Coronavirus and Religion update – 16 April

By Lianne Kolirin

UK

  • Readers of the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News have learnt that there may be some hope for the beleaguered titles, which announced their liquidation last week.  An announcement on the websites of both newspapers has revealed that on Tuesday, the Kessler Foundation, which owns the Chronicle, “submitted an offer to the proposed liquidators of both the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News for the assets of both titles”.
    While an outcome has not yet been revealed, the statement continued: “We are hopeful that the Kessler Foundation will be successful in its bid which will see the Jewish community served by a single merged newspaper which will benefit from all the existing protections which guard its independence.”
    The update came a week after the JC, which first published in 1841, announced that it “will not be able to survive the impact of the current coronavirus epidemic in its current form”.
    The two titles announced a merger in February, but nothing had  been finalised. After last week’s announcement, the suggestion was that staff from both publications would be made redundant but this remains unclear.
    After 11 years as editor of the Chronicle, editor Stephen Pollard has agreed to “step down from day-to-day editorial responsibilities in order to focus more on writing”, according to the most recent statement. Meanwhile, Richard Ferrer, editor of the  News “has been invited to take on the role of Editor at the merged publication should the Kessler Foundation be successful in its bid”.  Both papers will continue as usual for the meantime, while a further announcement is expected.
  • An academic studying digital religion is calling for more in depth research to test anecdotal evidence that church congregations are increasing with online services during the coronavirus pandemic. Dr Peter Philips, the Director of the Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University, says the story of church growth was a media phenomenon at the start of the lockdown, with examples of congregations increasing tenfold online. It may be, he says, that people watch just 3 seconds and are recorded as being present, or that they watch for reasons other than worship, but the phenomenon needs to be explored and tested. His analysis of online worship during coronavirus is here.
  • More than 6000 young Muslims in Britain are leading a prayer for the “Covid-19 heroes” this evening. A statement from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (Amya) said: “As 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide prepare for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, more than 6,000 young British Muslims will take a moment of pause this Thursday to pray for and show their gratitude to the NHS, fire brigade, police, council and voluntary workers on the front line against COVID-19.”
    The group hopes the British public will join them at 7pm by putting their hands together to pray and share messages of support using the hashtag #PrayForHeroes.
    Over the last month the group has supported those in need and on the frontline with a series of initiatives, including delivering food packages, medicine and PPE supplies and establishing foodbanks.  Imam Abdul Quddus Arif, National AMYA President said: ‘‘In these tough times, many may feel insecure and afraid, but our message to fellow Brits is one of solidarity, unity and security; our message is that we are there for you and if you need us, you need only call and we will respond.”

GLOBAL

  • The Vatican has established a task force to mobilise its response to the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath. On the Pope’s instructions, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the lead Vatican official on social justice, has established a central “command centre” and five working groups to tackle the global crisis. He warns that the economic downturn must be addressed immediately to prevent a social crisis affecting security, the environment and public health.  “We must act now and we must immediately think about what will happen next,” Cardinal Turkson told Vatican News. “We must offer our contribution in this crisis. It is a matter of putting actions in place to support the local churches, to save lives, to help the poorest.” The Vatican says the commission will report directly to the Pope while the body has already met him twice to discuss plans.
  • The head of a Muslim seminary in India has been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder for holding a religious gathering last month that the authorities say led to a spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.   Muhammad Saad Kandhalvi, leader of the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat group in Delhi, is accused of violating a ban on big gatherings, Reuters reported.  Thousands of followers, including some from Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, attended the event at the cramped venue in mid-March.  The Tablighi is one of the world’s biggest Sunni Muslim proselytising organisations with followers in more than 80 countries.  According to Reuters, authorities in India said at the beginning of the month that a third of the nearly 3,000 coronavirus cases at that time were either people who attended the gathering or those who were later exposed to them. The charge of culpable hommicide not amounting to murder carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.