‘The Christian minority in India is under serious threat’

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Christian PersecutionBhubaneswar, October 15, 2014: With the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP) as prime minister of India the country’s secular constitution has come under threat, a Catholic priest in India has charged.

Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a human rights activist in Kandhamal District in the East Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), warned of the growing influence of radical Hindu forces on the Indian subcontinent.

“Especially under threat is the Christian minority because it is rejected by extremists as alien and because the Christian message is threat to the caste system,” the priest said in an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

According to Father Kumar Singh – who is associated with the “Odisha Forum for Social Action” – the BJP aims to establish a state religion which excludes the lower castes and all minorities.

“They even want to impose only one language, Sanskrit, even though hundreds of languages are spoken in India,” he continued, adding that the strength of party and the movement it represents has become the strongest political force in India, taking many observers, including Church leaders and their flock, by surprise.

“It is important for us to understand what is happening. As a Church we must think way beyond the bounds of the individual dioceses; we must act regionally and nationally in order to find responses to this challenge,” the priest said.

“Otherwise Orissa 2008 will be repeated, even worse than then because we learned no lessons from it,” the priest said, referring to August 2008, when Hindu nationalists attacked villages of Christian dalits or “untouchables,” belonging to the lowest caste in the Hindu social hierarchy.

The violence left more than 100 dead, according to the “National People’s Tribunal” (NPT), an association of human rights activists in Odisha.

According to the NPT, the attacks had been prepared well in advance: more than 600 villages were looted, with 5,600 houses, 295 churches and 13 schools destroyed. More than 54,000 people were made homeless, and of this number 30,000 have not been able to return to their villages.

Around 10,000 children were robbed of the possibility to attend school because they were forced to flee and were displaced.  Some 2,000 Christians were compelled to deny their faith. Numerous women were raped. Many of the perpetrators of the violence—though they are known to authorities—have never been charged.

Father Kumar Singh is afraid history might repeat itself.

– aid to the church in need

Vietnam Catholics protest for return of Church land

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Thai Ha Redemptorist ChurchVietnam, October 27, 2014: A group of Catholics in Vietnam held a rare protest demanding that local officials in the capital Hanoi halt the filling of a lake on property they say belongs to their parish, according to priests and church members on Friday.

Followers of the Thai Ha Redemptorist Church in Dong Da district held the protest outside of the local People’s Committee office on Thursday, carrying banners which said the decision by authorities to fill in the 18,200-square-meter Ba Giang lake was in violation of the law.

Followers of the parish group say the longstanding land dispute stems from a “state policy” of limiting the influence of religion in communist Vietnam, where freedom of worship is tightly controlled.

No one was sent Thursday from the People’s Committee office to meet with the protesters, who dispersed after security guards tore down their banners, church members told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

The protest followed a complaint dated October 16 that the group had sent to Hanoi People’s Committee chairman Nguyen The Thao, calling on the government to cease filling the lake, which it said was an infringement on the legal rights of the Thai Ha church.

The complaint was never answered, members of the group said, and calls by RFA to Dong Da’s People’s Committee office, People’s Council office and the office of Land and Urban Management received no answer.

Priest Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong told RFA that an increasing number of people from the local community had sought to join Thai Ha parish and that the church wanted the government to return the entire six-hectare (15-acre) plot it claims to have owned since 1928.

“Right now we only have 2,700 square meters of the total six hectares, while our demand is growing,” Phong said.?“Every Sunday we have about 15,000 people coming to attend service, but we don’t have anywhere to hold classes and the premises are not big enough to meet the demand,” he said.

“We have asked the government to return our Ba Giang lake, which is now [being filled], or give us new land. That land legally belongs to us and the government’s documents also confirm that.”

Growing membership

A church member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that so many area children had been coming for Bible classes on Sundays that study sessions had to be organized in the yard.

“There are many more children attending classes now — every Sunday afternoon at 2pm there are hundreds of them,” he said, adding that the church did not have enough room to host evening activities either.

