fading.
China’s Communist Party continues to escalate its opposition to Christian churches, ordering a number of them to shut down, including programs such as schools and senior housing.
Religiously, things are much tougher in western China. The government has built “indoctrination camps,” essentially to brainwash its Muslim citizens. “The internment program tries to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities,” reports the AP in a horrifying tale of the thousands confined and the torturous consequence for those who resist.
The government in Israel is developing close ties with evangelical Christians in the United States, a constituency Netanyahu finds friendlier than his sometimes frosty relationship with liberal American Jews. This new alliance forces Israeli leaders to put up with a variety of theological slurs. The prayer offered at last month’s opening of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem came from Rev. Robert Jeffress, from First Baptist Dallas, Texas. Jeffress is on record for claiming “you can’t be saved by being a Jew,” and that “Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Mormonism lead followers to an eternity in hell.” The judgmentalism is forgiven in light of the political support of Donald Trump and his evangelical flock.
Interfaith is a cultural word, and interreligious relations in day-to-day life often bring home the point. Think food and forbidden foods. Or clothing. The Guardian published an annotated timeline of European legislation prohibiting the veils and headscarves, burqas and niqabs, worn by some Muslim women. The story goes back 15 years. Most recently, the Danish parliament banned burqas and niqabs last month.
From the Vatican
Last May Pope Francis met with 200 Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Sikh leaders at a one-day conference at the Vatican, organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The theme of their confab: “Dharma and Logos – Dialogue and Cooperation in a Complex Age.”
Pope Francis, speaking to a gay man named Juan Carlos, from Chile, said that his homosexuality “does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this, and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.” Francis was much lauded by the LGBTQ community around the world; by conservative Catholics, not so much! He also recently said that being an atheist is better than being a “hypocritical Catholic.”
Thirty-four Roman Catholic bishops of Chile jointly offered to resign after being called to the Vatican regarding clergy sexual abuse and hiding it. They said in a statement, “We want to ask forgiveness for the pain we caused victims, the pope, the people of God and our country for the grave errors and omissions that we committed.” Earlier Pope Francis had defended Chile’s clergy until, bowing to public pressure, he sent an archbishop to investigate the allegations. The 2,300-page report, the pope said in a summary document, “accused the bishops of destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring church investigators to minimize abuse accusations, and showing "grave negligence" in protecting children from pedophile priests.” The offer from a national Catholic hierarchy is unprecedented. At this writing, three of the 34 resignations have been accepted.
Interfaith activities in Russia are few and far between, so it was a huge accomplishment of the Elijah Interfaith Institute of Jerusalem to sponsor a major interfaith conference at Chabad Center Synagogue in Moscow. Six hundred “religious leaders and pilgrims” from around the world attended the gathering.
Catholic theologians are leading a discussion about the moral ambiguity of “artificial intelligence” and how it is being used, but Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and other religious thinkers are involved as well. This is not a one-issue discussion; rather it opens the doors to dozens of provocative, ethically resonant questions.
A number of religious groups in Arizona, including the “Evangelical Immigration Table — a coalition of various evangelical groups advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values,” have written President Trump decrying the separation of parents from their children when they enter this country.
The Moral Monday movement instigated by Rev. William J. Barber II, has developed into the Poor People’s Campaign, reviving a “40-day civil disobedience movement founded 50 years ago by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” For 40 days (May 15-June 23) the interfaith campaign will be active in 30 cities across the country. A Sponsoring Alliance includes “Christians, Jews, Muslims, nonbelievers, and a broad cross section of African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT people, feminists, environmentalists and others.”
The White House made a sudden shift in its communication with Muslims at the start of Ramadan this year. Whereas last year’s Ramadan posting focused on terrorism and the “shared obligation to reject violence,” this year’s missive “reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life.” Questions about the shift went unanswered by the White House. That it happened at all is another indication that being interfaith-friendly is important to us all.
Islam takes stewardship of the Earth seriously, and a number of Muslims have used the month of Ramadan to urge their fellow believers to be ‘greener’ individually and in community. Ramadan, which concludes this year as we post this issue, calls Muslims to fast during the day. That means a proclivity of night-time feasts, which can lead to wasted food and lots of trash. The green activists are urging better habits.
Seventy Muslim scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia gathered in Bogor, West Java, last month and issued an edict that says that says violent extremism and terrorism violate the principles of Islam. The fatwah says, in part:
“We reaffirm that violence and terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group, as violent extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestation including violence against civilians and suicide attacks are against the holy principles of Islam.”
In the roiling politics of refugees and immigration in Europe comes an amazing story about Bavaria, a state in southeastern Germany. A law has been passed that all public buildings there have to have a cross affixed to it. The defenders say the issue is cultural, not religious, and explain their good intentions. The upshot is that Muslim rights locally are better defended by a traditionally Catholic government than by the right-wing extremists who are challenging the current government. Two excellent stories, one in the Guardian and the other in the New York Times fill in the background and details, proving how utterly complicated interreligion and politics can be today.
In Iceland more than 3,000 have joined the Zuist religion, founded in 2016 and dedicated to the pantheon of gods and goddesses worshipped in ancient Sumeria, the first literate civilization in ancient Mesapotamia. Zuists now want to have their own sanctuary, which they call a Ziggurat. They have applied to the local authorities to receive a suitable piece of land on which to build.
Header Photo: Dan, C.c. 2.0 nc nd