Vietnam, Saigon: Government threatens to demolish Catholic churches and Buddhist temples, Juze Vaz cannonization
Vietnam, September 18, 2014: The Vietnamese authorities intend to demolish a Buddhist temple and two Christian churches, which are located in an area south of Ho Chi Minh City, to start an urban development plan of significant economic value. However, the city administration project has encountered fierce resistance from religious leaders and the local community of believers; in response to the mafia style warnings launched by the government, an Inter-religious Council made up of Christians and Buddhists issued a public appeal, calling for support to stop the confiscation of buildings and land in the area of Thu Thiem.
On September 15, a petition was launched addressed to international governments and human rights organizations, media and “Vietnamese compatriots”. It received more than 600 signatures in the first 30 hours. The petition denounces the threats made by the authorities who intend to close the Tri Lein pagoda by the end of the month.
Other places of worship are at risk include “the Catholic Church of Thu Thiem” and the community of the Sisters Lovers of the Holy Cross. However, the prayer house of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Mennonite Church have already been demolished.
The notification of the closure of Lien Tri pagoda dates back to August 18 last and could be carried out any time between September 8 and 30. The authorities have offered 274 thousand dollars compensation for the expropriation of the pagoda and land, but one of the resident monks stresses that this is not an economic issue. “I will not accept any offer,” said Thich Khong Tanh in an interview with Radio Free Asia(RFA), but the authorities are deaf to all pleas and “say they will push ahead” with their plan.
The attack on the Lien Tri community could be motivated by the fact it does not belong to the state sanctioned Buddhist community. “We are the Unified Buddhist Church – he adds – outlawed by the Vietnamese authorities, for years we are victims of isolation and repression, and now they are using the land issue to wipe us out”. “The government – he concludes – always does what it wants.”
The Thu Thiem area of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is now targeted for development as a “new urban area,” with zones set aside for commercial, residential, administrative, entertainment, and educational purposes. No plans have been made however for the establishment of temples, churches, or even offices for charity services in Thu Thiem, which has long been seen by developers as a “land of gold,” the Interfaith Council of Vietnam noted in their statement.
“How can people’s religious and spiritual needs be met when long term development gives no consideration for religious institutions?,” the Council asked. “How can freedom of religion as prescribed by the Constitution be accomplished?”. “The government wants us to move so they can build their new city here,” a nurse at the Convent of the Lovers of the Holy Cross said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Vietnam’s 87 million people include 48 per cent Buddhists, more than 7 per cent Catholics, 5.6 per cent syncretistic and 20 per cent atheist. As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs. Conversely, religious freedom has steadily eroded. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, increasingly under the thumb of the Communist Party and the one-party state.
The authorities have targeted religious leaders, including Buddhists and Catholics, as well as entire communities, which is what happened last year in the Diocese of Vinh, where media and government carried out a smear campaign and targeted attacks against the bishop and members of the community. The crackdown also affects individuals who claim the right to religious freedom and respect for citizens’ civil rights.
Pope Francis approves canonization of the Apostle of Sri Lanka
Vatican City, September 17, 2014: The Blessed Joseph Vaz, ‘the Apostle of Sri Lanka’, will be a saint, the Holy See announced today. Pope Francis approved the vote by the ordinary session of cardinals and bishops in favour of the canonisation of the Indian-born priest and decided to summon a consistory shortly.
Within the Church of Sri Lanka, some hope to see the canonisation ceremony take place during the apostolic visit by Pope Francis in Sri Lanka next January.
Born in Benaulin (now in the Indian state of Goa) in 1651, Joseph Vaz became a priest in 1676 in the Congregation of Saint Philip (Filippo) Neri. As a missionary, he travelled to Ceylon, present-day Sri Lanka, where the Dutch East Indies Company had expelled Catholic missionaries and threatened to execute any priest found on the island.
Operating underground, Fr Vaz helped local Catholics, travelling as far as Colombo, the capital. One of his most important deeds was to translate the Gospel in the country’s two languages, Tamil and Sinhala.
He died in Kandy on 16 January 1711 and was beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II on 21 January 1995, during his apostolic visit to Sri Lanka. On that occasion, the pope described Fr Vaz as the ‘Apostle of Sri Lanka’.
Asia, August 28, 2014: While Americans like Douglas McAuthur McCain might be joining forces with the Islamic State in its effort to establish a caliphate throughout Iraq and Syria, others from the West also apparently are taking up arms—to defend persecuted Christians in the region.
