Religion News 24 July

Image credit: Library of Congress

Muslim prayers in Hagia Sophia today – first for 86 years

The internationally renowned building in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, will reopen today as a mosque. Built as a Christian church in 537, it became a mosque in 1453, converting into a museum in 1934 as Turkey became a republic. The decision to turn it back into a mosque has met widespread resistance from Christians, but President Erdogan has long pursued a policy of moving the country away from its secular roots. There are strict rules in place for social distancing, wearing face masks and using disposable prayer mats. 1,500 people are expected to take part in Friday prayers at the opening ceremony at 10 am. Curtains will cover remaining Christian mosaics during prayers. The building will also be open to domestic and foreign tourists free of charge. Backgrounder here.

Coronavirus spreads – Hindu pilgrimage cancelled

The annual Amarnath Yatra Hindu pilgrimage to a holy cave in the mountains of Kashmir has been cancelled due to the rise in coronavirus cases in Jammu and Kashmir. Usually pilgrims walk 28 miles across glaciers and trails to a shrine in the cave, in which an ice stalagmite is considered a physical manifestation of Hindu god Lord Shiva. It is the first time the pilgrimage has been cancelled since the cave was discovered by a farmer in the 19th century. Instead, pilgrimage prayers will be broadcast from the shrine live online. The board supervising the pilgrimage was concerned that the pandemic had put the health system under strain and understood the focus of public servants was on containing the pandemic. India has reported 1.2 million cases of the virus.

Coronavirus – Jews ‘held responsible’ in Germany

Josef Schuster, the president of the German Central Council of Jews, has said antisemitic conspiracy theories on the spread of the coronavirus are growing in his country, with Jews being held collectively responsible for the spread of the virus. He said anti vaccine demonstrators have worn yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear during the Third Reich. Protesters against the wearing of masks have worn striped clothing, like the uniforms of death camp inmates, and have carried placards “masks set you free”, similar to “Arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free), which was placed on the entrance gate of Auschwitz. Mr Schuster told the news agency DPA that law enforcement officers should take the targeting of minority groups seriously. ““When drastic changes are taking place, for which there are no easy explanations, it’s often the case that culprits are sought and often these are minority groups, such as Jews. In the middle ages when the plague hit, it was similar. Jews were labelled as scapegoats, blamed for poisoning wells. There were lynch mobs and synagogues burned.”

Coronavirus – Muslim guidance on Eid ul-Adha festival

The Muslim Council of Britain has issued coronavirus guidance as communities prepare to celebrate Eid ul-Adha, which follows the annual Hajj pilgrimage. No international visitors are allowed to visit Mecca for the Hajj this year due to the virus. The festival begins once the new moon has been sighted, probably around Thursday 30 July in the UK – and ends after 3 days or two weeks, depending on the country. The advice covers how to meet safely outdoors, arrange multiple services with few people attending, keep gatherings to a minimum and strictly ‘no hugs’.

Coronavirus – hundreds of children at risk from church camp

Hundreds of children may have been exposed to coronavirus at a mega evangelical church camp in Texas this summer. A report in the Fort Worth Star Telegram says multiple camps have been organised by the Fellowship Church in Grapevine, in June and July.  Three parents have posted on Facebook saying their children have tested positive and one has been hospitalised. So far, the church has not issued a statement in response.

Sweden – women priests outnumber men

A majority of priests in the Lutheran Church of Sweden are women, 62 years after they were first allowed to be ordained. The Telegraph reports that of the church’s 3060 priests, 1533 are women – 50.1%.  The church also has a female Archbishop, Dr Antje Jackelen.  However, the church newspaper Kyrkans Tidning  says male priests earn an average of 2,200 Swedish kronor (£195) per month more than women. In the Church of England, one third of active clergy are women, though there are now slightly more women than men training for the ministry.

Trump’s travel ban ‘repealed’ in symbolic gesture, delighting Muslim leaders

Muslims in America have welcomed a decision by the House of Representatives to repeal the Trump administration’s travel ban, which was widely seen as biased against Muslims. Brought in during 2017, the ban restricts entry to the States from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.  The repeal is unlikely to go through the Republican controlled Senate, but the symbolic vote pleased civil rights and faith-based campaigners. “This is a historic moment for Muslims,” Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, said. “It will show Muslims, who have been banned and scapegoated by the Trump administration, that we deserve rights and dignity,” The White House said undoing the travel ban “would harm the national security of the United States”

And finally ….

A couple from Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, have complained after a registrar objected to them naming their child Lucifer – another word for the Devil. A registrar has the power to reject a name, but in this case she allowed it after deliberating with colleagues. The parents said it was a “unique name” and they did not expect to get “so much grief about it”.