Religion news 26 October 2023

Tower Hamlets Labour delegation to see Keir Starmer. Image credit: @TH_Labour

Day 20: War in the Middle East

Israel’s PM Benjamini Netanyahu has pledged that a ground offensive against Hamas will happen, but there’s no indication of when. Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer urge pauses in fighting to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. Fuel tanks have still not been allowed in and a third of hospitals cannot operate.

Labour leader meets Muslim MPs after backlash against his comments on Gaza

Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy, Angela Rayner, have met Muslim Labour MPs after  growing discontent over the Labour leader’s comments on the war in Gaza. The Times reports that more than 150 Muslim councillors wrote a letter protesting, and around 20 Labour councillors have left the party in protest at his failure to call for a ceasefire and comments in a radio interview interpreted as defending Israel’s right to withhold food and water from people in Gaza. He has denied this, saying his point was that Israel had a right to defend itself. Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, told Radio 4’s PM programme that the meeting was constructive and positive. He said the MPs told Starmer that their constituents were deeply affected by the situation of people in Gaza and wanted the violence to stop and aid to get through. They wanted the Labour leadership to offer support to constituents affected by the war. ITV and the Daily Mail have a story that four shadow ministers are on “resignation watch” as the row has not been quelled by the meeting.

Islamic Centre says reports of Keir Starmer’s visit brought it into disrepute

The South Wales Islamic Centre has accused the Labour party of bringing it into disrepute, after reports of Sir Keir Starmer’s visit were posted on social media last weekend. The posts said Sir Keir called for aid to get through to Gaza and he made it clear that it had never been his view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines, as had been reported. But the Centre said their members had challenged Sir Keir on his comments and failure to call for an immediate ceasefire. Its intention was to raise the issue of Palestinians, but the outcome of the visit had brought the wider Muslim community into disrepute.

Archbishop of Canterbury warns conduct of war affects chances of peace and reconciliation afterwards

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, made an impassioned speech in the Lords in a debate about the war in Israel / Gaza. He said the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October had “created a situation of trauma in Israel that it is hard to exaggerate”, and said it was described to him as the first pogrom on Israeli territory. He appealed on behalf of the innocent sufferers, including children with cancer in Gaza, for a ceasefire, even though he acknowledged this was probably beyond hope: “Can there be a corridor of sanctuary at least on a temporary basis to enable them to get the treatment without which they will die, very rapidly”. He suggested the Foreign Office could put money towards rebuilding the Anglican Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza, after a missile caused devastating damage killing hundreds of people. He warned that the conduct of war had an effect on the hope of peace and reconciliation afterwards. And he relayed the fears of Palestinian Christians that “this may be the end of their existence after 2000 years”.

UK Palestinian ambassador says support for Palestinians is not rooted in religion but is cross community in Britain

The Muslim Council of Britain has held a nationwide community briefing over zoom, bringing together community figures, mosque leaders and others, to discuss the response to the Israel Gaza war. Guest speakers included the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Dr. Husam Zomlot who described the situation in Gaza, with the imminent collapse of the health service, and called for an immediate ceasefire to “alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians”. The Ambassador said Muslim communities in the UK should strengthen relations and protect and support all communities including Britain’s Jewish community. He said advocacy for Palestinian human and national rights is not specific to the Muslim community, nor rooted in religion. The large demonstrations for Palestinian rights in cities across the UK had attracted cross community support from all faiths and nationalities, he said. It was an issue of human rights.  

Fifty Muslim and Jewish women unite in a meditation for peace

Fifty Muslim and Jewish women gathered in solidarity for peace in the Middle East, in a quiet ceremony in the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey, last night. They shared readings from each other’s traditions, lit candles, said prayers and observed a minute’s silence. The gathering was initiated by Julie Siddiqui and Dr Lyndsay Simmonds who have been friends for more than ten years and say they have built a trust that enables an event like this to happen. They believe that tensions are running so high, they felt compelled to arrange a quiet reflection to bring people together.

Other news

The poor, the planet and conversion – key themes from the synod in Rome

Participants in the General Synod of Bishops in Rome have issued an open letter as their three-week gathering draws to an end. It says the assembly took place in the context of a world in crisis, as war raged in the Middle East and they pledged solidarity to those working to build justice and peace. They made “significant room for silence” to foster mutual listening and they found it engendered a thirst for unity. They agreed that the plight of the poor and the planet were urgent issues, and  there was a pressing need for pastoral and missionary conversion. Their “synthesis” report will specify their points of agreement, highlight open questions, and indicate how work will proceed.

Canadians allowed visas for India in thawing of dispute over Sikh separatist

India’s embassy in Ottawa has announced that it will reopen visa services for Canadians, following a dispute over the killing of a Sikh separatist in Vancouver. Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said Indian intelligence was involved in the drive by shooting, which India has denied, but the row caused diplomatic fall out with Canadian diplomats withdrawn from India and India saying its citizens should not travel to parts of Canada.

Methodist Church bars former president from preaching for a year after safeguarding complaint

A former Methodist President of Conference, the Revd Graham Thompson,  has been barred from  “front-facing, preaching and/or pastoral roles for at least a year” after a safeguarding report into an allegation against him. The report was instigated after concerns were raised about Mr Thompson’s safeguarding leadership as chair of district. He had served as chair of the Plymouth and Exeter District, following the same role in the East Anglia District. A statement from the church says he will undertake additional safeguarding training during this time and the church “is profoundly sorry” for those affected”.

Children in tears after priest stamps on their halloween pumpkins

A priest in the Czech Republic has apologised after vandalising a display of children’s Halloween pumpkins two days in a row. Premier Christian News reports that Father Jaromir Smejkal described Halloween as a “Satanic feast” and stamped on the pumpkins, reducing children to tears. He said his duty was to protect children and families from hidden evil, but had not intended to cause any harm.


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