“Many people want to know more about the Bible, but we don’t have room to hold classes…. We lack a lot, but [the authorities] don’t care.”

According to parishioners, the six hectares of land in Dong Da district have belonged to Thai Ha since it was bought by Canadian priests in 1928, and usage of Ba Giang lake was never granted to any individual or organization through legal contract.

They say district officials contend that Priest Nguyen Ngoc Bich signed a document handing all six hectares of the land over to the government in 1961, but have been unable to provide evidence of the document despite repeated requests.

The church has actively pursued its claims to the land since 1996, demanding that the land be returned, but local officials continue to carry out “illegal construction” on the plot.

A second church member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while the government stood to benefit from developing the land for its own purposes, its real aim was to reduce the influence of the Church in Vietnam, which strictly controls religious freedom.

“Actually, they likely have something against our religion, so that is why they repress us,” he said.

“They use their power to take our assets and we can’t claim them back.”

Thai Ha’s Phong said that the government’s refusal to return the land was in line with “state policy,” which he said was “one of limiting religions”.

“If they can’t destroy a religion from the inside, they attack it from the outside and repress the development of the religion. This policy makes land disputes difficult to resolve,” he said.

“Their policy on religion never changes and when the policy will not be changed, nothing can be solved.”

Catholicism claims some six million followers in Vietnam, making it the second largest religion after Buddhism among Vietnam’s 92.5 million people.

Vietnam and the Holy See have not had formal diplomatic relations since Vietnam’s communist government took over in 1975, but have been working toward closer ties since resuming dialogue in 2007 with the establishment of a Joint Working Group.

Last month, officials from Vietnam and the Vatican held talks on prospects of restoring full diplomatic ties.

Vietnam’s communist government says it respects the freedom of belief and religion, but religious activity remains under state control.

– radio free asia

5 kidnapped Syrian Christians released by Islamists, others still held

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

Syrian refugeesSyria, October 23, 2014: A church leader and four Christian women who were among around 21 believers kidnapped in north-west Syria earlier this month have been released by Islamist militants.

The four women were freed by Islamists from the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Nusra Front on 8 October after being held for three days. Hanna Jallouf, the captured church leader, was released on the following day.

Conflicting reports have emerged as to whether or not the other kidnapped Christians, who are thought to include children, are still being held.

The freed Christians do not appear to have been harmed. According to a senior church leader from Aleppo, the Islamists “did not ask the women who were released any questions”.

Since his release, Hanna Jallouf has been placed under house arrest in the village of Knayeh. Local sources told reporters that the church leader’s house arrest was ordered by an Islamic court.

The Christians were captured by the rebels in Knayeh on the night of Sunday 5 October. The village has been held by Islamist militants since 2013, initially by the extremely brutal group known as Islamic State and subsequently by the al-Nusra Front.

Many other Christians in Syria have been kidnapped since the start of the conflict in 2011.

The whereabouts of two Syrian archbishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boutros Yazigi, who were kidnapped in April 2013, remains unknown.

– barnabas team

Laughter is the best medicine – 15 Fascinating facts about smiling

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-miscellaneous

Everyone loves the quote “laughter is the best medicine,” and as a nurse, I have experienced the benefits of smiling and laughter with my patients.

In fact, smiling can boost your mood and even your immune system.
Keep reading for more fascinating facts about our smiles.

1.  Forcing yourself to smile can boost your mood:
Psychologists have found that even if you’re in bad mood, you can instantly lift your spirits by forcing yourself to smile.

2.  It boosts your immune system:
Smiling really can improve your physical health, too.
Your body is more relaxed when you smile, which contributes to good health and a stronger immune system.

3. Smiles are Contagious:
It’s not just a saying: smiling really is contagious, scientists say.
In a study conducted in Sweden , people had difficulty frowning when they looked at other subjects who were smiling, and their muscles twitched into smiles all on their own.