McCain is the first American reported to have died fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. FBI Director James Comey said in June that roughly 100 people had left the United States to join the conflict in Syria
But it’s not just those who embrace the radical, fundamentalist version of Islam who are headed east. Apparently, a number of Christians from the West are signing up too.
A reporter from the Swiss newspaper “Sonntags Zeitung” visited a number of training centers of the Syriac Military Council, a group of armed self-defense units consisting of Syrian Christians, Chaldeans and Assyrians. They included several Swiss residents active in Iraq, one of whom said, “Someone has to take action to prevent the disappearance of Christians.”
Earlier this month, the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Massud Barzani, announced that his government was ready to open its doors to Christian volunteers among the Kurdish armed forces by providing them with the means to create self-defense forces in their villages and defend themselves from jihadi militias of the Islamic State, Fides Agency reported. Barzani said this during a meeting with the Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Basil.
Barzini called on Christians “not to think about emigrating from their homelands, because the threat of terrorism is temporary and terrorists “will be defeated.”
Apparently, such militants are getting military help from people in the West who don’t feel the Iraqi government and Western powers are doing enough. Some Europeans have been talking about an “armed pilgrimage” to Iraq, saying what is needed is a fifth Crusade or a new Lepanto, recalling the historic battle of Oct. 7, 1571, when the Holy League defeated the Muslim fleets of the Ottoman Empire.
There are also those like Catholic journalist Antonio Socci who have criticized Pope Francis as being “reticent” as “200,000 Christians (and other minorities) are fleeing, hunted down by Islamist militants who crucify, behead and stone their enemies.”
Pope Francis said on his flight back from Korea to Rome that it would be just to stop agression against innocent civilians in Iraq. But he tempered his words by adding: “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I don’t say ‘to bomb’ or ‘make war,’ (but) ‘stop it.’”
For several months, coalitions on the right in Italy have been organizing aid to help the resistance on the Iraq-Syria border, providing financial and military assistance for the “secular and military regimes of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Egyptian President Al Sisi, self-defense militias of Chaldeans, Assyrians, Mandaeans, Orthodox and Copts.
As the world became more and more aware of the attrocities ISIS was committing against religious minorities in Iraq, the Assyrian International News Agency editorialized that the United States and European Union should help arm Assyrian Christians and Yazidis to protect their ancient homelands.
“The United States and Europe, under the auspices of the United Nations, must establish an Assyrian Defense Force for the Nineveh Plain, Baghdede and other Assyrian areas, as well as a Yazidi defense force for the area of Sinjar and Zumar,” the agency wrote.
The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Iraq takes a slightly different view. Although innocent people have the right to defend themselves from agression, only “the forces of the State should take charge of this defense,” said the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I Sako.
Nigeria, August 15, 2014: At least 100 people were killed in and around the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, northeast Nigeria, in an attack by Islamist militant group Boko Haram. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding as displaced and stranded survivors face food shortages.
Boko Haram reportedly took the town, which was not protected by government forces, in the early-morning attack on 6 August. Residents were brutally shot and slashed to death; eyewitnesses estimated that more than 100 people lost their lives. The militants looted and burned houses and destroyed property. Government forces later moved in and have been attempting to recapture Gwoza.
Those who managed to escape to the nearby Gwoza hills, also known as the Mandara Mountains, have been surviving on wild fruits and are at risk of starvation. Some elderly and particularly vulnerable residents remained stranded in Gwoza town without food or water.
The massacre was preceded by raids on villages near Gwoza, which is in Borno state, and the destruction of church buildings in the region. At least five churches were also set ablaze on 30 July in the Hawul Local Government Area of Borno state.
The Gwoza hills, which border Cameroon, have been a safe haven for Boko Haram since 2009. Gwoza Local Government Area has been heavily targeted, with the Christian community bearing the brunt of the violence. Christians have beenmurdered and kidnapped and their houses torched. Speaking to Nigeria’s DailyPost, Christian politician Honourable Biye said that more than 200 churches were burned down in the area in the two years to January 2014.
Other parts of Borno state have also been continuously targeted by Boko Haram militants, including Chibok, from which more than 200 mainly Christian schoolgirls were kidnapped.
Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamist state in Northern Nigeria
Pastor Ayo Orisejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has urged both Christian and Muslim communities to engage with the challenge posed by Boko Haram on an ideological level. During a speech reported by PMNEWS, he said:
Boko Haram is propelled by a religious ideology, it is not poverty. Anyone who tells you it is poverty is not telling you the truth. It’s not poverty. When you blame it on poverty, it is an insult to poor people. There are poor people everywhere even Christians all over the north…
Boko Haram insurgency is an ideology. People are being radicalised by an ideology.
- barnabas team
Kathmandu, August 25, 2014: Today is Father’s Day in Nepal. In order to celebrate it in a worthy manner, Nepal’s Catholic community dedicated the day to the “parents in the faith” and the Holy Father.
“We have nothing against our Hindu friends,” a young Catholic woman told AsiaNews. “It is good for them to spend time with their biological fathers. We too will dine with family. But we also want to remember a different kind of figure, the one that raised us in faith. “
In fact, majority Hindus celebrate Father’s Day today. Young people buy gifts and spend the day with their family, whilst adults visit parents’ graves to pray and show respect to the ancestors.
Catholics, however, visit baptism and confirmation godparents after special morning Mass dedicated to Pope Francis and his intentions.
“I woke up early to come to Mass in Kathmandu,” said Sabina Khatri, 38. “Later I bought a present and a picture of the pontiff, father to us all in the faith. Now I am going out to my godmother Tina Rai, who helped me on the path of faith and was with me when I was baptised.”
“This is not to criticise Hindus,” added Pravin Shaky. “Theirs is a beautiful way to spend the day. But we have our own, and we want to celebrate those who have given us essential lessons for our lives.”
Iraq, August 15, 2014: In the year 363 AD, a very holy man by the name of Mattai, fleeing persecution under the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, founded the monastery of St Matthew’s. Lying 20 miles from Mosul in northern Iraq, it became a place of refuge. In 1850 Presbyterian and Congregational missionaries entered Mosul and there they established a mission. In time the evangelical Church in Iraq was born, with congregations in northern Iraq situated at both Mosul and Kirkuk.
In 2003 the Christian population of Mosul was an estimated 60,000. Today it is fewer than 200, made up mostly of the poor, the weak, the sick and the elderly. Last week, in a phone call, the pastor of the evangelical church said that he and his entire congregation were preparing to leave. In another phone call, St Matthew’s Monastery reported that its people were doing the same.
Before the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, it was estimated that there were 1.4 million Christians in the country. Today the figure is thought to be around 300,000 and the prediction is that this may dwindle to just 50,000.
Christians in Iraq face a bleak future. Perhaps this is an understatement. In the face of ISIS, they are called upon to convert to Islam or pay jizya or leave or be killed. Their options are very simple. Given the Christians who have already died, given that they will not contemplate converting to Islam, given that paying jizya implies subjugation and a despised second-class status, they have perhaps no option but to leave. And so they have fled in vast numbers to the safe havens deep within Kurdistan. Earlier this week, many thousands converged upon the airport in Erbil, begging for planes to take them to countries of safety. There are plans to set up a tented refugee camp where they will be able to stay. But what of the future?
In 1999 when I first went into Iraq, then under Saddam Hussein, Christians were suffering, like everyone else, from the effects of sanctions. Their economic condition was poor but they were safe. For Saddam Hussein did not deliberately persecute the Christians and on the whole Christians lived in relative harmony with their Muslim neighbours. Religious extremism and interreligious conflict were not then a reality. Today they are. Iraq has been torn apart by the ethnic divide, and by religious extremism, bringing with it the worst form of intolerance. The American and British experiment in Iraq, far from bringing democracy, stability and economic growth, has produced the absolute opposite. It is now a land of division, of hatred, of alienation, of death on a phenomenal scale – a land at war with itself.
In 2008 Barnabas Fund ran an Iraq petition, calling on governments, not just in the UK and US but across the world, to recognise the plight of the Christian communities and to address it. When I visited the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to present the petition, the person at the meeting who was responsible for human rights said to me that Christians in Iraq were not the responsibility of the British government, but rather they were the responsibility of the Iraqi government and I should therefore go to Mr Maliki, then Prime Minister of Iraq, and put my plea to him.
In 2010 Barnabas Fund took a delegation of senior Iraqi church leaders to Washington to plead the cause of the Christians and to urge American intervention. We were given a sympathetic hearing by the Obama administration, the State Department and leaders in both Congress and Senate. But we were told the tragedy had not happened on their watch but under former President Bush. Whilst they understood, there was nothing they could do, they said. So the countries that initiated the conflict that has led to this seemingly final elimination of the Christian presence not only denied responsibility but refused any degree of compassionate involvement.
From the worldwide Church, as well as the media, there was initially a mainly silent response with occasional patches of concern. Today, the plight of the Christians occupies many pages of the press and fills the radio, television and cyberspace. Political leaders now voice their concern and Christian leaders are making statements. There are marches on the streets and shows of solidarity. Yet all this sounds hollow to the Christians of Iraq. When action could have been taken nothing was done. When concern could have been expressed nothing was said. Today, they face the abyss.
What of the future? No one is able to predict how fast and how far ISIS will advance. Whilst Kurdistan remains a relative safe haven, it is not the long-term future. Christian leaders and ordinary Christian people alike have lost all confidence in the leaders of Middle Eastern countries giving them justice and an equal place in their societies. Likewise, they face a world where many countries in the West, already inundated with refugees and immigrants, are not necessarily sympathetic to them. France may take in Christians from Mosul, the US may accelerate entry visas, but UK seems strangely silent.
And what of Syria and other nearby countries? As ISIS now focuses on Syria again, with Damascus in its sights, Western governments are not united as to their response. Many still support the anti-Assad movements and what they term the Free Syrian Army, and are calling for the removal of President Assad. They have not learned the lesson of history; that is, if Assad falls, the powerbase of ISIS and other radical Islamist insurgent forces will very quickly fill the vacuum and another period of killing and mass exodus will follow.
In all this we can but pray and seek God for His help, for He is not removed from the sufferings of His people. He sees their suffering, He hears their cries, and His heart is filled with pain. May we also care as He does, and never cease to work for justice for our beleaguered and suffering brethren in Christian communities, as well as for the other vulnerable minorities of the Middle East.
- dr. patrick sookhdeo
IRAQ: Suffering Overflows as Militants Displace Thousands
Horror and chaos continue to abound in Iraq, as armed jihadists of the militant group “Islamic State” (IS, also referred to as ISIS) took over the country’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and nearby Christian settlements early on August 7th. Qaraqosh, a city of about 50,000 people in Nineveh Province, sits between Mosul and Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region. IS took over Mosul in July, and many of the city’s remaining Christians fled eastward to Qaraqosh, sometimes called the Christian capital of Iraq.
Tens of thousands have fled from Qaraqosh and surrounding areas, with many seeking refuge in Kurdish-controlled parts of the country. The militants now occupying Qaraqosh’s churches have removed crosses and destroyed thousands of valuable manuscripts. “There are 100,000 displaced Christians who have fled with nothing but their clothes, some of them on foot, to reach the Kurdistan region,” a Chaldean Patriarch explained. However, those who make it to Kurdistan often find themselves without shelter or even water in the blistering heat. Thousands of other minority groups have also been targeted by IS, including ethnic Yazidis.
Since their offensive attacks began in June, IS has ordered followers of Christianity residing in captured towns to either convert to Islam, pay a tax to remain in these communities as Christians, leave, or ultimately die. Unfortunately, believers apprehended by the militants have been ruthlessly attacked or killed.
NEPAL: Pastor Released from Detention
After receiving a 12-year prison sentence, a pastor in a remote part of Nepal was released from detention on July 17th. Pastor Chhedar Bhote Lhomi, 37, who ministered among the Tibetan people and established a church that met regularly, was handed the lengthy prison sentence for eating beef. Although he served in an area of Nepal where this practice is permissible, in other areas of the country local Hindus do not eat beef because cattle and oxen are considered sacred.
In October of 2012, local villagers discovered that Pastor Chhedar and his family had consumed this “forbidden meat.” In an uproar, they accused him of killing the “sacred” animal himself, justifying the destruction of his home and everything he owned. The angered locals then handed the pastor over to a Hindu committee that got the police involved and prompted his arrest. While Pastor Chhedar was detained, his family struggled without him. Adding to the couple’s heartache, their three children — ages ten, eight and seven — were teased and mocked by their peers. Thankfully, a court recently declared Pastor Chhedar not guilty of the charge.
SUDAN: Continued Prayers for Religious Freedom
Meriam Ibrahim, the courageous woman who refused to deny her Christian faith — even at the risk of execution — finally arrived in the United States with her family on July 31st. It was reported in one of VOMC’s previous prayer alerts that Meriam, her husband Daniel, and their two children had left Sudan for Italy on July 24th after negotiations had been made between the two countries. The family has now settled in New Hampshire, where extended family members are willing to assist them in the rebuilding of their lives. (For more information on Meriam and her family, you can read this past prayer alert.)