4. Smiles Relieve Stress:
Your body immediately releases endorphins when you smile, even when you force it. This sudden change in mood will help you feel better and release stress.

5.  It’s easier to smile than to frown:

Scientists have discovered that your body has to work harder and use more muscles to frown than it does to smile.

6.  It’s a Universal Sign of Happiness:
While handshakes, hugs, and bows all have varying meanings across cultures, smiling is known around the world and in all cultures as a sign of happiness and acceptance.

7. We still smile at work:
While we smile less at work than we do at home, 30% of subjects in a research study smiled five to 20 times a day, and 28% smiled over 20 times per day at the office.

Smile8. Smiles use from 5 to 53 facial muscles:
Just smiling can require your body to use up to 53 muscles, but some smiles only use 5 muscle movements.

9.  Babies are born with the ability to smile:
Babies learn a lot of behaviours and sounds from watching the people around them, but scientists believe that all babies are born with the ability, since even blind babies smile.

10. Smiling helps you get promoted:
Smiles make a person seem more attractive, sociable and confident, and people who smile more are more likely to get a promotion.

11. Smiles are the most easily recognizable facial expression:
People can recognize smiles from up to 300 feet away, making it the most easily recognizable facial expression.

Smile12.  Women smile More than Men:
Generally, women smile more than men, but when they participate in similar work or social roles, they smile the same amount. This finding leads scientists to believe that gender roles are quite flexible.
Boy babies, though, do smile less than girl babies, who also make more eye contact.

13. Smiles are more attractive than makeup:
A research study conducted by Orbit Complete discovered that 69% of people find women more attractive when they smile than when they are wearing makeup.

14.  There are 19 different types of smiles:
UC-San Francisco researcher identified 19 types of smiles and put them into two categories: polite “social” smiles which engage fewer muscles, and sincere “felt” smiles that use more muscles on both sides of the face.

15. Babies start smiling as newborns:
Most doctors believe that real smiles occur when babies are awake at the age of four-to-six weeks, but babies start smiling in their sleep as soon as they’re born.

Even If you think after the reading the whole article that there is no reason to smile and life is hopeless…
I wanna introduce you to the author of all smiles…

Jesus SmilingYes… He is Christ Jesus Our Lord and Saviour.
He is Smiling at You… He is eagerly waiting to hug you.. and that love which you receive at that moment… no human can comprehend.. and the joy that proceeds out of it is indescribable..

Come Give Christ a Hug…
Be filled with Joy…

You will have eternal joy.. Yes.. eternal laughter and eternal fun…
Knowing the Author of all Smiles.. Will lead you into the valley of eternal Smile and laughter

Jesus CallingLook at His Face.. He is smiling at you…My Child… He wants you to come to Him.. so that He can impart the laughter you are longing for…
He will carry you in His arms and He will never leave you nor forsake you…

Run into His outstretched arms.. He is waiting.. the only reason He is delaying His return is that.. You will repent of your sins and turn to Him…
It’s time dear friend… Don’t delay it…

The Joy of the Lord will become your strength and you will smile at all times.. Yes at all times..
I Pray that You shall be filled with the Joy of the Holy Spirit and thereby continue to impart the contagious joy to all around….

– fwd: : hazel remedios

Mass Syria killings, torture under President Assad’s regime

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

Graphic Photos of Mass Syria KillingsUS, October 17, 2014: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is featuring a display showing graphic photos of murder and torture that are said to have been committed under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. A Syrian pastor has warned against using the images to justify expanding the war in the country, however.

The Associated Press reported that the photos are from an archive of 55,000 images smuggled out of Syria by a photographer, who has testified in Congress about witnessing the mass killing of prisoners. The journalist, who was only named by the codename “Caesar,” said that the massacre was committed under the Assad regime.

“They show a side of the Syrian regime that hasn’t really been really seen. You might have heard about it, read about it, but when you’re confronted with these images, they’re impossible to ignore,” said Cameron Hudson, director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

He revealed that some of the images show deprivation and torture, including electrocution, gouged out eyes and removed genitals.