Meanwhile, Faiza Abdalla, 37, a Christian woman arrested in Sudan on April 2nd under similar circumstances, remains in prison due to accusations of adultery for marrying a South Sudanese Christian and apostasy because of her Muslim name. Faiza was arrested after Immigration/Citizenship officials questioned her right to a Christian identity on the grounds that Abdalla is a Muslim name. On April 8th, a court annulled Faiza’s marriage to a South Sudanese believer who fled the country two years ago because of persecution. The Christian woman’s parents converted before she was born, meaning they too might be accused of apostasy.
Sri Lanka, August 06, 2014: Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen had been reading from her Quran when she heard a great roar outside, “smashing like a volume of thunderbolts and flames everywhere.” Her bedroom quickly filled with men armed with sticks and iron rods. Many more had swamped the front room of her house, and more waited outside. One man smashed the dressing table in her front room, while others attacked wardrobes and sinks, and threw the Muslim scripture board that hung on her wall to the floor.
It was the evening of June 15. That afternoon Buddhist mobs had besieged a number of Muslim quarters in Dharga Town on Sri Lanka’s western coast, and houses and mosques were turned to rubble. “They said, ‘come out, we want to set fire to the house,’” Nafeesathiek recalls. When the 68-year-old emerged from her bedroom into the front room, “people ran at me to assault me, but others stopped them”.
The violence began shortly after 5pm when around 7,000 Buddhists marched through the town’s streets. Many had watched earlier in the afternoon as Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, Sri Lanka’s firebrand monk and leader of the extremist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or Buddhist Power Force monastic movement, spoke of the threat that Islam posed to the country.
The violence had appeared planned. When the group announced on its Facebook page that a rally would take place, supporters asked whether they should bring gasoline with them. Days earlier, three Muslims had reportedly attacked a monk in nearby Aluthgama, providing the spark for a day of frenzied mob violence that left three dead and many injured. Taking to the stage in Dharga Town, Gnanasara warned: “It will be the end of all [Muslims] if a Muslim lays a finger on a Sinhalese.”
A retired teacher, Nafeesathiek says she had taught students of all religious creeds, spending the majority of her career in a school in central Sri Lanka in which she was the only Muslim member of staff. Until that evening she had experienced no hostility. But emerging from her house, she remembers turning to see the length of the street full of armed men attacking the homes of neighboring Muslims. Around 150 meters away stood a group of policemen. “They were just standing there,” she says. Nafeesathiek approached them and they drove her to safety.
Sri Lanka has suffered several instances of religious conflict in the past three years, including the destruction by Buddhists of a 300-year-old Sufi shrine in Anuradhapura in 2011. But that day in Dharga Town was among the worst. Video footage showed smoke billowing from torched buildings. Days later the military was deployed to guard Muslim-owned property. When ucanews.com visited the town in July, several streets were lined with soldiers. Behind them sat the charred, skeletal remains of burned out mosques and homes.
Gnanasara co-founded the BBS in late 2012, agitating against religious diversity in Sri Lanka. Although its core member base is relatively small, it has quickly developed a strong influence. Muslims have not been the only target; in January, monks from a BBS-allied group called Bodu Bala Paura, or Buddhist Shield, led attacks on Christian churches in the country’s south. Gnanasara followed with a call in July for Pope Francis to come to Sri Lanka to apologize for the centuries of colonial rule by Christian nations – Portugal, Netherlands and Britain.
Although he has distanced himself from the violence, the monk has been unequivocal about the source of the growing hostility. “This is a Buddhist nation, so why are they trying to call it a multicultural society?” he told reporters earlier this year.
The Venerable Baddegama Samitha Thero, one of Sri Lanka’s best-known monks, is a former friend of Gnanasara and holds a seat parliament. In his office in the town of Galle on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, he struggles to explain the emergence of an extremist brand of Buddhism that sees in other religions a threat to the national identity. “Muslims and Buddhists suffered together during the war with the Tamils,” he explains. “It was harmonious – there’s no reason for the hostility.”
In a post-war society still floundering from decades of conflict, mistrust feeds the quick spread of conspiracy theories. Samitha points the finger at a Zionist plot to take over Sri Lanka; others say the BBS is funded by the Americans. Few versions carry much weight, but instead point to a desperate attempt to explain what isn’t easily explainable: How has a movement that broke ground less than two years ago managed to mobilize sizeable elements of a society that has little prior history of antagonism towards other religions?