Assad, who has been in office since 2000, has been accused by western powers of human rights abuses, such as using chemical weapons on his own people in August 2013. Assad’s government has been locked in a three-year civil war with various Islamic rebel groups who want to remove him from power.

A Christian pastor from Syria, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Christian Post in an email on Friday that the photos should not be sensationalized and used as a means of inciting war against the Syrian state.

“Let’s be clear and direct. Most or maybe all western governments knew the entire time that torture is going on in third world prisons, so why are they talking about this now?” the pastor told CP.

He also questioned the legitimacy of the photos, revealing that such images and short films of torture are often used as a means of propaganda in the region, but are often discovered to be fake. At the same time, he clarified that he does not “support severe punishments and torture” for prisoners.

The pastor alluded to the American government and its allies launching airstrikes against terror group ISIS in Syria, and suggested that the release of these photos should not be used as a motive to attack Assad’s regime as well, and widen the war in the region.

The photos were shown to the U.N. Security Council in April, with American Ambassador Samantha Power stating that they “indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing.”

Syria has dismissed the images, with its Justice Ministry arguing that they are “lacking objectiveness and professionalism.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum has said, however, that it used forensic examinations of the photographs to verify the authenticity of the images.

“The current Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad says the photos are fake, but forensic and international law experts have authenticated them and found the defector’s story credible. The FBI is currently examining the photos,” the museum has said.

“International law experts say the 55,000 photos could someday support prosecution of the current Syrian regime for crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

The museum added that it will be displaying the images for the foreseeable future. It compared the killings to the holocaust of Jewish people committed by Nazi Germany in World War II.

“We realized that this person, Caesar, the Syrian who escaped, he was a witness,” Hudson said. “We felt an obligation to tell his story as someone who showed real courage in coming forward and escaping and trying to tell the story of what he saw.”

– christian post

Karnataka rejects report on Mangalore church attacks

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Mangalore PersecutionMangalore, October 17, 2014: The Karnataka State Cabinet on Thursday decided to reject the B K Somashekar Judicial Inquiry Commission report into the infamous series of church attacks in Mangalore.

Christian groups and leaders have been demanding rejection of this report with demonstrations and memoranda ever since it was submitted to the former BJP government. The groups demanding the rejection included Karnataka United Christians Forum for Human Rights, led by Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore.

A series of anti-Christian attacks happened in Mangalore and other parts of coastal Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Chikmaglur in 2008, within months after state’s first BJP government led by the B S Yeddyurappa came to power.

The present state cabinet, which met under the chairmanship of Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah, took note of the contradictory findings in panel report submitted to the government.

It also directed the State Home Department to take action against the perpetrators of the attacks based on the nine-point recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Karnataka’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister T B Jayachandra, who briefed the reporters after the State Cabinet meeting, said when the report was submitted to the BJP government, he and other Congress leaders then in opposition, had termed the report as “politically motivated” attempt “to exonerate the Sangh Parivar outfits” like Bajrang Dal, Sri Ram Sene and even Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

The NHRC had recommended compensation to the victims and also the churches and other places of worship belonging to the Christian minority community and taking steps to prevent recurrence of such violence.

The Hindu group attacked Christians accusing pastors of engaging in “forcible conversion” with support of the police and tacit approval of the adminstration.

NHRC wanted stringent action against the police officers who supported the attackers and even beaten up the arrested Christians in police custody.

To a specific question on the NHRC recommendations appeared to be “totally one-sided,” Jayachandra said: “NHRC is a statutory body. We have merely asked the Home Department to look into them and take appropriate action.”

– daijiworld

Hindu hardliners influencing officials’ treatment of Christians

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Madhya Pradesh ChristiansNew Delhi, October 15, 2014: Police and local officials in central Madhya Pradesh state have been harassing Christians at the behest of hardline Hindu groups, according to Christian leaders.