Some point to a dark hand in the violence that may trace back to the upper echelons of the government. Could President Rajapaksa’s administration be looking to secure the majority Sinhalese vote in the next elections by mobilizing supporters against the specter of growing ethnic minority influence in the country? Or at its heart could it be an economic conflict? “Muslims used to be very close to the kings of Sri Lanka, and were granted crown land,” Samitha says. “Now they control much of the business, and therefore this could be due to trade competition.”
Such is the climate of fear following the June attacks that few people are willing to go on record criticizing BBS. Samitha says that on several occasions he has received anonymous phone calls warning him against speaking out against the movement. But on July 27 around 2,000 people gathered in Colombo’s Viharamahadevi Park to rally against the violence, the strongest show of force yet. An organizer of the rally, Mohammed Hisham, said that more groups have spoken out against the growing religious hostility over the past year, “which gives hope of saner voices getting together to make themselves heard against such racist groups and ideologies”.
But he warns that while BBS and its adherents remain a fringe phenomenon, “the continuing impunity with which some of these groups who propagate racism are still operating is a growing concern”. He added that the majority of incidents over the past few years are “still under investigation”, implying that law enforcement is dragging its feet. Indeed multiple accounts, including that of Nafeesathiek, have emerged of police standing by and watching as the violence unfolds. Even Sri Lanka’s justice minister, Rauff Hakeem, said that he had warned the government to prevent the June 15 rally in Dharga Town from taking place. “I am ashamed,” he later told the New York Times. “I couldn’t protect my people.”
For Samitha, the invective directed at him for criticizing the BBS is eerily familiar. “When I campaigned for peace during the war [with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE] I was accused of being pro-LTTE; now I’m being accused of looking for votes from Muslims.” But the supposed phantom menace of Islam is baseless, he says, with the statistics painting a different picture – examining the censuses of 1812 and of 2012, the proportion of Muslims in Sri Lanka has not changed.
Nafeesathiek returned to her house several days after the attack to find furniture smashed and jewelry and money taken. She remains close to her Sinhalese neighbors, but that only reinforces her belief that the men who flooded into her house that evening were not from Dharga Town, but perhaps a product of the organizing powers of a higher force in the Sri Lankan clergy or government. She has not felt well since the incident, and after the interview was due at the hospital for a checkup about her high blood pressure and dizziness.
The trauma for the Muslim population here is likely to remain until light is shed on both the cause and solution to the violence. Lack of substantial action by the government will only worsen the crisis, Hisham says. “Young and old from various communities will feel as if they have been left alone after trusting that the perpetrators will be held accountable,” he says. “That can give rise to a sentiment which could result in people thinking the only option would be to take the law into their own hands.”
The upshot of this could have additional repercussions for Sri Lanka’s Muslims. “This could play in to the hands of the extremists and racists who want to see Sri Lanka as a pure Sinhala Buddhist country, contrary to the diversity and the nature of the populace, by giving them an excuse to swing the mindset of even the moderate Buddhists,” Hisham warns.
Sajjad Hyder Malik, a manager in a top medical company, has been attracting criticism from an outlawed Sunni militant group when he organized Koonday (clay pot), a public dinner offered in the name of Hazrat Imam Jafar As-Sadiq, a descendant of Ali.
His family of two daughters has been receiving abusive phone calls since May especially for inviting relatives from the maternal side, all of them Catholics.
“My mother in law was a Catholic,” described Sajjad slightly beating his chest at an Imambargah (Shi’ite religious hall) guarded by two armed policemen in a densely populated colony of Lahore. “After her death, it took several years to revive the family bonds. Now we celebrate our feats and attend family ceremonies but I did not know a harmonious gesture of dining could provoke anyone.”
His worries worsened especially after receiving around three threatening letters in recent months, ordering an end to the family tradition, conversion to Sunni sect or face death. The latest note was signed by Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat, formerly called Sipah-e-Sahaba.
“We inform all that this person is a kafir (infidel) and an American agent. We prohibit all from meeting Sajjad,” it stated.
“Together with Isais (Christians), he has been indulged in boisterous festivities and celebrating the death of sahabi-e-rasool (disciple of Prophet Muhammad). This hurts the heart of the Arabic Prophet. We shall blow him and his family with explosives. Leave this city or face death.”
A roadside an anti-Shia poster in Lahore
Shias, who constitute 20 percent of the country’s overwhelmingly Muslim population, are generally denounced as heretics and non-Muslims by Sunni extremist groups.
According to US Department report on International Religious Freedom for the year 2013, 500 Shia Muslims were killed in “sectarian bloodletting” in Pakistan last year.
But Sajjad never thought of being persecuted for religious beliefs in his 19 years of married life. “Shias are called khatmal (bed-bug) in Karachi and Kafir elsewhere but there used to be a general acceptance in the society. Now we get worried when a family member gets backs home late,” said Sajjad, 43.
“I have learned a lot about Christianity through my relatives. I record cell phone videos of them praying and show it to my friends who get very impressed. They were like an eye opener for them. I just did not know what it would cost.”
PHILIPPINES – CHRISTIAN TOWN SEEKS EXCLUSION FROM SEMI-INDEPENDENT ISLAMIC REGION
Wao’s mayor, Elvino Balicao, is seeking exemption from the Bangsamoro government and its Islamic law and has asked that the town remain under the central government. He said that the town is 83% Christian and that local churches support exemption from Bangsamoro.
Wao is in the centre of the Muslim-majority province of Lanao del Sur and is the only Christian-majority town in the province.
After a decades-long Islamic insurgency, on 27 March the government of the Philippinessigned a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to establish Bangsamoro.
NIGERIA – CHURCH BLAST KILLS FIVE IN KANO CITY
The attacker hid himself at a primary school next to St Charles Church, in Sabon Gari district, and threw a bomb at the parishioners as they exited the building. Five people were killed, including a soldier who was guarding the church, and eight others were injured.
The blast was one of three separate violent incidents in Kano over the weekend. Police stopped a female suicide bomber from attacking a university, and also prevented an attempted bombing at a mosque. Five suspects were arrested in connection with this wave of attacks, which came as Eid, which marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, was being celebrated.
Although no organisation claimed responsibility for the violence, Boko Haram, which aims to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s North, has a strong presence in the Kano area. Christians and the security forces are prime targets for the Islamist group, as are public places where it can cause maximum casualties.
NIGERIA – ORDEAL CONTINUES FOR FAMILIES OF KIDNAPPED GIRLS
Since the abductions, eleven of the girls’ parents have died, some of them after heart attacks and stress-related illnesses. Boko Haram has been carrying out near-daily assaults on Chibok; an unconfirmed report stated that fathers of the kidnapped girls were amongst those killed in an attack earlier this month.
Others of the girls’ relatives have organised themselves into a grassroots protest group called The Abuja Family, named after Nigeria’s capital. As the group has attempted to maintain pressure on the seemingly inactive government, it has endured harassment and intimidation from police.
- barnabas team
Kuala Lumpur, July 31, 2014; An Islamic preacher of Indian-origin, accused of insulting Hinduism in Malaysia five years ago, apologised today for his remarks following protests from the Hindu community in this Muslim majority nation.
Ustaz Shahul Hamid Mohammed, 39, had allegedly told Muslims not to buy curry powder products from what he deemed as “Hindu” companies.
The video of his remarks inside a prayer room went viral early this week, triggering protests from Hindu groups which demanded action against the preacher.
“I openly apologise in front of everyone, especially to the Indian community and all parties involved over my words during a speech I made which was considered offensive and insulting to the feelings of the Indian community,” Muhammad said.
“I realise that I too, as an Indian, and someone who has origins in India, should not have insulted the beliefs of Hindus in front of everyone. I did not intend to offend and insult and did not mean to incite racial tension. I was only trying to attract the attention of my listeners at the event,” he added.
“However, my ceramah (meeting) was recorded and uploaded without my knowledge and consent by other individuals,” the preacher said.
Shahul Hamid is a member of the islamic fundamentalist opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. He expressed regret over his words and promised that such incidents would not be repeated in the future.
He also said that he was willing to meet with leaders from the Indian community to apologise for his behaviour.
The preacher also had made fun of a drishti bomma,(a squarish metal plate with a painted idol to ward off evil eye) placed at the entrance of an Indian Flour Mills near Permatang Pauh.
Malaysia’s 26 million population has eight per cent ethnic Indians of which majority are Hindus.
Meanwhile, Muhammad reported to the Bukit Mertajam police station today to record his statement over the issue.
He was then released on bail till August 14.
- deccan herald