In one case, a Christian group was denied permission by the local administration in Alirajpur district to host an annual gathering October 6-9. As justification, the authorities said the event would have created social tensions in the area.

Kapil Sharma, president of the Moksha Foundation and an organizer of the event, told ucanews.com that the local administration is “playing at the hands of right-wing Hindu groups to target minority Christians”.

Sharma said he also was asked to provide details about the event’s funding sources and questioned about whether he was involved in any criminal or illegal activities.

The administration wants to “terrorize Christians,” said Sharma, who converted to Christianity from the Hindu religion in 2006.

He said the recent series of incidents represented a basic denial of Christians’ constitutional right to freedom of religion.

It was also in Alirajpur district that police declared invalid the marriage of 22-year old Christian Joseph Pawar and his 19-year old Hindu wife Ayushi Wani after the couple eloped.

Wani’s family and radical Hindu groups objected to the marriage, alleging it was a ploy to convert a Hindu woman to Christianity. Police invalidated the marriage on October 3, claiming it violated Madhya Pradesh’s anti-conversion laws.

Nirmal Singh, Pawar’s relative, told ucanews.com that the couple had sent a digital copy of their marriage registration certificate to the Alirajpur district superintendent of police.

“But the officer seemed to have deleted the copy, joined [in support of] the Hindu group and declared their marriage void in violation of the law,” Singh said.

Pawar and his mother have gone into hiding at an undisclosed location for reasons of safety, while the bride was sent to a “rehabilitation” facility, according to Singh. Such facilities are often used to hold women who have been caught engaging in prostitution, drug use or other such socially stigmatized activities.

Deepak Vijayvargiya, state spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the annulment was a legal issue and that the ceremony did not follow the state’s anti-conversion laws.

“It is a pure legal issue between the families of the boy and the girl and the administration,” he told ucanews.com.

Richard James, Bhopal district president of the National Christian Forum, told ucanews.com that Hindu groups have been “more active and targeting minorities” since the BJP won recent national elections.

Christian leader and rights activist AC Michael of New Delhi said events in Madhya Pradesh reflect what is happening throughout India since the party assumed power.

“BJP cadres and their allied groups seem to believe that the victory in the election is a mandate for them to act upon their ideology of making India a Hindu nation. But they are sadly mistaken,” Michael said.

Michael told ucanews.com that human rights groups have recorded more than 600 attacks on religious minorities in the country since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office.

“[Modi] has not said anything against the anti-Christian activities of these groups,” Michael said.

– ucanews

Evangelization through the media & its challenges today

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Sister Joeyanna D’SouzaMumbai, October 11, 2014: As part of their centenary celebrations, the Daughters of Saint Paul hosted a symposium on the title theme on Saturday 11 October 2014 at their facility on Waterfield Road, Bandra West with cheerful and efficient Ladislaus D’Souza, Copy-editor of St Paul’s/Better Yourself Books as moderator.

The veteran and respected journalist, Ms Carol Andrade, currently Dean, Post Graduation Journalism, S.P.I.C.E., speaking on Women in the Media, said that it was unfortunate that women are blocked from attaining senior and powerful positions as journalists and editors who can make a difference in reporting social and economic issues. Women journalists have achieved prominence in fields that appeal to women such as beauty, clothing,  jewelry and décor. But in terms of prominence, the only woman in media that they have heard of is Barkha Dutt!

Carol felt that one of the factors blocking women’s progress is gender discrimination. Women who have made significant contribution despite the odds have faced snide remarks and disgruntled juniors, another being that many women have to give up working in order to raise a family.  It is never the man giving up his career but always the woman. When she tries to get back to journalism after a break, she has to start afresh, her experience discounted.

Regrettably, women are partly to blame for the fact that not sufficient importance is given to issues that concern their own gender, Carol pointed out, deploring the fact that social issues such as rape are reported in a sensational manner that have eyeballs rolling. And, why? Because people love yellow journalism even as the underlying reasons for these occurrences and how they can be addressed so as to make society change for the better are not dwelt upon.

Carol opined that when priests and nuns send their grievances to the Press, these are not published, and where they are, the write-up in question is shortened and relegated to an obscure column. She felt that the only way to surmount this problem was by pestering the publication concerned with phone calls and emails. She pointed out that perhaps, given the reluctance of the press to publish religious issues, articles on social issues could be sent.

Sister Joeyanna D’Souza, fsp, Manager IP Team, Daughters of Saint Paul, Bandra, speaking on Media and Religious Life, highlighted the importance of communication in order to spread the Word. The statistics she gave showed the volume of use the social media is put to in service of the Gospel and how much needs to be done on the part of the religious to maximize its use. Appropriately, she emphasized the need for imparting communication skills to religious.

Father Nigel Barrett, Director, Bombay Archdiocesan Catholic Communications Centre, speaking on the Media in relation to the Word and the World, touched on the excellence of Jesus as a communicator who could talk on the same wavelength with the educated and the uneducated alike! He said that as Christians we are called to be communicators as well, optimally using the media in order to spread the message of Jesus. Father Nigel’s PPT presentation demonstrated the use of modern methods of communication in being ‘e-messengers’ who use the electronic media in order to proclaim the good news through the written word and ‘e-curators’ who could copy-paste relevant articles and messages and send them on to others. For instance, we could circulate messages of Pope Francis via email or facebook and twitter accounts.

Point out the usefulness of e-media when communicating with our youth, he informed the gathering of the formation of a group of “What’s Ap” users whom he intimates as regards any important events taking place and who in turn send the message across to their respective circles.

Father Nigel also urged caution and discreetness as regards sending messages to the Press so as not to create issues for the Church. For instance, he says he is careful to toe the line in his official capacity but does feel free to express his personal views which may be different.

As a result of the general discussions and exchange of ideas that followed, a priest-participant suggested that we look at the possibility of conducting Catechism classes through Skype, suggesting that the matter to be studied could be emailed to the youth concerned. Father Nigel responded by saying that while the electronic media could be used to some extent, it cannot replace face-to-face communication in terms of catechesis.

The Symposium, which commenced with a dance essay of the Canticle in Praise of the Media by Sister Silvia, fsp, at 4.30 pm concluded at 6.30 pm with a tie-up of the main points of the deliberations by Mrs Virginia Saldanha, the Vote of Thanks by Sister Rosily, and refreshments.

– fwd: ladislaus d’souza

Pakistan court upholds death penalty of Christian woman in blasphemy case

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Asia BibiLahore, October 17, 2014: A Pakistani court on Thursday upheld the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy four years ago, as her lawyers vowed to appeal.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.

“A two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi but we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” said her lawyer Shakir Chaudhry.

Amnesty International described the decision as a “grave injustice”, and called for her immediate release.

“Asia Bibi should never have been convicted in the first place—still less sentenced to death—and the fact that she could pay with her life for an argument is sickening,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, in a statement sent to AFP.

“There were serious concerns about the fairness of Asia Bibi’s trial, and her mental and physical health has reportedly deteriorated badly during the years she has spent in almost total isolation on death row”.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where 97 percent of the population is Muslim and unproven claims regularly lead to mob violence.

Two high-profile politicians — then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti — were murdered in 2011 after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Bibi’s trial as flawed.

The blasphemy allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009.

She was working in a field when she was asked to fetch water. Muslim women laborers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.

Over a dozen religious clerics — including Qari Saleem who brought forward the initial complaint against Bibi — were present at the court Thursday.

“We will soon distribute sweets among our Muslim brothers for today’s verdict, it’s a victory of Islam,” Saleem told AFP outside the courtroom as the clerics congratulated each other and chanted religious slogans.

Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws have attracted criticism from rights groups, who say they are frequently misused to settle personal scores.

Lawyers who defend people accused of blasphemy—and judges seen as lenient—also risk being accused of the crime themselves and regularly face intimidation.

Last month a prison guard at the notorious Adiala jail in Rawalpindi shot and wounded a 70-year-old Scottish man with a history of mental illness who is on death row for blasphemy.

The jail also houses Mumtaz Qadri, the former bodyguard of governor Taseer who gunned him down in an Islamabad market place. He was given a death sentence but heralded by some as a hero for killing Taseer.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty, though Pakistan has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008. Only one person has been executed since then, a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

– afp/ucan

Muslims who believe ‘Allah’ exclusive to Islam are ‘confused’, says scholar

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

Praying to AllahMalaysia, October 17, 2014: Indonesian scholar Ulil Abshar Abdalla has waded into Malaysia’s controversial “Allah” edict, saying Muslims who believe the word is exclusive to Islam were “confused” and noted that the Arabic term predates Islam.

Ulil, who was denied entry into Malaysia earlier this month for allegedly opposing its Islamic stand, said Muslims did not have a monopoly of the word “Allah” as it was a general term to refer to God.

Malaysia has declared “Allah” is exclusively for use only by Muslims, who make up the majority of the country’s 30 million population.

“The term ‘Allah’ comes from two words which are ‘Al’ ‘and ‘Ilah’ which means God. If we mention the word ‘Allah’, it is translated as God. The people of Mecca also used the word ‘Allah’ before Islam came,” he said in a recent telephone interview with The Malaysian Insider.

Ulil said it was wrong for people to claim that Muslims alone could use the word “Allah” as it had been in use among the Arabs during the pre-Islamic era.

“If Muslims now feel that the word ‘Allah’ belongs to them alone, I think that is incorrect. The Arabs before Islam also used the word ‘Allah’. (Those who hold the) view that Allah belongs to Muslims are confused.”

Ulil’s view of the “Allah” controversy echoes that of Muslim scholars and clerics, both locally and worldwide, who have criticized the ban of the use of the word among non-Muslims here.

Even the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, had said many Muslims said the court ruling undermined the credibility of Islam, in a reference to the Federal Court decision that the word “Allah” cannot be used in the Catholic publication, the Herald, on grounds it was not an integral part of Christianity.

Earlier this month, evangelical denomination Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) obtained leave from the Court of Appeal to seek a declaration that the word “Allah” could be used in Christian publications.

A three-man Court of Appeal bench, chaired by Datuk Rohana Yusof, said the Federal Court held that the September 14 finding that “Allah was not an integral part of Christianity” was a mere passing remark.

Among the groups which have defended “Allah” as exclusive to Muslims is Malay rights group Perkasa, which, along with Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), were described by Ulil as being similar to Indonesia’s hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

But, he said, unlike Isma and Perkasa, FPI was open to criticism.

“Fortunately in Indonesia, we have a more open system that has encouraged people to criticize,” he said. “Indonesia opens its doors for all parties to discuss among one another.”

Earlier Thursday, Ulil addressed an audience of 100 at the 3rd International Conference on Human Rights and Peace and Conflict in Southeast Asia via Skype.

He spoke on the dangers of labeling Muslims from different schools of thought as “kafir” (infidels) or “murtad” (apostates).

According to minister in charge of religion Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, Ulil was denied entry into Malaysia because his teachings contradicted the Shafie school of thought, to which Malaysia subscribes.

The government’s decision to deny Ulil entry was met with criticism from Malaysian Muslim groups such as the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) chief Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, who said it was an insult to their intelligence.

Former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim called the government “fundamentalist” and said the episode was just the latest event that showed how extremist Malaysia had become.

While Ulil has been blacklisted, no action has been taken against Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who had called for bibles to be burned last year for containing the word “Allah”.

Politicians from both sides of the divide have called for Ibrahim’s conviction under the Sedition Act 1948.

– the malaysian insider

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